The Joneses

When I bought my house nearly 15 years ago, I was the young buck on the street.  GF, no kids, rather simple life.  Parties most weekends.   Had friends over to reno the majority of the house as it was owned by an 80 year old who kept it like most 80 year olds did.  Neighbours were a mix of older parents, most 15 – 25 years older than me.  Of the 40 or so houses on my dead end street, 4 of them have been resold multiple times, and only 4 others have been sold in 15 years.  It’s getting older around here.

Life goes on, I get married, have kids and the neighbourhood has grown up around me.  A large chunk of the street is now retired folk, very few kids.  And what retired folks have in abundance is time.  And people with time fill it with all sorts of things.

The easiest way to find the retired people is to look at their lawn in the spring or driveways in the winter.  There are fields of yellow dandelions up and down my street, with pockets of pure green.  It’s even funnier when two neighbours share a lawn without a fence – you can see the clean division.  The people with green lawns spend hours meticulously manicuring their lawns.  Whether for their amusement or competition with the others is a good question.

So here I am mowing the lawn (I guess it’s still considered a lawn) the other day and looking out and about.  I’m sweating like crazy in the humidity, amazed that I am even finding time to mow it once a week.  And then trying to napkin math out the effort required to get it pristine, let alone maintain it.


Here’s a line & here’s another line

Then I come to the realization that the lawn is pretty much the most important thing in their lives, or at least the thing that they spend the most time working on.  My grandfather is an active person, always out and about.  I can’t ever recall his lawn being this shade of green or ever being weed-free.  He never had time for it because he was busy doing other stuff.

This isn’t a judgment on what the people are focusing on, if they value their lawn and never leave the house, that’s up to them.  Just because I don’t share that particular obsession, doesn’t mean it’s bad.  It’s the definition of “their own backyard” after all.

Here I am, mowing the lawn & weeds cause it just needs to be done, as a step to doing the things I really want to do.  Then I’ll pack up some food and drinks, head up to the cottage and enjoy the outdoors.  Do some social distancing with the neighbours.  Plant the garden.  Get in the boat and fish with the family.  Play some boardgames, and have a pint around the campfire.  The weeds will be there when I get back.  And I’ll let the Joneses worry about their own lawn.


The Box Syndrome

This is more in line with psychological debate than gaming topics, but it applies across a lot of life.  We generally like to categorize people, and this is a similar attempt.  I call it the Box Syndrome, and it is one of the archtetypes I use to engage with people on terms they understand.

The premise is somewhat simple.  People with this syndrome believe that their world is a finite box.  They are unable to see outside the box, and don’t believe that anything matters but what’s in the box.  They view the source of things entering / exiting the box with mistrust or wonder.  If you’ve ever tried to play a magic trick on a toddler, then you can see what the Box Syndrome looks like.

Everyone starts in this mode, and with time (and willingness) they move on.  There are plenty of people who find comfort in the box, in the familiarity of it.  They are shown that there are things outside the box, but make a choice to ignore them.  They make that choice for a wide set of reasons.

Social media dramatically enables this mindset.  There’s a reason they call it an echo chamber.  Flat-earthers, anti-vaxx, conspiracy nuts are all stuck in their box, and regardless of what happens outside the box, they just don’t care.  They will do whatever they can to paint the walls of the box to reinforce the ideas within that box.  There’s very little you can do to deal with this mindset, aside from creating a new box within their existing one, then moving that new box elsewhere.

There are people where the box isn’t so large a negative, simply a safety blanket.  People who fall into routines and forget why.  Folks who have been doing the exact same job for years and never changing.  They are hyper resistant to anything that questions the existence of the box.  Dealing with them means respecting the safety the box represents, and helping them find a new safety box and a path towards it.

This isn’t to say that the syndrome is all bad.  Everyone needs a box from time to time in order to recharge.  Non-stop change is a rollercoaster that no one can maintain.  It also protects you from un-wanted change.  If you hit a rough patch on the job front, then you need to box your budget to survive and ignore the more frivolous items.   But there’s a time where you’ll need to remove that box.

In the middle of an emergency is the time to start paying attention to the box, or at the very least aware of its existence.  There are more than enough examples of people making, uh, interesting choices because they only see the walls of their box.

I find myself challenging this mindset more and more lately.  I’d say the majority are willing to accept that change is required, and help take part.  There’s a small group that is aware of the box but unable to do something about it.  Then there’s the smallest group who are in their box and unwilling to do anything about it.  The sad part here is that regardless of what they think about the solidity of their box, no matter how much they’ve shored it up, they can’t survive without the people outside the box.  Change is going to happen.



When Both Options are Bad

Fair warning, this relates to a political item in the US.  My perspective is from a non-American, and the appearance of insanity that surrounds it.

To the point then, a report that the Department of Justice (DoJ) has dropped all charges against advisor Flynn.

The background here is that Flynn was investigated in relation to the Russian involvement in the US elections.  Two parts, one that he did took efforts to impact the elections, then that he lied about it.  The transcripts for this have been released.  There’s a rather clear statement within from Flynn that this did occur.

He was charged, plead guilty and was in the process of being sentenced.   This week, the DoJ decided to drop all charges due to lack of evidence to support the charges.

In all legal scenarios, there’s a law and then the ethical application of said law.  You’re not allowed to steal, but if you’re starving and take an apple, you’re unlikely to go to jail.  That’s why there’s a court system.

Option A

In this option, the facts demonstrate that the law was broken, there’s a guilty plea, and sentencing.  The advocates for this model purport that the sanctity of the US electoral system should be isolated from outside influence, in particular when it comes to the candidates themselves.  (The US has a complicated PAC system that I won’t go into.)

Option B

In this option, the facts demonstrate that the law was broken, but that the crime was ethical.  No charges, no sentencing.  The advocates for this model is that the ends justify the means.  There’s no disagreement on the facts, simply that breaking the law was in the best interests of the country.

The Gap

This is where things get complicated.  The traditional middle ground between A and B is the duration of sentencing.  You’re guilty but get a weekend in jail sort of thing.  Great lawyers make for interesting sentencing.  And the US has more lawyers than you would think (1.3m, or 1 lawyer per 250 citizens).

In the US, there’s supposed to be a split between the 3 branches – executive (president), legislative (houses), and judicial (courts).  Influence is there, but not direct impacts.  In that scenario, a specific branch would come to a conclusion and another branch would take action on that decision.  State/Presidential pardons fit into this. It’s common for the last act of any executive member to issue a laundry list of pardons.

Back to this case.  The judicial system picked Option A.  Then, without changing any of the facts, they picked Option B.  What that devolves into is the perception that both Options A and B were more than influenced, they were directed by political means.  And cue both sides slinging arrows at the other over “unfair”.

This is actually the worst possible outcome because one of the branches is now seen as an extension of the other branches.  There are many examples of courts being used by political parties.  Not a single one of those examples ended well.

Forest for the Trees

Newton’s law that for every action there’s an equal reaction does not apply to people.  People’s reactions can vary from simple acceptance (no reaction) to vengeance (a disproportionate reaction).  There are very few examples in history that show a society reach wild swings in reactions and manage to bring that back down to moderation.  In today’s age, social media allows for a simple message that stokes people’s baser instincts.  If you want to reach maximum impact, then you need a generic approach.

I have no particular penchant for either party in the US.  They both have extremes that do not appeal to me.  Their moderate aspects do.  The decision of best approach to a problem depends on the problem.  I’m much too pragmatic.

What I do have is concern at the whole of direction on my southern friends.  There’s a perception that there’s no plan, that everything is a reaction to the last reaction.  That stated core principles are being ignored simply for spite.  And that its influence on the international stage is making the behaviour somehow seem acceptable. And with an election coming up, I don’t see how this situation gets any better.  Hopefully it doesn’t escalate past a boiling point anytime soon.

Until then, it’s a heck of an effort to avoid the news cycle.

Ability to Recharge

I am an introvert with taught extrovert habits.  In the simplest of terms, being outgoing takes energy (as compared to my wife, you gets energy), and in order to function, I need to recharge.

I have a bunch of learned methods to recharge.  Hockey is one, even if it does include some social aspects.  Fishing is another, and I do like going out with the family.  Working out is a solo affair, as I have a routine and dislike waiting.  I don’t watch TV.  I used to read a lot more, but since my days are 50% reading reports, that isn’t so attractive.  I like to bake, as it’s a precise art, and my kids can help out. Gaming is obviously a very large recharging outlet.  I was much more socially active when I had the time to be.  I have much more time for that now, since the out-of-house things are not available.

Normal State

2 months ago, if I had a rough day at work, I’d be able to decompress a bit on the drive home, pick up the kids, and start supper.  Maybe 45 minutes from packing my stuff until the house door was closed.  If I needed more, I could do an evening workout, or some hockey.  If it was the weekend I could get some baking in, or head to the cottage.  The odd bit, I’d need the larger part of day to just get into mental shape for the next week.

New Normal

Today if I have a rough day, that means when it’s done I close my laptop and go upstairs.  Takes 30 seconds.  I can’t go to the cottage.  Can’t play hockey.  I’ve baked more than I ever have.  I’m burning through games pretty quick, which is both cool, but also not sufficient to recharge.

I’m also working on getting people back to work in the office, but there is no path where we go back to what was normal 2 months ago.  The entire concept of shared spaces and open environments doesn’t work in a pandemic.  My specific field of work is meant to break that model – and allow people to work from wherever, whenever.  It’s a weird mode of success I guess.

I am fully aware that I am in one of the best possible scenarios.  There are millions (billions) of people worse off than me.  The perception of a gilded cage remains.   Which may simply be me going through the stages of loss.

My brain just hasn’t accepted that things have really changed, cause they seem to be going to change again, and again.  Like if I pretend that things will go back to ‘normal’, everything else is just temporary.  But holding my breath for that change is not helping.  The good news in this is that I’ve been pushing change for 30 years, I know what I need to do.  Better news is that I’m aware there’s a problem.  Just weird to be on the other end of it.

Gamer Profile

I’ve done so many personality profiles now, I may be one of the baselines.  My work related profile is almost entirely red (get things done), with a decent amount of blue (get the details).  My green (want to be included) and yellow (include other people) barely register.  Pretty sure that puts me in the psychopathic tendencies.  The context of that profile is that my work generally deals with no-fail projects that are not progressing.  When you enter a building that’s on fire, you don’t go asking people how’s the weather.  Once the fire’s out, so am I.  Rinse and repeat.

I remember when I received one of my first complete reports.  I read through it, about 40 odd pages, and highlighted 2 sentences out of all of it I didn’t think applied to me.  Showed it to my wife and she started laughing about how accurate it was.  I can still recall people in my group highlighting entire pages.  Either they lied on their answers, or they are in a river in Egypt.

That said, I’ve found it very useful to run these tests on my teams, not so much to pin people into specific colors, but to better understand what approach works best with them.  If someone needs a pat on the back to get motivated, then for sure I’ll do that.  Also helps them understand how I work too.


Gaming profiles have some interest, as they are still being developed.  I’m used to seeing the 4 axis model (Bartle), where I tend to fall into the achiever/explorer type.

Quantic has a 6 axis model, and that level of added granularity makes it easier to explain.  My results here.  You can run your own report from the same link.

quantic basic

This is the basic profile view.  Given I like RPGs and strategic games, this aligns fairly well.  The social aspect is more for the online part, I like single player games more so that multiplayer.  I don’t play for PvP or explosions.


quantic secondary

This one is more nuanced, and therefore more exact in the descriptions. Achievement is a good example of that, where I am driving from a power increase perspective rather than getting 100% done.  I have ZERO drive to “platinum” anything.  I’m also driven by community building rather than competition.  A crystal clear penchant for strategic decisions rather than just pure excitement.

The interesting part here is that if I mixed my gaming profile with my work profile, you’d find some correlation.  The mastery & achievement align tremendously well with getting stuff done.   My focus on details at work is a blend of creativity & immersion.  I clearly like building things with people –  I wouldn’t be a volunteer coach otherwise – so that reflection is fun to see.

Quantic is onto something here, as they ask for your top recent games, and some other recent favorites.  Thematically those games help.  I picked God of War, What Remains of Edith Finch, and Outer Wilds as my top 3.  That’s certainly some variety.  The list of questions that follow are straightforward enough, but don’t really loop back on themselves as most profile tests tend to.  That exists because people’s memories are finicky – you may like blue at the start of a test, but all of a sudden another question talks about bananas, and now you like yellow.

It’s an interesting exercise to take.  Certainly made me take pause and think about the games types I do enjoy, or why I may only enjoy one part of a game but not another.


I picked up this game a while ago based on Syncaine’s recommendation / praise.  I played about 2 hours, couldn’t make heads or tails of the systems, and moved to something else.  I knew that it was a mash of crisis simulator / city builder, and what better time to play that than now!?

Premise is simple – its the 1800’s, the world is frozen over, and you’re leading a small group on rebuilding a single city.  Steampunk + extreme cold = wordplay.  The actual gameplay is a spreadsheet manager, where your pivot table keeps messing up.  But it looks pretty.

Where normal city builders have you starting small, and the only real chance at failure is a lack of funds, Frostpunk has you in a continual downward spiral of not having enough resources.   While doing A, B suffers and vice versa.  You end up doing a bit of A, moving to B before it gets critical, then back to A before that gets critical.  When you think you have a handle on it, the game throws in something to mix it up.  Either it gets so cold no one can work, a bunch of injured people show up, the population demands resources, or a long list of other items.

Resources are managed through an underlying source of heat.  The generator in the middle of the map provides heat for those nearby, and humans can’t work if it’s too cold.  There are many ways to improve this – either more heaters, hubs, insulation, overdrives.  They all consume coal, which you need to harvest.  Building / research material is a combination of wood and steel, also things to harvest.  Food you need to hunt (and a TON of it), then cook it.  You need people to do all of this, and you rarely have enough of them.

One add-on here is automatons. These robots can replace humans gathers, work 24/7, and don’t need heat.  Making them requires a core, which is a very rare resource.  If you get enough of them, and the right buildings, you can basically huddle down the humans permanently.

These things are painful, yes, but they are not game breaking.  If 90% of your population died, that wouldn’t be game over.  Instead there are two larger metrics – Hope and Discontent.  The former is how people feel about their chances of success, and there are a ton of variable to make it move.  Discontent is how upset people are with the current state – too cold, not enough food, bad laws, criminals and the like.  If Hope reaches 0 or Discontent reaches max, you lose.

Every in-game 18 hours, you can pass a new law.  Either these are Adaptation laws (thin the food, make children work, bury the dead) which have very long term consequences, or they are Faith / Order laws which primarily govern Hope / Discontent.  This part gets neat, and quickly.  You may think you are a good leader, and would try to help everyone.  But when you don’t have enoguh food for half the population and a group of 30 show up at your door… do you have everyone starve to death?  Do you make people work a 24 hour shift so that there’s heat for everyone through the night?  Do you triage the sick, so that only those with a strong chance survive and the rest pass?

Or maybe discontent is so high that you need to pass laws on protestors, and publicly execute someone.  Maybe you become a prophet for the city and simply avoid discontent altogether, as anyone who doesn’t follow you is exiled.  Are there bad choices when it comes to survival?

So that’s the real goal of the game – letting you try your hand at managing a non-stop crisis.


The gameplay itself is generally solid.  The graphics represent the activities going on, people picking up wood, or heading out to hunt.  You get heat and religion overlays.  You get to see where people are working.  You’re presented with generally enough data to show what’s going on at any given point.  What you don’t see are the things that are about to happen.  If you’re in the day, maybe that part of the city is warm enough, but at night it will freeze the bones of someone.  Maybe half the people in a building are sick, dropping productivity.  And when people get sick, that has a cascade effect on others… production slows, other people get sick, and then woosh.

The game does a decent job at explaining what a Law will do, in the immediate sense, but doesn’t really go into the long term effects.  Child daycare may seem a great idea, but then you realize they eat all your food, live in the least insulated buildings, and don’t produce anything – ever.  Like a near permanent hole in the dam.

The game also doesn’t do a very good job explaining what the buildings do, or how it impacts the long term city viability.  Hunting huts never require heat, but you’d never know until you turned heat off for them.  Cooking huts require TONS of heat.  Mines can be rotated before building to make them much more accessible.  Roads… holy crap it took me forever to realize how to build them.  What’s the difference between a Coal Mine and a Coal Thumper?  Is a Wall Drill better than a Sawmill?  How does exploration work?

It is hard to articulate how important these items matter.  If you’re going into this cold (heh), you can’t make educated decisions.  You will fail, multiple times.  The initial 3 days have cascading effects for the rest of the game.  Passing laws before you need them has by far the largest of all consequences.  Ignoring research + related buildings focuses your resources on much better things.  Building “permanent” hot zones for residents, and working “hot zones” for gathers has a major impact on coal management.

From a gameplay perspective, it is incredibly frustrating not to have that balance ahead of time, or the information at hand.  From a simulation perspective, it makes total sense.  People managing a crisis rarely have all the facts at hand.  You can only prepare so much for a crisis, and once it hits, you realize how everything is so interconnected.   You’re going to have protestors who are thinking about themselves rather than the city.  You’re going to see really hard decisions made, based on the goals of the person making those decisions.

My first successful playthrough (I failed a half dozen times before) had over 600 citizens, 1 death, laws focused on hope (extended shifts, child shelters, amputation, soup), and a faith-based hope system, without New Faith (where hope is replaced with devotion).  I won’t lie, the mechanics and planning required to get to this point where substantial.  At the end of the scenario (~12 hours), you get a video of your city building over time.  When it was over, I felt relief and some measure of pride.  I did it, the way I wanted to.

Coping with Chaos

Blapril is around, and I was totally in the dark, for reason explained later.  What was initially seen as a long weekend has moved into purgatory.  First world problems abound here, where mental stress is taking a toll.  (I say this, because there are people arguing to get haircuts… which is just, wow.)  The good news of living in Canada is that there is a heck of a lot of financial support for those who are struggling – far from perfect, but it’s there.

Dealing with this is a personal thing and depends a whole lot on your social context.  I come from a lower-middle class background, where money was tight.  I’ve had to make interesting decisions on food vs having a roof.  From that, I don’t put a lot of value in material things (acquiring them), and tend to maintain the heck out of them and try to repair rather than replace.  I brown-bag my lunch, make my own coffee, that sort of stuff.  The majority of my expenses relate to social settings – like having a beer after a hockey game.  My household budget is a tight spreadsheet.  Organized without being anal about it.

My day-job is a non-stop sequence of meetings, often conflicting.  I wake up in the morning, review my calendar, mentally prep for each, then just cascade through them.  It’s highly structured, and I have more work than time.  If you’ve read the 7 habits of highly effective people, that would describe my ability to get through a day.  I’ve further taught myself to speed read, and all this online gaming and blogging has a neat benefit of a crazy high words-per-minute typing ability. Within those work hours, I’m a highly regimented and effective person.

Outside of work, there’s the eternal list of to-dos.  For the winter, it’s hockey (2 kids + me) about 10 times a week – which is close to 25 hours if you include travel/prep.  There’s other kids activities, social events, prepping food, chores, projects, and piles upon piles of things.  When you’re in it, it seems normal.  Looking back, the reality is that there was perhaps 2 nights a week where things were open – and we worked to fill them.  Having an entire day off, that was like a vacation!

Today, work is pretty much the same, except my commute time is measured in seconds instead of minutes.  I need to switch from work to home mode, multiple times.  Up until this last weekend, it was close to 7 days a week of work.  Trying to help kids with their own work is crazy, and my wife is doing an amazing job at that (on top of her work as a teacher).  Time outside of work is harder to juggle, since I’ve now got no extra activities, and limited options for the social stuff.  I’ve had to include a new workout regime to compensate for the lack of sports (that’s working out rather well, if I havent’ had a 12 hour work day).  We take more time to prep meals, often eating much later.  Time just seems to be flying.  Most nights past 9, I’m on some game trying to ramp the brain down from the day’s events.

My mental stress is not due to finances.  There are no health issues.  Food is still relatively easy to access.  It’s not due to boredom.  It’s not cause my wife cuts my hair (which is pretty sweet, and my mustache is kick butt). It’s due to having an even busier schedule than before, and a lack of previous social outlets.  It’s managing other people’s stress in the house, and helping them cope.  The super mega great news on that front is that I love my wife and kids, and being locked up with them is cool.  Getting to spend more time with them is a damn perk.

There are days that are tougher than others.  Where work just drains me completely.  I let the wife and kids know (they aren’t mind readers, at least I hope not), and they 100% respect that and let me recharge.  I get back into it.  I’m conscious that my situation is likely the best of nearly all possible variables.  I’d sure as heck like to get out of this house and have a pint on a patio, but all things considered, I’m in a really good spot.



Jurassic Park Was Prescient

The first Jurassic Park had a really cool hook.  It was a new idea, what with opening a park with giant monsters that would love nothing more than to eat things a 1/10th their size.  What could go wrong?  Turns out, people.  Chaos ensues, the dream dies.

Then the sequel jolts that idea back.  And the plot point for each successive entry is “it won’t happen again THIS TIME“, which of course it does.  Watching those films, you’d have to wonder why anyone would even remotely think it was viable to run a park like this.  What would drive people to invest money on what is near certainly going to be a death machine?

Turns out I was wrong.  The prospect of money is more important than being alive.  Turns out people need haircuts more than they need their aunt to live.

Man am I happy to be Canadian.  Too cold for dinosaurs.

Living With Less

Canada isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly showing some nice colors during this mess.  For a long while we even had cooperation between the opposing political parties, pushing to get things through.  Then, as politicians are naturally invested in taking credit and shifting blame, one in particular started taking a combative approach.  It’s interesting since that party at the national level was getting good cred for making politics work, so this is a weird turn.  Even in Ontario, our premier seems to have learned that lesson.  Despised to an insane level, COVID appears to have broken his shell and make him actually appear human.

The problems for each are similar, and they’ve all had to take really hard decisions these past weeks.  There’s no perfect answer, and a lot of people are negatively impacted.  There are a couple good programs at the federal level – CERB gives $500 a week to individuals, and CEBA gives businesses loans and covers salary payments.

(The US in comparison is giving $1200 total to individuals, and their business bail-out… well if people actually understood it, that’s what they’d be protesting.)

I don’t want to sugar coat all the bad stuff up here.  The nursing homes are really badly hit.  The oil industry has pretty much been hit it’s death blow.  Many businesses based on physical presence (tourism for many) are never going to be able to make up lost time.  A lot of people who invested for their retirement…they’ve seen a lot of it go away.

But in all there is some silver lining.  Through hardships, people reconsider their priorities.  A lot of folks are in their house 24/7 with people they barely saw prior.  The “need” to work crazy hours is being critiqued.  Discovering the joys of home cooking rather than eating out every day.  Talking to your wife and kids and realizing how cool they are.  Being able to survive, even thrive, without all the daily incidentals we were growing used to.

COVID isn’t gone, it’s that social distancing is dramatically reducing the number of people catching it.  Getting back to “normal” is something that will take a very long time so as not to cause additional flare ups.  Mass gatherings of people are going to be highly scrutinized – sporting events, cruise ships, buffets, things of that sort.  The question really becomes – are people going to miss those things enough to want to go through the hassle of attending them?  Some for sure, yet dollars to donuts that this crisis is going to have much larger social implications.

And hopefully everyone comes out of this with a new found respect for health care workers and our teachers.  There are plenty of other folks that help make society run, but these two rarely get any recognition.

Echo Chambers

Right, so off the edge a bit here.  The insanity of the news cycle is really getting to me.


Men in Black has one particular quote that has struck me for a long time.

A person is smart, people are dumb.

We’ve all been teenagers, and peer pressure certainly was a driver for some dumb stuff.  I figured this would stop applying once people get educated and mature. Not so much.

This behavior isn’t always bad.  Think of a comedy club.  It’s a whole lot easier to laugh if other people are laughing.  Or a concert, where you will sing along if other people are as well.   Heck, any professional sport event fits this (football in Europe is notorious for this).

The anti-vax movement is a solid example of dumb.  This really sucks because the people in the movement already have their vaccines – they are putting their kids at risk.  The large bursts of whooping cough in these groups is both preventable and infuriating.  The sort of good news out of this is that during the COVID pandemic, you don’t find too many of them making headlines.  The ones you do end up being religious nuts who end up dying.

There’s the never ending ‘pills and herbs’ groups that are sold to cure everything.  Canada has some interesting laws to prevent this model from working as compared to other countries, but it’s still impressive to see folks hawking snake oil cures.  Clearly people are desperate and looking for any option.  Hot Dog Water is the natural conclusion to this madness.

I had a born again friend try to convince me that the world was 5,000 years old and presented me ‘scientific material’ to prove his point.  Event horizons were used to explain light from stars that were far away.  At the time I was studying computer engineering in university, and first year physics was enough to debunk nearly every argument.  But I had that information, he didn’t.

The 5G conspiracy is the new one, where people are burning towers cause they think it’s the cause of COVID.   Just… wow.

The Need

There’s no way to avoid these groups from forming.  Some of them start off as jokes (Birds aren’t real) and develop a cult following.  Some start off as small ideas and then blow up to crazy levels as people make more and more outlandish justifications.  Obfuscation is a main tool to keep people hooked, where the reasoning behind the actions are so complex that people just give up and accept the answer.

Yet all these people involved have a fundamental need to know.  Maybe they have a basic question and a rat hole develops that they can’t get out of.  Maybe they have a fundamental need to belong and stay with the group that shares one fundamental thing in common and just ‘learn to accept’ the other stuff.  Maybe a life event occurs and the group that provides the most support is also the most fringe.  That need will never go away.

The Echo

Ignore social media for a minute and let’s say you’ve found like minded people.  To get more information about the movement, you need access to the mouthpiece’s information.  That occurs through local events (rallies) or through distributed media.  It’s a slow burn, with ferverous spikes when people meet.  Since those events are relatively spread out, the people are interacting with other people in other times.  Cults saw this as bad, and the worst prevent socializing with people outside the group (Scientology much?)  If you can talk to other people, you’re exposed to other ideas, and that generally means you ask more questions.  Questions are good for the person – bad for the nut movement.

Add in social media now.  It’s a 24×7 surround sound box of nutjob videos, podcasts, and streams.  Social media algorithms make recommendations that just drag you farther down the rabbit hole.  If you find a ‘5G causes COVID’ video, it’s not because you were looking for it – it’s because an IT system recommended it to you.  And if you view it, the other recommended videos will be in a similar vein.

There are plenty of reports and studies on the far-right movements that took wind in the last 5 years.  Nearly all of them fueled by smart people taking advantage of social media.  Think about it for a second.  Of the people you meet every day, the amount you consider ‘special’ should be relatively small.  But there’s enough of them out there to make people some money.  Using tools like Facebook or Twitter to focus your message on these people is much more effective that say, auto-dialers or mail outs.  And once you have their attention, it costs pennies to drive out new material to keep them coming back.

The telltale sign of this behavior is the hypocrisy of the group.  Rather than operate on a set of ethics and rules, they work on social order.  It’s an Us vs Them mentality.  The Us part can do whatever we want, and often the ‘leader’ is allowed extraordinary leeway. Megachurches around the world ask for tithes so their leaders can buy jets.   But the people outside the church are all greedy.  My leader is a king, but their leader is a dictator.  Uh huh.

The Cure

There is only ever one cure, and it’s sunshine.  People get educated.  People use researched facts.  People stand up to scrutiny.  People need to meet other people and share their ideas.

My born-again friend from earlier realized that he had lost his entire circle of friends.  The ‘church’ he was with restricted him from doing almost everything he enjoyed doing.  When his kids started asking questions as to why their family was different than others, that’s when it started to click.  He made a choice to step away from that cliff.  He still practices, just with a more open minded group.

Instead of focusing on the group, we need to focus on the people.  It’s not possible to destroy an idea with facts, the people in that group are immune to facts.  But you can focus on the person, and their needs and values.  There’s enough converted white nationalists to prove that model works.

A person needs to feel valued and that they belong.  A person is smart.