My second Egypt video is taking longer than I thought, so for today’s video we’re going pure response. Late last week, and affable comedy channel entitled Awaken with JP dived deep into the Coronavirus Conspiracy waters with a video called: “What It’s Like to Believe Everything the Media Tells You“. It’s a very cleverly executed video, that never mentions the Coronavirus in it’s meta-data, and carefully approaches the topic in a comedic, sarcastic way, that’s really hard to pin down as misinformation.
When you watch it carefully though, it becomes clear that the underpinnings of the video are deeply conspiratorial. It indulges in, and furthers a range of strategies the Trump campaign is currently using to explain away the president’s responsibility for the crisis. JP has been rewarded for this well crafted piece of media. It’s been seen over 3 million times, instantly becoming the third most popular video on his over five year old channel. I’m a little jealous of course, but I think it’s also worth calling him to account. Which is what today’s video attempts to do.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. Last week a friend sent me a video from AwakenwithJP, a comedy YouTube Channel I have enjoyed in the past. I have been trying to avoid talking Coronavirus, I am not a medical professional after all, but this video pissed me off. It’s an amusing, sarcastic delivery of some really bad ideas I have been looking for a good way to counter for a while. The video positions itself as an anti-media rant. But it’s clear that AwakenwithJP actually has waaay too much faith in the media.
There are one or two good arguments in the video, and I dont think it’s malicious. It comes from a really understandable place of frustration that we all share. But it’s also full of some of the darkest conspiracy theories swimming around on the internet.
You can see this argument everywhere in the right wing news universe, and while it sounds reasonable on its first hearing, what it is really arguing is that it doesn’t count if old people die of coronavirus.
NICE DISTINGUISHED PHOTO OF DAD
My dad is 77. He has surpassed the average life expectancy of men born in 1942, by a whopping 9 years. But the group of men who lived to be 77 is a different subset of people. People born in 1942 who have lived this long have a life expectancy of an additional 7 or 8 years. Dad, like absolutely every other 70 something in the country, has a number of health issues. He’s got issues with his heart his lungs, you name it. If he gets the virus and dies, it will be because the shock to his system aggravates many of the many preconditions he already has. Covid-19 will have stolen the 7 or 8 years of life he could have had. But Awaken with JP, and, amusingly enough my Trump-supporting father, believe that listing the cause of death as Covid in this case would be part of a grand conspiracy.
NICE DISTINGUISHED PHOTO OF DAD IN A MAGA HAT
Don’t get me wrong. It’s possible that some deaths are being misrecorded. The United States has 50 different state health authorities, and every city and town is collecting the information differently. The one thing we know for sure about our aggregate data is that it’s garbage. But it’s just as likely that Covid deaths are being undercounted. I could easily believe that our totals are off by 5-20% in either direction. But the very Republican idea that JP presents, that there’s a concerted effort to cover up the fact that nobody’s really dying from Coronavirus, is ridiculous.
That particular argument really pisses me off, but other than that I have neither the time nor the inclination to dive into every one of JP’s arguments. I don’t have the medical background necessary to speak conclusively about scientific studies the way JP seems to think he does. What I do feel qualified to talk about is the child-like lack of perspective that suffuses the video. Underneath the layers of bitter sarcasm it’s clear that JP has a faith in the power and knowledge of the people in charge that’s almost touching.
According to JP, and conspiracy theorists everywhere, the people in charge don’t just know the real truth about this disease, they are successfully hiding it from Everybody, and they have super secret sinister agendas that they are putting in place. JP, and conspiracy theorists everywhere, at root believe that the powers that be are infallible. Somebody must be benefiting from all of this pain and confusion. This is the viewpoint of angry teenagers everywhere. Angry teenagers are still children. And like the most trusting 5 year old, angry teenagers believe that the people in charge have infinite powers, just that these powers are used for evil rather than good.
What adults realize, is that everybody is weak and stupid. The world’s greatest evils are almost all brought about by people who think they are doing the right thing, and nobody in charge is as smart or capable as we would like them to be. Media and government and business are filled with people who are trying to get things right and they all fail all the time. The idea that these people are perpetuating some grand conspiracy is laughable.
Also, I’m not sure where JP is getting this idea that Scientists, government officials, or even Bill Gates are pretending to have a clear idea what’s going on with coronavirus. If you read more than a paragraph produced by any of these organizations, they will tell you directly about how much they don’t know. Outlets like Breitbart, Fox News and Awaken With JP who pretend that shadowy omni-competent elites are handing out dictates are inventing a caricature that doesn’t exist. What we know about this disease is changing every day. We need to give doctors and scientists more resources to figure this out, and the constant shouting about how they’re lying to us is not helping us do that.
So… did the World Health Organization screw up? Absolutely. So did the US food and drug administration. So did the centers for disease control. The Chinese and US government’s screwed up too. All of these institutions need to be better run. But do they need to be attacked the way they are in the video? Is the WHO really a…
“…a giant powerful business that pretends it’s a charity like the World Health Organization”
Not really. Again, JP assumes power, efficiency and the competence necessary to fool the world, when none of those things are present.
The WHO has one of the biggest and most difficult jobs in the world. Tracking and fighting infectious disease is only the most important part of their mission, they do a lot of other stuff too. The 4.4 billion dollars a year it has to work with might sound like a lot of money, but it’s significantly smaller than the budgets of than a lot of US hospital systems.
What’s worse is that the WHO has very little discretion over how this money is used. Only 20% of the money it gets each year is made up of predictable payments from governments. 80% of the money is voluntary and program based, which means the WHO only gets it if they agree to follow the agendas of the people giving them money, whether it’s China, the Gates Foundation or somebody else. Now most of these programs are worthwhile, but this approach makes a careful, coordinated policy impossible. It’s not like the WHO is some sneaky all powerful organization. It’s actually kind of pitiful. The Organization’s lack of funding requires its leaders to spend more time doing politics than science. It’s a really dumb way to organize the world’s pandemic response. We need to be more critical of these organizations. But we need to do the reading, and figure out how to improve them. When Fox, or JP push unthinking conspiracy theories about them, it has terrible real-world results. For example, in late April, Trump was persuaded to cancel the meager funding the US gives to the WHO, crippling it in the middle of a pandemic, and forcing it even further into China’s arms.
Folks like JP seem to believe that our world medical infrastructure is competent enough that things will be just fine without expertise, experience, personnel, money, or the confidence of the public. That’s a pretty amazing belief to hold onto after the past three months.
“I’ll tell you who I trust more than God. Bill Gates, because he’s got more money than God. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can definitely buy my trust. I accurately look at Bill Gates as a medical authority when it comes to vaccines and disease, because he’s a software engineer, not a doctor…”
I think that Bill Gates and his foundation have done a lot of good, but I didn’t start this channel to defend billionaires, Mr. Gates can look out for himself. And in one sense, this is the best critique that JP makes in his video. Why is it exactly that a private sector billionaire is so central to the world’s health response? Well it’s because folks making arguments like the ones JP is making have spent 40 years tearing down the governmental and intergovernmental agencies that should be dealing with the Coronavirus. People were so worried about imagined government agendas that they left all this power to a private individual instead. I don’t think that’s an improvement.
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