Monday, 30 October 2017

Skepticism 101: Don't Be Stupid

If you are not a Skeptic, you are an Idiot.

Before I get into the explanation as to why, I want you to think for a moment - how does that make you feel? I just called you stupid, how does that make you feel? Most people, when called stupid, feel insulted. They get annoyed, sad, upset or angry. Even if that particular comment didn't upset you, is that always the case? When someone confronts your intelligence or conflicts with your knowledge, how do you feel, usually? What about when it really matters, or what about if it's something that you care about? Do you usually get upset?

Most people do; some of us do all of the time, but all of us do some of the time. The fact of the matter is, even if you are a skeptic, you are ALSO an idiot. Everyone is an idiot. That’s the point I need to make, we are all simple, flawed humans and we all make stupid mistakes for stupid reasons.
The Word of the Day is: 'SKEPTIC'

Skeptic /'skeptik/ n. 1. A person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual. 2. A person who maintains a doubting attitude, as toward values, plans, statements, or the character of others. 3. A person who doubts the truth of a religion, especially Christianity, or of important elements of it. 4. (cap.) Philosophy a. A member of a philosophical school of ancient Greece, the earliest group of which consisted of Pyrrho and his followers, who maintained that real knowledge of things is impossible. b. Any later thinker who doubts or questions the possibility of real knowledge of any kind. ♦adj. 5. Pertaining to skeptics or skepticism; skeptical.

The basic idea is thus - as we are evolved creatures (just like every living thing), we are primarily motivated by death and sex - kill others before they kill you, and procreate before you die. Our larger brains evolved due to a few random mutations that allowed greater neuroplasticity, excess neuron growth and greater skull capacity. However, these mutations survived because it allowed those of us with these mutation to better adapt to dangers.
The capacity to imagine, to build, to speak - these are not selected for because “gee, wouldn't higher thinking be cool?”. These survived into our current species, because the ability to imagine includes the ability to foresee events before they happen, cooperate with others in our tribe, preempt consequences and plan for the future. This was an evolutionary advantage.
We currently use our brains for all kinds of things, it was not designed for - admittedly, that's because it wasn't designed at all, it was just a beneficial trait because smarter creatures were more careful, and so could live longer.

However, despite this, we still use our lizard-monkey brains for complex processes, from software to surgery to science. Don't get me wrong, due to our brains’ magnificent capacity it is very much CAPABLE of doing all that, but the system is not perfect. Just like using a razorblade as a kitchen knife, sure, it can work perfectly fine, but if you aren't careful, you'll end up with blood in your bolognese.
See, when your main goal is just to survive, “truth” doesn't matter, “truth” is useless.
When you see two eyes staring at you from behind the grass, it doesn't matter if that's actually a predator, or if it's a butterfly with convincing camouflage, because if you run away every time you will always survive. It doesn't matter whether the bitter vegetable is actually deadly or just an underripe turnip, all that matters is that if you avoid it just in case, you’ll never die from its poison. It doesn't matter if the bull/alpha/male is actually weaker than you, all that matters is that if you can make him back down, you get first dibs on the sex and food every time.
This is survival of the fittest. Not the fastest, not the strongest, the "fittest". it's not a square peg through a square hole, it's more like a semi-circle through a circular hole - it doesn't need to be the best, it just needs to "fit".
So, when we struggle to think critically and fail, it’s all just a result of us thinking like simple, imperfect animals. And, can you blame us? We are animals. When the goal is “survive”, truth is irrelevant, so when you use these same thought processes to find truth or attempt to determine reality, it's the metaphorical razorblade attempting to peel a metaphorical pumpkin. Not impossible, just not as easy.
But it does mean that “common sense” is fundamentally flawed. Sure, it makes "sense" that water looks blue because it reflects the blue sky; it makes “sense” that the sun goes around the Earth; it makes “sense” that blood in your veins is coloured blue; it makes “sense” that sugar makes children hyperactive & yes, it does make “sense” that that these simplistic ways of thinking are due to us having evolved from a less-developed lizard-monkey brain. However, not a single one of these things is actually true. The world is more complicated than our singular common sense allows. That's why we invented science, because we realized that a sometimes we are wrong. Science and other methodological enquiry is designed to curtail these stupid mistakes by slowly and carefully removing human error from the equation.

This is Skepticism 101: Remember that you are very capable of being very stupid. Even with the greatest education, the best of intentions, an astounding track record for efficiency and even if you have a desire to be a skeptic, you can still be wrong. So, you must accept that anything you do not know can be wrong. Even things you think you know can be wrong. Here's a perfect example:
  You are currently reading my blog post.This seems like an obvious thing to say, after all, if you weren't here to read it, then you wouldn't know what it says, right? Surely, this is true.
Well, not necessarily. For instance, who is to say that this blog post is mine? It's posted on "blogspot", and I don't know who owns this website domain. I am under the impression that the ownership for my blog falls under my intellectual property, but this may not be "my" blog post, I might be wrong there. Also, I do offer a translation function within this blog, for people who read languages other than English. If you have translated these words, perhaps these words are not precisely mine, but those of the translation program, so it may not be entirely mine.
Secondly, how do I know that you are reading it? Some people have some very clever text-to-speech programs, perhaps you are listening to this blog post, from some program, or perhaps a carer, parent or guardian is reading it to you.
Also, the word "currently" is ambiguous. Currently, from my perspective, I am the only one able to read this post, because I am still writing it. You won't read it until I have posted it. Although I wrote that sentence so that the meaning of the sentence was supposed to imply a current time contemporaneous to its perusal, but I can't assume that a reader would accept that implication.
Even a sentence which, according to common sense, is very much right, every single word in it is up for debate.

Now, of course, a lot of this might sound tiring. Do you really have to doubt everything?! Well, Yes; but pragmatically speaking, the goal is not to be mired by doubt and "accept nothing". Doubt is not the same thing as disagreement, and it is not believing the "opposite". It just means that when presented with something you do not have empirical data (which is to say, that which you have witnessed or investigated for yourself), that it very well could be wrong. Similarly, if you do not know something to be true and are not willing or able to investigate, then the correct answer must be "I don't know".
Remember, the goal is not to "never be incorrect", it's to be the most-correct that you can be. No, you can't always be right, but with some intellectual rigour, you can be less-wrong.

Sometimes, this can be as simple as giving more information. For example, I met a woman today that told me she had a rooster that laid an egg - this is not just an example, this is a true story, a hen wandered into our garden, so I went to a local lady who sells eggs to ask if the hen belonged to her. She came to have a look and determined, no, the chicken is not hers since it was a maroon chicken and she didn't own any red chickens, but she said she would take care of it and look for the owner herself. We had a bit of a chat, and she said she had some cheeky chickens, and one particular rooster that surprised everyone by laying an egg.
I asked her what she meant, and she claimed that it was most-likely intersex (my word, not hers, she said "had both parts"), but some researchers at the local university were interested in having a look, to see if it was fertile.

Now, this is a very unusual claim, but there are some factors that make it appear more plausible in my eyes. There is a local university nearby, and I know that many university students are required to write papers in order to pass their grade (and an intersex chicken would certainly be a paper worth writing). I also know that intersex creatures, although rare, do occur, and because of the various curiosities that come with intersexuality, determining its fertility is not only an interesting conundrum, but could help to determine the nature of its particular sex.
However, obviously, there is reason to doubt it. After all, roosters and hens don't have sexually dimorphic genitals like humans, but rather chickens of either sex both have a cloaca, so this could be a simple case of mistaking a hen for a rooster. Also, although it would be an interesting case if it were true, I don't actually know how or why a local university would become aware of this hen/rooster, since I'm not aware of any universities that go out on "anomaly" hunting missions. It's most likely the woman called them herself, and if it is the case that she did called them herself, then I can't understand why this university was inclined to take her claims seriously. Not to mention, science with a sample of 'one' isn't widely applicable, so I don't know why a university would consider such a case so interesting.

So, as a skeptic, what is the answer? Is there really an intersex chicken out there? a kind of hen/rooster hybrid? A 'hooster'?
Well, the only possible correct answer, as a skeptic, is . . . "I don't know".
I think she was telling the truth, but that's not very meaningful, because even if she's not lying, she could still be mistaken, so it doesn't answer the question of this chicken's sex. Also, whilst I do believe this is plausible, that's not very significant, because many things which do not happen are 'plausible'. I just don't know.

Do I need to go and investigate this case? No, not really. If the opportunity arises to look into this, I would if I had the time, but I am happy not knowing the truth about this chicken and it's chromosomes because this truth isn't relevant to me.
But, as much as it sounds like common sense that this is just a lie, should I really bother being so persnickety? Surely, I should accept that this woman was lying and move on with my life, rather than remain in doubt. However, I can't do that, because although irrelevant to me, this may be relevant to someone else, and I am not prepared to mislead them, just because it is "fit" for me to ignore the reality here. Also, in either case, I would rather be unsure, and conscious of that, than to claim certainty and be ignorant of my own stupidity.

That, you see, is why I am talking about Skepticism in this final day of the Halloween Countdown. Skepticism, by design, counters human error - and ignorance of reality, truth and science is a fundamental human error.
This is what makes Ignorance,to me, so scary. Although I spent this blog post explaining it, the basis of skepticism really is this simple:
  1. Accept that you can be wrong.
  2. Try not to be.
Most people get caught up on the first one, and those that don't often don't know how to accomplish the second. As to that, well, there's science and logic and methodological empiricism. But, so long as you are comfortable with step one there, recognizing that you are not perfect and can make mistakes, and you can be stupid, then you can start being less so.

Despite how simple this is, people still hurt and kill one another over stupid beliefs; they fight over problems that fighting cannot resolve; they harm themselves and others, due to misunderstanding and lies & they justify their own ignorance by claiming that others are ignorant of what they believe to be true.
Just like being an alcoholic, the first step is realizing you have a problem - most of humanity is in denial when it comes to accepting how bad we are at thinking . . . ironically, because they don't want to think about it.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and I hope you have a very fun Halloween tomorrow. I know it can be a scary time, but there is nothing to fear. That's the beauty of Halloween, we recognize that our fear is yet another human flaw, that we are oversensitive to potential dangers and can react fearfully even to things which are not at all dangerous; but Halloween exploits this simple flaw, so that we can have fun. So, to all of my readers, I wish you the best of fun exploiting your over-active fear response for fun and entertainment, and I hope you have a safe and not-too-stupid time this Halloween. Goodnight.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Conspiracy Bleary

I have been talking about ignorance a lot, during this Countdown. Ignorant ideas, ignorant beliefs, ignorant people, ignorant movies. But it may seem, at a glance, as though I am just complaining for my own sake.
Maybe I'm just another upset progressive on the internet who is whinging and whining because things aren't going the way I want them to. After all, what kind of experience does the “Absurd Word Nerd” have with the real world? He is just a writer, he doesn't even leave the house that often. How do we know that he's not just making all this up, like all those other stories he's written?

Well, I am here today to tell you that I have, in fact, experienced my fair share of ignorance. For two months, I was the resident skeptic in a group of conspiracy theorists.

It wasn't an official title, mind you, that's just what I called myself. There was an online group that appeared to believe in every single conspiracy theory from Flat-Earth; Ancient Aliens; the Bermuda Triangle phenomenon; the Evil, Gay agenda; the Jewish cabal; Creationism; Chemtrails & even Magic.
I didn't seek out this group, one day the main administrators added me. They merely said “do you like debate?” I said “yes”, and lo and behold, I was added to a group of the most ignorant people I've ever interacted with. Despite disagreeing with most of what they said, I had a great many discussions with them.
I only was there for two months. Not because I left, mind you. I was banned. I was booted from the group three times in total. But the first time I was re-added, because of a conflict in one of the administrator’s beliefs. The last time, before I said anything, I was re-banned because the administrator once again, fell victim to his gullibility.
I'm not bothered to have been removed, since dealing with these people wasn't exactly "fun". Sometimes, I was disgusted at how prejudiced and bigoted they were, and although I was always kind and courteous, and gave people the benefit of the doubt and did my best not to be offensive, they showed no such restraint.

It is because of this group that, during this Countdown, I keep stating and restating that these people are not unintelligent. They are quite smart in several ways, but they SEEM stupid because some of the simple things we take for granted, they doubt or misunderstand horrendously. Don't get me wrong, their beliefs are cruel and shameful and I am not defending their bigotry, and my attempts to speak with them as a peer, and expressing my opinion, I was called a "Jew" a "fag" a "troll" a "moron" and a "paid agent of lies" - but, I am merely saying that it is foolish and self-delusory to call them "unintelligent".

I'm going to tell you a few of my experiences from this time. I don't have any transcripts, because the group was often reported for hatespeech, or "infiltrated" by what the group considered to be “neo-liberal trolls” and so they had to constantly delete the group and recreate it, meaning I have to repeat all of this from memory, but I could never forget some of these exchanges.
They changed their group code very often, it was #conspirative at one point, I think now it may be #conspirac, but (at least during the the time that I was a part of it, the group was titled “Anti-System”.

One of the first conversations I had in this group was about recreational drugs. Some of the members believed that drugs could broaden your senses, and allow for greater spiritual awareness. When I stated that I did not believe in the soul, one member with a username constructed of random letter from the Cyrillic and Greek alphabets insisted that I needed to try LSD, and then I would believe.
All I did in response was explain how drugs, whilst they could be enjoyable, did not promote so much as diminish our senses. I also spoke about the chemistry of LSD, as it often produces synesthesia by diminishing the connections in our brain, forcing the brain to reroute these connections, and as a result causing unusual sensory information. I explained that this was a dysfunction of the senses, not an expansion. For saying this, I was called close-minded.
I tried to explain that I was open to being convinced, that I could consider these concepts and was trying to understand, but the quality of their proof was insufficient, as it was either ill-informed, or not based on anything testable.
For this, I was told that I was a victim of system propaganda.

This is something that you will see often, if you ever encounter a conspiracy theorist. If you do not or cannot believe what they believe, then you are the one that is brainwashed - this is an "Argument from Incredulity".

In another conversation, someone was explaining how the world is flat, and gravity made no sense because “the horizon is a flat line”. I explained that the horizon rolls back further than our vision, and that if the world were flat, because of the density of air, then the horizon would not look flat but “blurry”. When you see mountains in the distance, they look blue and hazy, because they are further than the horizon can be at sea level. But, if the horizon was “infinite”, or as far as the radius of the world, then the horizon, where the land meets the sky, would be hidden behind the blur of air particles.
For this, I was called stupid and uneducated. I tried to explain the science, but once I had said that the "flat" horizon was evidence that the horizon was "not flat", they had decided that I was a moron, and unable to be reasoned with.

This is something else I faced often. If a conspiracy theorist doesn't understand what you're saying, they assume it's because you are wrong and too stupid to understand their much simpler explanation - this is the "Dunning-Kruger Effect".

I can't actually pinpoint a single instance of this, because it happened quite a lot, but on a few different occasions, I brought up the fact that I was an atheist. This was not something I sought out to do, but sometimes, when people were arguing for their particular conspiracy theory, they would explain that Allah (or the Qu'ran) was proof of their claim - more often than not, the theists in this group were Muslim, but I don't know if that's representative of the broader conspiracy theorist community [please, don't presume that it does] - and so, God's existence proves their theory. Now, I was not prepared to explain to these people that their does not exist, because I was there to discuss their theories, not dismiss their theology. But, if they pressed the issue, I would explain (as kindly as I could) why their god did not exist. Whenever I did this, or sometimes when someone just went on a "fuck those atheists" rant, I was told that I just "hated god", that I "just wanted to sin" & that I was a "satanist".

In my experience, the reason why conspiracy theorists are so antagonistic towards disagreement, is because they don't actually know what others think, so they will tell you what they think you believe - this is called a "Straw man Fallacy".

There was one occasion that I will never forget, because at the time I was struck speechless at how unknowledgeable the person I spoke with was. On this occasion, I must reiterate, I had spoken to this person before, and they were educated in several other respects. But, on this occasion, they were severely uneducated. This person told me that the Earth was flat, because "of course it is". I told them that, in fact, the Earth is round. They pre-empted my claim by saying that I probably believed in gravity, and so I was being foolish because "gravity doesn't exist".
Confused, I asked this person what they thought made things fall down. I was simply told "weight", because "heavy things fall down". It took me a long, long time even to understand that he was, indeed, claiming that "weight" (i.e. the force that gravity exerts upon mass) not only made things fall down, but was somehow proof that gravity is a debunked theory.
I eventually asked them why the moon doesn't fall down, and I was told that the moon was not very heavy.

This, I'm afraid, is something that is often encountered when it comes to conspiracy theorists. They may be so uncritical of their thought that they can claim to believe something that is fundamentally wrong - or, as some might say "Not even wrong".

Now one final, and I fear, most important, little anecdote. A lot of the beliefs of this group were incredibly bigoted and prejudiced. They were vehemently anti-Semitic, blaming Jews for most of the world's problems, from ISIS, media and politics to the economy, and claiming that anyone who was part of the problem was most likely a secret Jew. But, worse (from my perspective) was that transgendered people were seen as sick, disgusting perverts and homosexuals were just considered to be sex-crazed paedophiles.
When I explained that this was wrong, and that homosexuality was basically just 'love' by a different name - the first time I said this, I was banned from the group.
I was eventually brought back in, but later when I explained that homosexuality was not paedophilia, I was presented with photos from LGBT Mardi Gras and Pride Parades, and bilous explanations that it was degenerate, disgusting filth.
Now, I've never been to a Gay Pride Parade, mostly because I'm not gay, I'm not really into self-declared "pride" and I'm not a fan of parades; but, they seem like a lot of fun for those that go. However, I was presented with pictures of men wearing little but jocks and peacock feathers, whom were called "ugly, disrespectful pigs" and drag queens and transgender women called "degenerate freaks". Worst, in my eyes, was the description of two men and a boy which - after some googling, I managed to find the picture - showed them kissing, and it was called "pedo scum".
Now, maybe I am just a brainwashed fool, mislead by the evil Jewish media, but to me that picture looks like two married men adopted a son, and on the day out one of his dads lifted him on his shoulders, and amidst an atmosphere of fun and community, the boy gave his dad a kiss. It's stuff like that which made it really exhausting to talk to conspiracy theorists.

But this is something I saw time and time again. Something innocent, natural, normal or easily understood by most, to them it was twisted and warped into something disgusting and despicable - this bias is just an "Appeal to Emotion".

So you see, I have dealt with ignorance, directly. For two whole months, I spent several thousand words a week dedicated to conversations with people that thought I was a "paid disinformationist", a "troll", a "Jewish agent" and a "devil"; and even the ones that didn't thought I was a moron, a brain-washed victim of the 'System' or a secret homosexual. All because I enjoyed debate, and I believe in equality.
I was capable of getting through to some people on some subjects, but because I was one person and they were almost fifty, my voice was often drowned out by those who wanted to reinforce their beliefs in their fellow conspiracy theorists. One man, alone, is not enough to convince forty-five strangers on the internet, some with a poor grasp of English (some spoke English as a Second Language, which made informed, scientific debate nearly impossible) that maybe "science" is more accurate than "common sense".

You can see why, after two months, I was actually gladdened to finally be banned at the same time as the group made yet another membership purge, and changed its name. I think they call themselves "The Elite" now, but I am not interested in joining. After all, I never "joined" in the first place, I only ever came along for the ride. But, as a final farewell, I sent the group administrator a final message, explaining (in genuinely heartfelt, but nonetheless curt terms) why his views of "Freedom of Speech" were contradictory with his desire to silence "Jewish and homosexual propaganda", and that he should practice some introspection, and ended with a list of every adjective that described his bigoted views, and ended with a 'gif' of an Obama mic' drop. I did not swear, but I admit that I was pretty annoyed, and it came across in my words.

See, I was ultimately sick of it. When it comes to fiction, conspiracy theories can be fun; but in the real world, it's just boring, time-consuming and frustrating.
I have a great deal of patience with those who disagree with me, and I can still look back and see these people as nothing more than some people that have made simple mistakes, leading to some potentially dangerous ideas, but I do not recommend this to anyone with a short temper or little patience.

But do you want to know what I consider to be the silliest part of the conspiracy theory crowd? Well, I have a theory of my own. Not a conspiracy theory,  just a hypothesis about a correlation between them. I call it the “Lens Cap” theory.
I believe that the cause behind most Conspiracy Theories is that conspiracy theorists don't understand how cameras work. Although this is somewhat amusing, it is not a joke, I'm serious. Think about it . . .
Bigfoot? Well, some people confuse photographs of darkly contrasted shapes and poorly focused creatures for a humanoid monster, they don't understand that it's just an illusion in the photo.
Ghosts? People don't understand how night vision cameras pick up light, and confuse dust for “spectral orbs”, or they confuse low-quality images for “ghost photography”.
Flying saucers? Well, people don't understand how poor photography is when taking photos of the sky, due to how far away most airborne objects are, or how extreme the contrast is at night, so confuse distant objects, or nearby insects, for alien craft.
Faked Moon Landing? Some people claim that the footage was faked on a soundstage,correlating test footage with a dress rehearsal or not understanding the particulars of “high speed” footage, and why it cannot explain moon landing footage.
Reptilian overlords? People don't understand that when a person on television blinks, even high-quality footage creates compression artifacts which make people's eyes look yellow during the freeze frame.
Flat Earth? Well, flat-earthers claim that “round earth” evidence (photos and footage of spheroidal planets, like Earth) are “faked” for various reasons from lighting issues to claims of CGI rendering - all explained by a misunderstanding of space photography.
September 11? Some people watch and rewatch WTC attack footage, looking for supposed anomalies, or look at photos of the related Pentagon crash, and report finding supposedly “anomalous” visual features, claimed to be inconsistent with a plane crash.
Chemtrails? Well, most of these claims are based around how some photographs of aeroplanes leaving contrails supposedly show “unidentifiable planes”, due to digital zoom and high contrast obscuring the plane. Or, they correlate unrelated photos of unpopulated cargo planes.
Anti-Vaxxers? Yes, even beliefs which linked the MMR vaccine to autism were based on faulty endoscopy readings (i.e. readings from the camera you stick down someone’s throat), and misinformation presented during this researcher's televised press conference.

This is just a theory, and we must remember that correlation is not causation - the fact of the matter is that images and short videos are much more easily transmissible viral memes, which could easily explain their correlation with popular conspiracy theories. And keep in mind that cameras have a complicated artistry behind them that many don't understand and they are one of the most sophisticated and also most easily accessible investigative tools available to the public. It's therefore not a surprise that the peculiarities of their function are often overlooked.
If you're interested in learning more about the inconsistencies in conspiracy theorist claims, then I highly recommend CoolHardLogic’s World of Batshit playlist on YouTube; he's considerably less forgiving than I am, often insulting and laughing at conspiracy theorists, but the content can be most enlightening, and this is presented as entertainment, as well as providing more evidence for my particular Lens Cap theory.

In conclusion, I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and i want to make it perfectly clear - on the record - that I do consider my theory just a bit of fun. If anyone takes my Lens Cap theory as gospel, or claims that it is some kind of conspiracy by camera manufacturers to mislead the gullible, I will be incredibly disappointed in you . . .

Vampire Fruit Bats

The flight was hell. We spent more time in the airport than in the air, and I sat next to a mother with a baby. It didn't cry, but its mother doped it on something to keep it quiet, instead it just threw up. I got some on my trousers, it smells like sour milk.
And now that we're here, it's pouring rain. I'm used to rain, I'm an Englishman, but our dingy, little hire car has a hole in the roof which is pooling water in the backseat, so I'm huddled with my briefcase and jacket in the passenger seat, while Gary drives. We pull up to the driveway beside a van which sat in front of a dark grey slab of cliff that looms over us like a gothic cathedral.
  “Nah-three-apeba Nekh-ha?" read Gary, looking at the red letters on the green gate that guarded the cave entrance "The bloody hell does ‘at mean?"
  “That's not what it says," I say, opening the car door. "It's Serbian, I'm sure it says 'Zlotska cave'."
I step out, kick the door shut and run to the small, door-sized gate within the larger gate, to get out of the rain as quickly as possible.
  “Come on Gary!" I call back.
Gary squeezes out of the car and waddles as quickly as he can to get under shelter, but even in the short run, his short hair and the shoulders of his polo shirt were sodden.
  “Oi, mate, my legs aren't as long 's yours," he says, fetching his glasses out of his shirt pocket and drying them with a handkerchief from his trousers. The cavern proper was lit by some standing floodlamps, with tables set up near the side, where two men were already working at a table covered with books, and what looked like cooler boxes and thermoses of water and coffee. I recognized one of them as Doctor Markis, I worked with him in college once.
  “Robert?" I say, heading over. "So, what's the project this time?"
He turns to greet me with a wide grin.
  “Neobiology," he says, with an outheld hand. "Nice to see you again, I'm glad you could make it."
I shake his hand and he turns to Gary.
  “Mr Longfield, is it?"
  “Call me Gary," replied my colleague in his slack, Liverpudlian slur.
  “And, this is Doctor Radmilo Kovac, doesn't speak much English," said Markis, turning to the fourth man. "Radmilo, upoznajte moje kolege. Gary Longfield, i Theodore Waites."
  “Hello, good," said Radmilo, smiling at us. “Bat man?”
  “Wha’?” said Gary.
  “Have you been teaching him about your comic books?” I ask, wryly.
  “No, he wants to know if you’re the expert in bat-borne diseases.”
  “I’m an expert in viral microbiology and infectious diseases . . . Yes. I Am Bat Man,” I say slowly, so the poor fellow can understand. He nods, and gestures for me to follow him to another table, set up away from the food.
  “Should I . . .?” I ask Robert.
  “Yes, this is what you’re here for,” he says. “Drop your stuff here first.”
I set up my briefcase by the table, then walk to the other table with a dedicated flood lamp, I catch a glimpse of the eviscerated, bloody corpse and jump back.
  “For goodness sake!” I curse, seeing the bat, splayed out and pinned, so that its insides are showing.
  “Are you alright, Theo?” asks Robert.
  “You could’ve given me a heads-up,” I growl, stepping closer, “Ugh . . . that’s disgusting.”
  “Ona je pala sa plafona,” said Radmilo, putting on a pair of gloves. “Eh . . . Fall. Dead.”
  “Radmilo here is a local veterinarian,” said Robert. “I called him into sex some of the specimens, but some of them started just dropping dead on us. Even after an autopsy, he’s still not sure what’s killed them, but he suggests it could be viral.”
  “Necropsy,” I correct, “autopsies are done on humans. ‘Auto-’, ‘self’.”
I grimace, leaning forward, watching Radmilo pick up a scalpel from the table.
  “Ona gostili zaražene krvi . Posmatrati . . .” says Radmilo, he made an incision in the pink balloon I recognized as the stomach, immediately blood spills out of the cut, filling the whole cavity where she was cut open.
  “A stomach full of blood?” I say. “That’s one hell of an infection . . .”
  “That wasn’t caused by the infection, that’s the cause of the infection,” says Robert. “I think it drank the blood.”
I can’t help but chuckle, nervously.
  “Robert, I thought you were a biologist,” I say. “Even I know that this isn’t a vampire bat. It’s too big, I’ve seen an Attenborough documentary about it, they’re smaller than cricket balls, tiny.”
  “Postoje komada povrća takodje,” said Radmilo, picking out small, bloody chunks from the corpse.
  “Yurk! Get that away from me!” I yell, jumping back. “I don’t want to wear it!”
  “I know they’re not vampire bats. As Doctor Kovac says, it’s a fruit bat. But they’ve also been feeding on blood,” Robert puts a hand on my shoulder and looks me in the eye. “Fruit bats aren’t native to this region of Europe, and this facial structure bears unique features. We could be looking at a new species. Perhaps a hybrid. A ‘vampire/fruit bat’.”
  “Just, hold the phone,” I say, brushing his hand off my shoulder. “let me get my equipment and I’ll take a look before we start declaring a new species. Alright?”
  “Of course,” said Robert, beaming. “That’s what you’re here for . . .”

I ask Radmilo to collect from the dead bat and Gary begins preparing a Giesma stain, while I set up my microscope, glass slides and utensils on a cleared section of the first table. The other two watch me put on gloves and sit at the microscope. Peering through the viewer, I can’t help but be confused. It almost looked like Robert was right . . .
  “This is odd,” I say, adjusting the viewer. “This looks like human blood. The cell-count isn’t right for a bat . . .”
  “I told you as much,” says Robert, grinning. I look away from the sample to glare at him.
  “Don’t jump to conclusions, Doctor.”
  “Thee? Stains ’re ready,” said Gary, hobbling over holding two glass slides in each gloved hand.
  “Thank you, Gary” I say, taking them from him. I mount the slides, and peer through the viewer. After adjusting the placement, I find what looks like little, red worms on the pink-stained slide. “Ooh, that’s . . . T. rangeli? Gary, what do you think?”
I stand back and he hunches over, he steps back, shaking his head.
  “Cruzi,” says Gary. “It look’ like Tryp’ Rangeli, but you assume T. cruzi, ‘cos there’s a risk o’ Chagas disease.”
  “Well, Chagas would explain why some of them are dropping dead,” I say. “In chronic cases it can cause the heart to stop. Do you have protective clothing around here, Robert?”
  “Not really,” says Robert. “Why?”
  “Because this can transfer to humans. it’s bloodborne, but there’s still a significant risk. Gary and I brought ours, but you and Radmilo should suit up if you want to keep handling these bats, just in case.”
  “Right,” says Robert. “But, doesn’t this confirm my theory? Large vampire bats, drinking human blood?”
  “I don’t know, Robert, it doesn’t add up,” I say. “I mean, it looks like a fruit bat, the teeth are suited to gnawing, not nipping, ripping or suckling. And Chagas can cause facial swelling, that can explain away the unique facial features . . . besides, it’s too big to subsist on blood.”
  “Well, it might not be their main food supply,” says Robert. “Vampire moths usually consume juices, but they drink sweat, tears or even blood, to transfer the salts during mating season. This could be a feature of this new hybrid, this could very well be mating season.”
  “At the same time as the rainy season?” I say, shaking my head. “You’re reaching, Robert. Don’t presume your hypothesis, that’s just bad science.”
Robert sighs. “Alright, that is a fair point. But, this isn’t clouding my judgement, it’s just motivation. Even if I’m wrong, and these are just fruit bats with Chagas, I will still write a paper about fruit bats with stomachs full of human blood. But come and see the colony, you’ll see, these don’t act like regular fruit bats.”

I put on my protective chemical hazmat suit, yellow rubber coveralls with boots, gloves and a facemask with a air filter over the mouth to breath. Robert gets into Gary’s suit, which is considerably more baggy than mine, but nonetheless covers and protects him. Then we head deeper into the cave each of us with a torch to light the way.
  “Are you sure the suit is necessary?” says Robert.
  “The risk of infection is small,” I say, patting him on his shoulder with my free hand, “But with these on, it becomes nil.”
  “Alright, Theo, you’re the expert,” says Robert, his voice beginning to echo as we head further down the tunnel. After a hundred metres or so, the tunnel peels away into a much large section of the cave. I wave my torch around to see that the room is at least thirty metres across, with more tunnels on the other side of the cavern leading further down. To my right was a pile of rocks and vegetation, but above . . . the ceiling was blanketed with bats. Most of them were fast asleep, curled up into leathery bundles, but some of them jostled uncomfortably as my torchlight fell upon them. There was easily one hundred bats, if not more. I pointed my torch to the floor, so as not to disturb them
  “Well, that’s quite a colony,” I said to Robert, speaking low, but my voice still echoed through the whole space.
  “That’s not what we’re here to see,” said Robert, walking past me to the right. I followed him as he approached the pile of vegetation. “This is what we’re here for.”
As we neared the pile, I saw a collection of vegetables, amongst unidentifiable muck in a lumpy, fly-ridden mound that was knee-high and a twelve metres wide, piled against the wall. When we stood within three metres of it, the smell of rot filtered through my mask, making my stomach turn.
  “Smells like rotten cold cuts,” I say, scanning it with my torch, and I quickly see why.
  “It looks like the bats pile up corpses and fruit within their nest,” said Robert, “I believe them to be omnivorous, and when they finish with their prey, they drop it here. I also believe they defecate by this pile, which has lead to the growth of larger vegetables, perhaps for further feeding. This could account for the spreading disease.”
  “No, that doesn’t make sense,” I say, “Most of these fruits require sunlight. Someone must have brought these in here, whole.” I say.
  “Well, whoever it was, he fancies himself a collector,” says Robert. “Pumpkins, apples, plums, and watermelons; rats, birds, hare, weasels and . . . eugh, other bats. I mean, honestly, this isn’t the work of some madman, an animal did this, Theo. I’m saying the bats did this.”
  “It’s compelling, I’ll give you that,” said Theo, stepping towards the pile. “But you’re reaching again, Robert. This is why we failed that Chem’ final, you stretch your evidence.”
  “This isn’t college, Theo, sometimes you need to presuppose, take a leap and test it.”
  “How do we test this?” I ask, kneeling down. Up close, the pile wasn’t any prettier. I could see the half-rotten clumps of fur on white bone, glistening eyes, beetle-shells, teeth & moist viscera amongst seeds, vines and growing fruits. My eye was caught by a large watermelon near the front of the pile, bigger than a bowling ball, which seemed to have streaks of red across it, like half-coagulated blood.
  “Check for bite-marks, perhaps evidence of a trail in here, find out where these animals came from, check for evidence of hunting bats in . . . Theo, what are you doing?”
  “Look at this thing,” I say, pointing my torch at the bloodied watermelon. “Doesn’t that look . . . odd?”
  “What do you mean?”
  “Well, look, it’s a bit like a face,” I say, pointing. “See, there’s two closed eyes, and this long streak here is like-” the watermelon snaps open its jaws and bites into my hand!
  “What the bloody hell!” screamed Robert jumping down. I start flailing and screaming, but the heavy fruit weighs down my arm. I can’t stand, I just smack at the green skin, staring into two deep, black, shiny eyes As the green melon growls, and bites deeper, vicelike, into my knuckles with inch-long white teeth, thin like a piranha.
  “Get it off!” I scream. Robert swings his torch down like a lumberjack swinging an axe. With a splortch! melon cracks and spills red blood all over the floor. I scramble to my feet, cradling my hand. The teeth were small, but the force of the bite pulled and ripped the bitemark wound so that it quickly fills my gloves with blood.
  “What the hell was that?” asked Robert, coming over. “That’s a nasty wound, we’ve got to get out of here.”
We head for the exit, but I shine my torch behind me, at the pile, and I swear I saw more black, shiny eyes staring back.
  “The bats . . .” I say, through gritted teeth. “It’s not the bats. Not vampire fruit bats. They’re vampire fruit, bats that eat it . . . vampire fruit bats!”

Friday, 27 October 2017

Not So Familiar

Okay, full disclosure, this post probably has just about nothing at all to do with Ignorance. However, today is the 27th of October, and that means that Season Two of Stranger Things is available on Netflix.
If you have a Netflix account, and you are only learning about this now, I fully endorse the decision to read this blog post later, and go watch it right now. In fact, go for it: here's a link to the Stranger Things page of the Netflix Australia site. Even after this post for a while, years from now, if you haven't yet seen the show, I still highly recommend that you go and watch it.
However, if you do decide to hang around, I want to talk about this show, and how it manages to be something original, despite being very derivative.
And although I will be talking about the show, I do not plan on talking about the plot, so this should be free of spoilers. Nonetheless, if you already plan on watching this show regardless of what I have to say, please be aware that this will most certainly contain Minor Spoilers.

You see, what I find amazing about the show is how real and tense and compelling it is, despite those elements which should, by all rights, take you out of the story.
This story is set in 1983 before I was born, it has nostalgic elements from several movies I've not seen, the characters reference music, pop culture and comic books that I've never been a part of & the setting cery much evokes “Smalltown America”, which I've never been a part of. Despite all of this, I connect with these stories, wholeheartedly.
I think the praise for that entirely goes to the writers and the actors. Not only are these kids written like real people, who are fun and enthusiastic and excitable with juvenile stakes and believable emotion, but all of these young actors have perfect chemistry and ability, to translate the writing to the screen.

I haven't lived that life or in that era, but I believe that they have because of the effort that's gone into every detail, from culture, clothing, comic books and cars all the way to the technology, music and themes present in the show.
I could geek out about this show for hours, but the reason I'm talking about it for this blog is because, as a writer, what impresses me the most is how this show has managed to take inspiration from multiple sources, even paid homage directly to certain films via costuming or cinematography. Yet, Stranger Things is an entirely original beast.

This series is inspired by (and references) several 80's movies: ET: The Extra-terrestrial; Aliens; The Goonies; Jaws; Indiana Jones; Firestarter; Evil Dead; A Nightmare on Elm Street; Poltergeist; Stand by Me & It.
It also references a lot of 80's pop culture: X-men Comics; Stephen King; John Hughes Movies; Punk Rock music; Ham radios; Star WarsDungeons & DragonsSynth music; Walkie-talkies & Project MKUltra.
There's even some modern inspirations, such as the anime Elfen Lied; the videogame The Last of Us; sci-fi film Under the Skin & thriller film Prisoners.

However, despite all of these influences on the story, themes and characters, it doesn't actually influence the plot. Except for Prisoners that is, that directly inspired the story that the Byers family goes through, but even that inspired the premise of the story. Otherwise, none of these nostalgic homages actually affect the plot. The plot (which I am being deliberately vague about, so as to avoid spoilers) does follow the adventure of some elementary school friends; the drama and horrors of a trio of high schoolers & the intrigue and mystery of a pair of adults. These stories interact, intersperse and intermingle until they all eventually integrate into one story conclusion by the end. Sure, there are aspects of this story that borrows concepts from other movies, but never plotlines, instead it creates its own narrative that takes all of these ideas, but irons them out into the one story with its own sequence of events.

The show is often called "nostalgic", and this is a fair descriptor, because of the 80s tropes and the music and the clothing, and references to all these movies, this does evoke that familiar feeling. However, because of the way this show was made, that familiar comfort is often deliberately altered and twisted into something completely different.

It's akin to if someone took fifteen very different houses, demolished down and recycled the parts into one much larger house of your own design. Sure, you can stop, and point at a brick over here, a tile down there or a gutter overhead and identify which house that piece came from, but if you walk into a room, there's no room from the demolished houses that singularly inspired it.

And perhaps that's the reason why I can enjoy this as much as I do despite not being fully invested in the nostalgia, media or culture of this era. Unlike some shows that use nostalgia and homage as a cheap trick, or to make referential jokes, this show isn't mired in lazy writing and doesn't waste the potential of its inspirations on pointless callbacks.
You don't need to know the original context of a reference, because it has an entirely new context, a Stranger Things context.

Anyway, for this reason (and many others that I've not mentioned due to the potential for spoilers) I am very excited for the new season, and I hope you are too. I wrote this post ahead of time, so I will probably have seen it by the time this post is published; but if you haven't, then I have to again recommend that you get started as soon as possible.
I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and I know I often don't geek out like a fanboy, but I couldn't resist the chance to tell people to watch this show.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Hatecraft

There are many genres and subgenres of fiction that I love. Sci-fi Drama; Urban Fantasy; Action Thriller; Detective Noir; Weird Western; Gothic Romance . . .
But when it comes to Horror, my favourite subgenre has to be Cosmic Horror. I can’t help but feel like the conceit of the genre resonates with me. Because I am not a religious man, I don’t believe in purpose or meaning in life. I believe that meaning is not objective, only we can decide what we want to do with our life - and what we choose to do only has meaning because it matters to us.
Nature does not exist the way it does because it was designed or crafted, but because it evolved that way. Not through choice or desire, but because every other iteration crumbled and died. Good and Evil are irrelevant, in the grand scheme of things, because morality is just another human meaning - there’s nothing right or wrong about the weather, disease, animals or sex, these are just things that exist in this reality. I don’t believe this because I want to, or because I prefer it that way. I believe it because that’s how it is.

To me, this is a powerful and beautiful point of view. Because there is no greater meaning than our own - and even if there were, even if there is some inconceivable god, our inability to conceive it makes our meaning the only one we can know.
But Cosmic Horror represents the only logical conclusion to this point of view. That, objectively, everything is meaningless. From the perspective of the Cosmos, we don’t matter any more than the billions of asteroids floating aimlessly through space. The same atoms that composed the rose that you gave your beloved were once the atoms within a star, that churned in a stellar cauldron of unfathomable heat, until it exploded and collected onto the surface of a gravitational cluster that became our planet.
It wasn’t fate. It wasn’t destiny. It’s just “what happened”.
But more than that, we are just one planet in a vast, vast universe. We have sentience, but what does that mean for the universe? There are two possibilities: Either we are alone in the cosmos, or we are not. Each possibility is equally unsettling to comprehend.
Either we are the greatest minds that this universe has achieved, meaning that all wonder and curiosity at the expanses of the universe are just echoes in the existential emptiness. Or there is something beyond us, which is so unlike us that we could be mistaken for shadows or reflections by their inhuman eyes. Yes, we have meaning because we give ourselves meaning, but all of this matter and meaning is irrelevant to the universe. The cosmis is indifferent to our lives.

I know it is probably just an assumption on my part, but cosmic horror feels like a natural result of knowledge, science and nature. Although he saw it as a call-to-arms for humanitarianism and environmentalism, I feel as though Carl Sagan touched upon the core of cosmic horror, in his reflection upon the photograph of Earth from the Voyager 1 Space Probe, 6 billion kilometeres away - known as “Pale Blue Dot”. In particular, these words:
“ . . . Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere, to save us from ourselves . . .”
— Carl Sagan, speech at Cornell University, October 13, 1994

This is science. This is truth. This is cosmicism. It matters a lot, to me.

So, I cannot express to you how shocked I was when I first learned that Cosmic Horror, the genre that encapsulates my awe at the equally wonderful and terrifying size of this reality, was born of hatred.
I call it Cosmic Horror, but most people know this genre as Lovecraftian Horror. First concieved by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, this genre of weird fiction does indeed celebrate certain sciences, in particular chemistry and astronomy, as well as warn of the potential harms and fears of such a craft. It explores how the universe is indifferent and uncaring.
But, this genre was inspired not just by Lovecraft’s adoration of science, but also his fear and loathing of foreigners. Lovecraft was incredibly xenophobic, and this is not just supposition on my part. Lovecraft was infamously reclusive - both due to childhood sicknesses and introversion - and so as well as his fiction he was an amateur journalist and prolific correspondent. In these myriad writings, he detailed his inspirations and opinions, as well as his anglophilic, xenophobic, elitist, puritanical views; both in his self-published magazine The Conservative, as well as many other essays, letters and even poems. If you have a strong constitution, I have included a fraction of these below, and I have even emboldened some of what I considered to be the most egregious statements. Remember, every single one of these words came from Lovecraft himself . . .
“The negro is fundamentally the biological inferior of all White and even Mongolian races, and the Northern people must occasionally be reminded of the danger which they incur in admitting him too freely to the privileges of society and government.”
– ”In a Major Key,” from The Conservative Vol. I, No. 2, 1915.
“But I, thank the Gods, am an Aryan, & can rejoice in the glorious victory of T. Flavius Vespasianus, under whose legions the Jewish race & their capital were trodden out of national existence!”
– Personal Correspondence, August 10, 1915
“The mongrel natives, in whose blood the Malay strain predominates, are not and will never be racially capable of maintaining a civilised condition by themselves.”
– an article from United Amateur, 1916
“The most alarming tendency observable in this age is a growing disregard for the established forces of law and order. Whether or not stimulated by the noxious example of the almost subhuman Russian rabble, the less intelligent element throughout the world seems animated by a singular viciousness”.
– “Bolshevism”, from The Conservative Vol. V, 1919
“ . . . if racial amalgamation were to occur, the net level of American civilisation would perceptibly fall, as in such mongrel nations as Mexico–& several South American near-republics.”
– Personal Correspondence, January 18, 1919
Most dangerous and fallacious of the several misconceptions of Americanism is that of the so-called “melting-pot” of races and traditions.
– “Americanism”, from United Amateur, 1919
“Heaven knows enough harm has already been done by the admission of limitless hordes of the ignorant, superstitious, & biologically inferior scum of Southern Europe & Western Asia.”
– Personal Correspondence, Demember 13, 1925.
“It is a fact, however, that sentimentalists exaggerate the woes of the average negro. Millions of them would be perfectly content with a servile status if good physical treatment and amusement could be assured them, and they may yet form a well-managed agricultural peasantry.”
– Personal Correspondence, January, 1931.
“The population [of New York City]  is a mongrel herd with repulsive Mongoloid Jews in the visible majority, and the coarse faces and bad manners eventually come to wear on one so unbearably that one feels like punching every god damn bastard in sight.”
– Personal Correspondence, November 19, 1931.
“When the alien element is strong or shrewd enough to menace the purity of the culture amidst which it parasitically lodges, it is time to do something.”
– Personal Correspondence, June 12, 1933
“Nothing but pain and disaster can come from the mingling of black and white, and the law ought to aid in checking this criminal folly. Granting the negro his full due, he is not the sort of material which can mix successfully into the fabric of a civilised Caucasian nation . . . Equally inferior–& perhaps even more so—is the Australian black stock, which differs widely from the real negro. This race has other stigmata of primitiveness—such as great Neanderthaloid eyebrow-ridges. And it is likewise incapable of absorbing civilisation.”
– Personal Correspondence, July 30, 1933.

It is also believed that, due to his extreme conservative views, he would have been very much homophobic (but, as he was reportedly a virgin into his 30s, and according yo his wife, never initiated sex, it is believed by some historians that he was not fond of sexuality of any kind, and perhaps considered it uncivilized or ungentlemanly).

But these racist views are not just a facet of his time and culture, he was critical of America, immigration, the failure to maintain a “colour-line” and modern culture. Although the man died over a decade before America’s Civil Rights Movement, he lived through the turbulent era after the abolition of slavery and the granting of equal voting rights for African-Americans; and he was not in favour of either.
For goodness sake - even though he never travelled further than 300 kilometres from his childhood home in Providence, Rhode Island - he felt the need to express his disgust at Australian Aboriginals. As I, myself, am an Australian, I found that assessment particularly stomach-churning.
Although it was most likely due to his Puritanical, reclusive upbringing, and some of the hardships he endured, Lovecraft was uncommonly and irredeemably hateful and openly prejudiced against minorities. Even for those races he admired or considered “cultured”, such as the Chinese, Ancient Rome and some Jews (but definitely not all), he was convinced that you could only achieve a peaceful culture by segregating the races.

So, his personal views, somewhat naturally, bled into and corrupted his writing. His most famous early tale Dagon, speaks of an ancient, barbaric race of aquatic humanoids that rise from the sea to steal human victims.
In his story The Transition of Juan Romero he describes the titular character as an “unkempt Mexican” whose main features are that he is “ignorant and dirty”.
In the serialized Herbert West–Reanimator, Lovecraft describes a black man as incredibly ugly, and a “loathsome, gorilla-like thing, with abnormally long arms which I could not help calling fore legs,”
The tale of The Dunwich Horror recounts the tale of half-breed monstrosities, whose racial characteristics are inherently antagonistic, noxious and violent.
And of course, The Shadow over Innsmouth is the story of a town whose inhabitants are all half-fishman/half-human hybrids, and the initial horror of a character learning that his lineage is also tainted with this corrupted bloodline.

But this is more than implicit racism as determined by critical analysis, but Lovecraft himself made explicit mention that his xenophobia, or “fear of strangers” informed his horror fiction. In the June 1937 issue of the Amateur Correspondent, in an article called “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction”, Lovecraft had this to say:
“These stories frequently emphasise the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of Nature-defying illusions. Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or “outsideness” without laying stress on the emotion of fear.”
So, Cosmic Horror and Xenophobia are undeniably intertwined. The heart and soul of Lovecraftian Horror is hatred and fear of “otherness”. It's troubling that something so meaningful to me is born of something just as abhorrent.
However, after some thought, I found myself coming to terms with this fact rather easily.

Firstly, Cosmic Horror is not inherently racist. Despite there being dozens, dozens and dozens more retellings and expansions of Lovecraftian Horror and the Cthulu Mythos, none of these successors have perpetuated the hate. In fact, despite being inspired by hate, the genre functions just as well - and, in my opinion, better - without it. Horror writers weren't inspired by his fear of foreign things, but rather this fear of monsters that weren't so much "evil" as "too powerful to notice us". Rather than fear of aliens as an allegory for fear of "inferior races", most of them focused on exploring the horrors of cultists, unknowable gods and creeping madness, many used as an allegory for losing your humanity. Or even, like me, they played on our existential dread of infinity and cosmic worthlessness.

Secondly, there is much more to Cosmic Horror than Lovecraft. See, what inspired me to write this post is my research for yesterday’s post, looking for bigoted Horror Movies. In my search for a xenophobic horror movie, I explored adaptations of Lovecraft’s work, but none of these movies were xenophobic. Some even took Cosmic Horror, and the “horrific outsider” trope to explore the views of minorities in regards to the majority - so rather than a local being confronted by invading immigrants, it becomes a discourse on the experience of the migrant or persecuted minority, surrounded by cruel neighbours - my favourite example is that of the film Dagon, (actually an adaptation of “The Shadow over Innsmouth”) which made the main character gay, entirely changing the focus of the story so as to explore the fear of being considered an outsider in your own community.

Thirdly, and to me most importantly, unlike Lovecraft, I do not judge something as inferior just because it was born of something alien to me. I am not prejudiced against ideas merely due to its parentage. I fully accept that Lovecraft was a racist - like I said, I accept things not because I want to, but because that's what they are. But, I also accept that his views were wrong. And whilst I will spend an entire blogpost explicitly calling out these racist remarks, and calling the man close-minded and bigoted for it (and, in fact, I think I just did), I aso accept that he was not famous during his lifetime, and considering how many of his family went mad and died within the walls of a madhouse, I think he suffered enough. Of course, we ought not forget his contribution, but I do not celebrate him as a person because his personhood is unworthy of celebration. I merely accept that he had a cool idea, and I thank him for it, despite the rotted garden bed of his mind from whence it grew.

In conclusion, this leads me into, perhaps, the most important aspect of ignorance that I think we need to all consider. Ignorance is dangerous and cruel, but it need not be so destructive. Even those whose views are disgusting and toxic are still capable of art and beauty, and perhaps even elucidating upon the subject of their ignorance.
Whilst I do not, and cannot, abide by the hatreds Lovecraft held - I can see that, perhaps, the reason he was so hateful was because he was so very, very scared. Like I said in my Foolery Pox blog post, fear is a weakness in our critical thinking which makes it easier to fall victim to dangerous ideas. But, even if someone is ignorant, if we take the time to listen to them, we may even find the opportunity both to teach and to learn with them.
I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and I honestly believe that if you have an open mind, you can take something crafted by hatred, and with the right touch, craft it into something inspired by Love.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The Dark Past of the Horror Movie

I enjoy Horror Films. I can’t say they are my favourite genre, but they are a lot of fun. Even if I don’t find a film in the horror genre particularly “scary”, the stories are often dramatic, affecting or exciting. Hell, even the horror movies I don’t like tend to be interesting in their own way.

However, I can’t shake the feeling that horror films are dreadfully tainted. Through no fault of its own, the horror genre has a dark history of persistent bigotry.
If you have an interest in horror movies of the past and present, then you may be aware of what I’m talking about.
The Black Guy Dies First; Sex Equals Death; Killing Off the Queer; Creepy Crossdressing & Ethnic Monsters.

In the past, when people created monsters in their movies, or killed people off, they chose women or gays or ethnic minorities, because . . . well, things were worse back then.
There is a deep and detailed history of Homophobic, Racist & Misogynistic themes in Horror.

Now, don’t get me wrong. In modern times, Horror Films tend to be some of the most tolerant movies. After all, Horror is one of the easiest genres to get right for new, Indie filmmakers. In Action movies, stunts are expensive; in Drama, you need great actors; in Comedy, you need a good writer; Science-Fiction needs expensive props and make-up . . . but Horror? All you need is some vegetable oil and red food die, or some fascinating shadows, and you can make a bloody brilliant horror film.
And in this age, not only are more and m  ore people open to equality and freedom, but some people go out of their way to defy the ignorant, bigoted tropes of Horror’s past. So, more and more horror is well-thought out, open-minded and inclusive.

But, I am not here to talk about those movies. Today, I plan on talking about Horror Films and their Dark Past. Today, I want to expose the most Bigoted Horror Movies I can lay my hands on. In fact, I have chosen five horror films, each with their own brand of intolerance which I believe to be the most bigoted horror films I’ve ever seen.
If you can think of any worse, well . . . I wouldn’t be “happy” to find more of this garbage, but I would appreciate the insight nonetheless. So, allow me to present . . .

THE A.W.N.’S TOP FIVE MOST BIGOTED HORROR MOVIES
Before we begin I’ll give you a heads-up, although I don’t consider a lot of the movies on this list to be worth watching, I think it’s worth mentioning that THIS LIST CONTAINS SPOILERS for some of these movies. For the most part, you can avoid these spoilers by not reading the Explanation portion of the entry. So, if you plan on seeing any of these movies in the future, do not read that section.
However, as this list will occasionally reference a reveal in regards to the killer’s ethnicity, sexuality or minority status, then you should consider there to be a risk of MINOR SPOILERS by reading the Bigotry section as well.
So, if after reading the title of a movie, you have a desire to watch that in the future, have not done so yet, and do not want any plot points, even minor ones, to be spoiled - skip that entry entirely.

Also, some of this list may seem unusual, but please keep in mind that I am counting only Horror movies, not Psychological Thrillers, and some of the most infamously homophobic movies are not Horror, but rather 'Comedy' or 'Thriller'. Also, some of this is determined not only by my own opinion, but also my interpretation of the film in question.
Just as importantly, in the interests of fairness, I have not included films that I have not seen. I researched and watched as many films as I felt would be relevant for this post, but if a film is too obscure or unpopular, that may explain why some films have been left off this list.

With all that aside, let's get into some HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

When it comes to RACISM, Creature from the Black Lagoon has some unfortunate implications. The big-lipped, degenerate monster from the jungle who seems hellbent on raping white women - and it is called the "black" lagoon after all. Later films even show how it fails to fit into modern society, even when there is a half-gillman half-human hybrid, it succumbs to its animal nature and returns to the water. But, this isn't on this list because a lot of this is sub-text moreso than context, and since this was made in the 1950s, if the film wanted to be racist, it would have been explicitly racist.
In regards to TRANSPHOBIA, I was interested to find that in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it is implied that Leatherface is transgender, at one point wearing female skin with lipstick, female clothing and an apron, acting demure and passive. But, I don't feel like this is transphobic, since this is clearly just a nod to notorious serial killer Ed Gein (this link includes explicit details of his crimes), but he was not transgender, he was just a religious nut with creepy mommy issues. At worst, this is just a transvestite in a gory version of drag. For that same reason, I've left off The Silence of the Lambs whose antagonist also drew inspiration from Gein. Similarly, I was also keen to include The Rocky Horror Picture Show for its exaggerated and villainous portrayal of a gender non-conforming character. But, despite the disgusting transphobic views of one of this film's most iconic writers and actors, Richard O'brien, this bigotry was not evident in the film itself, and the main character was a transvestite, not transgender.
In regards to MISOGYNY, the only honourable mention is perhaps Teeth. But I could not include it for three reasons. One, I haven't seen it, so that would be very unfair. Two, from synopses I've read online, it appears that this is more misandrist than misogynist, portraying all men as rapists and abusive - and although I hate sexism either way, again, I haven't seen this so I can't judge. Three, from people I've spoken to, it seems like this movie is pretty campy and self-aware, so being mildly sexist might jusst be "part of the joke".
But, when it comes to HOMOPHOBIA, I have to mention A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge. This does appear to have themes of predatory gay men, with Freddy wanting to "get inside" of the main character, and some key scenes filmed within a leather bar. However, from what I can tell (as I haven't seen this film either), it sounds like this film is fabulous. Although Freddy is analogous to a predatory gay, the main character is shown to be gay as well, and seeks refuge in his "close male friend" by "going to his room at night" to "sleep with him", so it sounds like this film has some intriguing, homoerotic themes. Similarly, I left out Hellraiser, as although the Cenobites were inspired by the gay leather/BDSM community, Clive Barker himself is a gay man, and this represented some of his own fears exploring the subcultures of gay clubs and nightlife as an inexperienced, young man.
In regards to XENOPHOBIA . . . I considered The Island of Lost Souls, a movie inspired by The Island of Doctor Moreau, as it had refrences to human-animals succumbing to their bestial, aggresive nature; and Dr Moreau forcing them into line with a bullship. But, when I discovered the item I chose for the following list, well, it made a potential Doctor Moreau slavedriver seem tame by comparison . . .

Anyway, without further ado, allow me to present, from least to most bigoted, some of the worst horror films I've ever seen.


The Serpent and the Rainbow
Bigotry: RACISM
Plot: American ethnobotanist Dennis Allan is hired by an American pharmaceutical company to go to Haiti to recover a supposed “zombie powder” so it can be replicated to hopefully create a powerful anaesthetic. But, when he goes to Haiti, his efforts are hindered by Dargent Peytraud, the leader of the Tonton Macoute, and a practitioner of voodoo. Peytraud wants to keep this magic a secret, as he uses it and a variety of other black magic to control the Haitian population. Things get worse and worse as Dennis gets closer to the truth, until he gets poisoned by the powder himself . . .
Explanation: This movie is based on a non-fiction book, but the first problem with it is that this story isn’t true. In the original book, there was no such conflict with the Tonton Macoute, no black magic, no pharmaceutical company and definitely no evil bokor. In the film, Dargent Peytraud is the leader of the Tonton Macoute, and keeps the locals in-line using black magic to invade their dreams and create zombies, all through the loa Baron Samedi. This is insulting and racist for three reasons.
Firstly, the mythology is condescendingly wrong - Baron Samedi was not an evil monster, in fact in Voodoo he was opposed to zombies and human sacrifice. Secondly, the real Tonton Macoute only ever used references to Voodoo to scare locals, their real horror was through state terrorism, rape, violence, murder and extortion. Thirdly, the real leader of the Tonton Macoute was named Luckner Cambronne. He was scary, not for using black magic, but because he lead this team of knife-wielding Macoute, and would sell the bodies and blood of victims overseas for medical uses through Hemo-Caribbean, a blood bank he co-owned. He was called 'The Vampire of the Caribbean' for that reason.
He was a corrupt politician in a dictatorship, yes, but he was not a monster because he was black, Haitian or a used 'Voodoo'. Then,  despite exploiting Voodoo for the whole movie, they literally drag him to Hell - although sone Americanized Voodoo believes in the Catholic Hell, Haitian Vodou traditionally believes that the souls of the dead return to nature after a year and a day spent under water. So, ending a Voodoo Horror movie with a reminder that, "Oh yeah, but our religion is the real one" is what made me put this on the list.


Scary Movie
Bigotry: HOMOPHOBIA
Plot: As this movie parodies horror and movie cliches, a masked killer like the one from Scream hunts down a group of teenagers that have a dark secret, akin to I Know What You Did Last Summer, and the masked man kills them and many others in ways reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense & The Matrix. But, as the police and adults seem useless, what remains of the teenagers attempts to uncover the mystery behind this killer, before he kills the last of them.
Explanation: This is a horror-comedy. The horror comes from a lot of the blood and murder, but some of the “comedy” comes from negative homosexual stereotypes as portrayed by Shawn Wayans playing a character named ‘Ray’. Ray is effeminate, re-enacting many gay stereotypes of dress, dancing and hobbies; he is predatory and sexually aggressive, molesting men without their consent, touching naked men, and speaking lecherously about them. There's no twist to this, no wordplay and no irony. The 'joke' is, entirely, that he's gay.
This alone would be pretty condescending and a poor representation. However, the movie takes it a step further. And, heads-up, this is where things get into SPOILER territory. You see, Ray is not only 'gay', but near the end of the movie he is revealed to be a villain. Another character, Bobby, declares that he is going to kill his girlfriend because she has not ever had sex with him, and as a result he is "deviant", so he turned gay, he became Ray's gay lover, and they are going to kill his girlfriend so that they can run away and start a new, gay life together.
Yes, you heard that right, lack of sex turned him gay and psychotic.
I know this is meant to be a comedy and a parody, but this joke is trying to be funny by making fun of homosexuals. The humour is meant to make heterosexual people laugh at homosexuals.


Hostel
Bigotry: XENOPHOBIA
Plot: Paxton and Josh are two Americans tripping around Europe with a friend they met on their trip, Óli. Josh is getting over a breakup, so Paxton is seeking young, hot European girls for sex, when they meet a Man in Amsterdam that promises, if they visit a specific hostel in Slovakia, they can find dozens of young, hot and horny women.
But, when they head there, things take a strange turn when they meet some other unusual tourists and violent, street urchins & then Óli goes missing. The hostel says he went home, but the next day, Josh disappears too. Paxton goes looking for his friend, but in the process gets trapped in a gory maze of murder.
Explanation: Okay, as a horror concept this kind of works. The basic conceit is, this is "Murder Tourism" - People are lured to a location, drugged and trapped, then rich people travel there for the opportunity to experience murder, firsthand. That is creepy, and as a writer, I would love to write a story like that. But, why is this set in Slovakia? I mean, it would make sense if this was based on truth or Slovakian history, or if Slovakia had different laws or a weaker police force or corruption. Or, although a bit unkind, if it had a struggling economy this might explain why they aet it there. So, let's see . . .
Is this referencing a true story, or based on some dark, Slovakian History? No.
Is Slovakia isolated, geographically, or known for high crime rates? No.
Is Slovakian law limited or corrupt, or is the country struggling economically? No.
So, why on Earth is this story set in Slovakia? The only explanation left, that I can see, is that Slovakia is a strange-sounding place that Westerners would be nervous to visit, because it sounds scary and foreign.
The film presents Slovakia as a "hotspot" for murder tourism, with a running plot-point of murderous child gangs that threaten tourists and locals for candy or money with improvised weapons; and the murder facility itself is within the abandoned ruins of a factory, making the whole country seem like a bleak, grey, filthy, dangerous, poor, crime-ridden, third-world country. Slovakia is not a perfect country, but it is a first-world country with a rich history, beautiful landscapes, universal healthcare and free education. There's even a minor plot-point that the price for murder depends upon Nationality, with Americans the most expensive - so, American life is literally worth more, according to this movie.
Considering that Eli Roth, who wrote and directed this film, also co-wrote and directed The Green Inferno, a film about a fictional cannibalistic tribe in the Amazon that captures, tortures and eats several Americans, I can't help but feel like these xenophobic themes weren't accidental . . .


Antichrist
Bigotry: MISOGYNY
Plot: A couple is left grieving after the death of their infant son, who climbed out a window whilst they were having sex. The wife is hospitalized due to her depression and self-hatred, blaming herself for her son's death; but her husband, a therapist, takes her home to treat her himself. When that fails, they head to a remote cabin in the woods called "Eden" for some exposure therapy.
But far from their old life, in the middle of nature, things take a dark turn as the husband comes across disturbing creatures, sinister plant and insect-life, darkness and evil. The woman continues writing her thesis on misogyny and gynocide, but succumbs to the dark mythology and becomes entangled in cruelty and lust.
Explanation: The ultimate evil in this movie, the monster, the "antichrist", is Women. Not just 'this woman' not 'the female character in this movie'; the only named character is Nic, the dead son, the woman is called 'She' in the credits, the man 'He'.
She uses sex to distract herself from her grief to the point of raping her husband; she is revealed to have abused her son when he was alive; she eventually attacks and tortures her husband, mutilates herself and prepares to murder him.
And this isn't presented like she summoned the devil herself, it's not as though she spoke some dark spell, insulted a demon or was born on an Indian Burial Ground - no, she is evil because she's a woman. She is cursed by womanhood, akin to a witch, because she is female. Did I mention that this was by Lars Von Trier?
This film, and this filmmaker, hates women and acts like sex, especially female sexuality, is inherently disgusting and destructive.
But worst of all, according to the director, this film is supposed to be about how "Nature is Satan's Church". But, I can't accept that. Sure, there are some clear themes along those lines, and some characters even state this thesis by name, but if Nature is Hell then Women are the Devil - at least, according to this movie.
And that's what truly pisses me off. I disagree with the conceit of this movie - that Nature is Hell - as I think Nature is amazing (cosmically indifferent, it is as ugly as it is beautiful), but as an artistic, experimental film concept, that could have made a fantastic horror movie. But, this director's sexual hang-ups got in the way of a great idea. Almost every one of his movies throws in pointless sexual deviancy, rape and cruelty, and this film is no exception. Considering how much he seems to be terrified of sex, I think this filmmaker should go fuck himself.


Sleepaway Camp
Bigotry: TRANSPHOBIA
Plot: After her father is killed in a boating accident, young Angela goes to live with her aunt and cousin Ricky. However, due to this trauma, she is incredibly shy, quiet and scared of the water. So, when Angela and Ricky go to Camp Arawak together, Angela's introversion and fear of swimming makes her the target of several bullies, a lecherous camp cook and some pranksters. Ricky tries to intervene, to take care of his cousin, but things take a dark turn when several of Angela's attackers are killed in horrific ways. Angela starts to enjoy camp, and even opens up to a cute boy named Paul who starts a budding romance with her, but this also causes more people to pick on her and so more people to die. As the bodies pile up, and everyone starts to get more frightened, the camp leader starts to suspect that Ricky is behind the murders . . .
Explanation: This one is MAJOR SPOILER territory, but I guess that's par for the course with a story like this. The reason why people are dying at Camp Arawak . . . is that Angela has a penis. Seriously.
A cook tries to molest her - and as such, would learn about her penis - so she kills him. A boy mocks Angela for not swimming - since swimming requires her to remove her clothes - so she kills him. A bully pegs a water balloons at her - forcing her to change her clothes and potentially expose her penis - so she kills him. A girl throws her into the water at the beach - wetting her clothes, and potentially exposing her penis - so she kills her. She even kills her potential boyfriend after they get naked together.
The worst part is, although Angela is "forced" to be a girl by her aunt, she is transgender. Angela is shown enjoying the attention of boys, she only ever kills to hide her secret, she gets upset when people taunt her for not having noticeably reached puberty and she never acts upset when called a girl. This movie equates transgenderedness and homosexuality by showing that Angela's father had a gay lover which she saw lying with him in bed as a child - and seems to imply that this is why Angela is transgender. But worse, the final shot of the movie, showing the true "monster", is a girl with a flat chest, covered in blood with her dick hanging out. The way the movie ends on a freeze-frame of her face, open-mouthed, as she makes a croaking noise. It would be funny if not for the implication that this human being is supposed to seem like a beast now because, well . . . she's trans. If that's not transphobic, I don't know what is.

- - -

Thankfully, it is pretty had to find a truly bigoted modern horror film. Unfortunately, I found dozens and dozens of bigoted films which I could not include, as they were the wrong genre for this list. Even the small number of films on this list are all in colour, which means it was made after the mid-1930s, when Technicolour became mainstream. At time of writing, that just about a lifetime, but I know for a fact that most were made during the 80s and 90s.
Ignorance and bigotry, yet still, pervade the Hollywood scene and the silver screen.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and I hope you found this list enlightening. Personally, I fond the fact that these films were written, produced, directed and distributed, much more disturbing than any horror film I've ever seen.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Foolery Pox: A Heady Cure for the Brainsick

Why are people so stupid?

Unfortunately, this is a very common question, often asked when we see a car drive the wrong way down the road; when we witness someone duck under the boom gate for a railroad crossing or not long following someone saying “Hey guys, watch this”.
When people act stupid, people tend to find it somewhat confronting and confusing. After all, you have to ask:
“Why didn’t they just think?” or,
“Why didn’t they use some common sense?”
Well, what if I told you that it was caused by a sickness? That ignorance was, in fact, a viral infection, passed from person to person. A soulless, formless, mutating virus that infects the brains of the weak-minded, leading them away from education?

It’s a terrifying thought, and disturbingly accurate. In fact, in many ways, it can explain many different and disturbing forms of ignorance, from racism, transphobia, homophobia & religion to bunkem beliefs like homeopathy, fortune-telling & even conspiracy theories.

For the sake of transparency, I must make it clear that stupidity is not, strictly speaking, a virus. However, if you understand how viruses and sicknesses spread, it is a useful cognitive aid to help explain the real reason why people tend to be so stupid. But, ignorance isn’t like a virus with genetic mutations, it’s more akin to a memeplex with memetic mutation. The word of the day is: ‘MEME’

Meme /’meem/ n. 1. Any unit of cultural information, such as a practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another in a comparable way to the transmission of genes. 2. Slang Something, usually humorous, which is copied and circulated online with slight adaptations, including quizzes, basic pictures, video templates etc.

If you are confused as to how captioned pictures are related to stupidity, or you think this is just me expressing my opinion of online culture, then I suggest you re-read the definition above, or pay close attention to what I am about to say.
Although an online image is a means of transmitting an idea, and so may very well be a ‘meme’, it is not the only form that memes can take. A meme is, nothing more and nothing less, than a unit of thought which you can share. Let’s take a simple example: Jokes.
“Why did the chicken cross the road?”
I chose this for two reasons. Firstly, most people know it, and secondly, the basic punchline of the joke is “to get to the other side” - the setup is therefore that although a chicken crossing the road seems unusual and thus jokeworthy, the actual answer is rather mundane, and your ignorance of this mundanity creates the humour.

Now, I am sure that some of you have heard a variation of this joke. This is a very simple joke, for some people it’s the first joke they have ever heard. But, perhaps as a result of the original answer being so mundane, some people have decided to “improve” it. Even with the same question, the answer may instead be:
“It was too far to walk around.”
“To show the possum it could be done.”
Or, my personal favourite:
“It wanted to watch the builder ‘lay’ a brick.”

Some people even change the original wording “Why did an elephant cross the road?”; “Why did the duck cross the road?” or “why did the dinosaur cross the road?” - all variations of the original joke.

Now, consider for a moment, that although these are just rewrites or recreations of the same joke, even if a person never retells the original “to cross the road” joke, it may yet live on (in a sense) through the “descendants” of the original joke. A person heard this joke, and whilst they were thinking about it (whilst it was in their head) they either enjoyed the joke and so referenced it, or did not enjoy it and so developed it further. In essence, by hearing and adapting this joke, we alter its memetic structure, trying to make it funnier.
But, why do we do this? Well, people like jokes, so we are changing the joke so that MORE people find it funny. So that more people enjoy it and want to pass it on. They tell it to more and more people.

Consider, now, Avian Influenza. Yes, just because I am talking about chickens, I chose bird flu as my example. Now, consider for a moment, that as a chicken’s immune system fights a virus it will try to kill it, but even if the original viral infection is eliminated, the illness may yet live on in the virus’s “descendants” as it spreads. A chicken gets sick and whilst it is sick (whilst the virus is in their body) its immune system fights it, but at the same time the virus replicates. Either the immune system is too slow, or the virus adapts in a way that the immune system has not fought before, and so it kills off parts of the virus that are not as strong, and so as it passes on the virus through mucus and secretions, it essentially alters the virus’s genetic structure, making it more infectious.
Why does it do this? Well, it’s not deliberate, it’s just evolution. The immune system of a chicken is trying to kill ALL of the virus, but as it kills off some of it, only the mutated versions of the virus most fit to survive the immune system’s attacks can be passed on to more and more chickens.

Are you seeing a correlation here? Because it’s not just a metaphor, it can help to explain how people think, how different ideas spread and also how we can prevent their spread. When it comes to jokes, we don’t have an immune system, but we have a sense of humour. We are only susceptible to jokes that are stronger than our sense of humour, and we only pass on jokes that have successfully bypassed our systems so that we think it’s worthy of passing on. Each time we tell a joke, it's like we have sneezed to pass on the joke-virus.
But this doesn’t just work with jokes . . .

A joke is just a single form of meme, or a "memotype", but every single thought in your head, if it is transmissible, can be the subject of a meme. The indivisible fragments of thought that construct a meme can be a very confusing, but what we do know is that whether you're dealing with a joke memotype, a query memotype or even a factual memotype, the life-cycle and evolution of the meme is the same.

Let’s say, for instance, facts - or, attempts at facts, let’s call them statements. Say that I tell you:
“Too much sugar can give you diabetes”
Do you accept that?
Of course, whether or not you accept a statement to be “true” or “false” is not determined by your sense of humour (unless someone presents a stupid statement, like “I don’t like roses, they’re too chewy”), but for a statement about sugar and diabetes, often the system by which you confront it is through critical thinking. A sense of humour is really nothing less than critical thinking in regards to subjective, emotional response to something we experience. I am not going to tell you if that statement is factual or not, I’ll leave that up to you - I am not really sure myself, I just made it up. But, the means by which you determine its factuality may be similar for any meme you encounter.
Whether you accept it or not is essentially due to how you think, critically.

This leads on to my discussions of ignorance. See, some people believe that the Earth is Flat. These so-called “flat-earthers” are not actually less capable of thought than us. Rather, when they attempted to learn, they came across something which bypassed their critical thinking.
The difference between flat-earthers and people who think flat-earthers are stupid and ignorant is merely that our critical thinking was capable of rejecting this meme. I do use the words 'ignorant' and 'stupid' interchangeably, but it is important to understand that whilst they do fit the definition of the word 'stupid' I am not claiming that these people are "unintelligent".
See, flat-earthers, and other such conspiracy theorists as well as bigots, do, in fact, think about these beliefs. However, just as a person with a compromised immune system may be sick for a very long time, a person with a compromised critical thinking system may be affected by ignorance for their whole life. Even if they are capable of being critical of other things, the reason they are so ignorant is because these viral memes have overcome the immune system of their thoughts or bypassed it entirely.

Think of a virus. When a virus is spread to you, it doesn’t transfer through psychic link. It needs to attack through a weakness in your immune system. Through food you eat, through air you breathe - it may even be attacking you constantly but your immune system is too strong, so it is left waiting for your immune system to weaken so that it can finally break in. Or, if you have a cut in your skin, it gets in through the the wound, as it can bypass the protective layer straight to your insides.
When it comes to viral memes, they attack through the weak points of your critical thinking system - your emotions. Either they attack without warning, making you feel without thinking - like, when a Neo-Nazi tells others to be afraid of foreign invaders or when a homeopath offers water to make you feel healthier and happier.
Or, it could wait for your critical thinking system to weaken, perhaps during a moment of grief or hardship when a priest offers to pray with you or during the initial stages of euphoric, newfound love when your partner attempts to get you to sign a non-disclosure agreement. It may even attack through a weakness, like a wound in your skin, it may attack a sore point in your critical thinking, like when homophobes and transphobes attack your own disgust at people who harm innocent children, or when fortune-tellers and mediums tells you that they can help you find love, just after a breakup.

The memetics of these ideas are such that they attack us where we are most susceptible - our emotions. If you are interested in learning more about this particular facet of memetics, there is a very informative video by CGP Grey that divulges more on this topic. It helped to inspire this very post, so I suggest you check it out.

But, this is where it gets truly insidious. This is often not conscious. Religious people aren’t trying to indoctrinate you because they think they can manipulate you. Racists aren’t trying to lie to you so that you can join their team before they reveal the truth. Even homophobes aren’t trying to spread dissent and hatred for any nefarious political ends.
They are doing it because they are infected too. They actually believe what they say, because whatever the meme is - whether it is that god loves us all; the Earth is flat and governments lie; Jews control money and the media; homosexuals will cause harm to children and society or even that water mixed with onions can cure a headache . . . they believe it to be true, because it attacked a weakness in their critical thinking.
Their ignorance is due to something that bypassed their critical thinking. Either they were raised believing it since their youth, and so their critical thinking never identified the foreign thoughts, Or it’s something that affects them emotionally, and so attempts to remove it flair up that emotion again (or other emotions, like anger, due to the backfire effect) and so the meme essentially protects itself.

These memeplexes, these complex ideologies, are nothing more than the result of memetic evolution. Only transmissible ideas live on, and those which are not fit to survive in human minds and culture inevitable die off. Sometimes, this is due to all of the “carriers” of a meme dying off, like how Mayan gods and culture are rarely (if ever) believed in - the Mayans themselves died. However, because it affected fear, the “2012 Mayan Apocalypse” meme had a brief resurgence.
Sometimes, the idea itself is too cumbersome to be believed, like a belief in Qi or Ch'i (氣) and flow of internal life energies through the meridian network of a body, which is a very outdated and superstitious belief. However, portions of these beliefs live on, like Acupuncture as people rarely know the history of the traditional Chinese medicine that helped develop it.
Then, there are even some ideas which died off because of a shift in the cultural landscape. Like how sex was once considered to be taboo and entirely untoward before marriage by most people, until the invention of prophylactics made problems of unwanted pregnancy and sexual-transmitted infections a trivial issue. However, despite this, some religions still hold onto their outdated beliefs in regards to sex.
These are all examples of ideas on the verge of extinction, whose dying off leads to only its far-flung descendants surviving on.

The ideas that are unbelievable, or unable to be shared, die off - so, even when an idea seems truly unbelievable to us, it can yet survive on because it found an environment within which it could survive. This 'environment' is more commonly known as - a gullible mind.

But this is where things become dangerous. See, some memes mutate within a carrier. Just look at conspiracy theories, these are - more often than not - akin to a superbug. By developing within a person, they can weaken the immune system as a whole, they make it harder for a person to get better, because they are more vulnerable to other ideas, like how people with diabetes are more likely to get heart disease. But in the case of these viral memes, it weakens the critical thinking of the person, making them even more gullible.
Those gives room for the meme - the conspiracy theory itself - to grow. Even if it cannot be passed on, it can replicate within a person to become more complex and self-sufficient.
The most ignorant people we know, they did not wake up one morning believing everything they believe. Every born child is born, tabula rasa, and ideas are presented to them as they grow. Even the most bigoted racist, homophobic monster we know are just the result of a virulent idea that bypassed their critical thinking skills.

Going back to the Flat-Earthers. Often their belief starts with something very small and easily acceptable: the ground on which you stand is flat. Building upon this that round ground, like a hill, makes things roll and fall off, this develops into a simple concept that the entire world must be flat. The next step is realizing that others are trying to claim the world is not flat, and coming to the sensible conclusion that, since the earth clearly is flat, those who say otherwise are either trying to trick you, or have been tricked themselves. From there, it can mutate and evolve into a variety of ways, from believing that NASA is trying to eliminate religions that propose a flat earth, or believing in a military presence trying to prevent people from exploring Antarctica.
Even people such as Homophobes. It begins with a very simple thought, often something as simple as the concept of homosexuality making them feel uncomfortable, but it could be someone telling them homosexuals are dangerous or sinful. This then develops into fear and disgust, and reinforcing this idea makes them create wild claims about freedom, disease and child endangerment.
What about Theists? Well, in my experience, the very first thought is either "god loves you", "you have a soul" or "magic is real". Then, developing from there, building up the story from the bible and the fantasy of heaven.
This can even make an idea mutate to work alongside another idea. People who believe in religion are more likely to believe in ghosts. People who believe the earth is flat are more likely to be religious. And when these ideas become symbiotic, it becomes much, much harder to cure.

These are all examples of memeplexes. Not one idea, not one meme, but several memes that interact and depend upon each other in a complex system. This is akin to symbiosis.

This is why it's so hard to re-educate the ignorant. It's not just one meme, it's not just "black people are just like white people", it's also "genetics doesn't work like that"; "socio-economics explains crime rates"; "monoculturalism is not actually that easily understood"; "I, and most people, don't accept your definition of beauty"; "the media misrepresents almost every ethnic identity" & "no, that's not what 'white privilege' means".
Even if you can convince them that one meme is actually inaccurate, and so it dies off, the rest are still there infecting their brain.

So, what is the solution? If ignorance is essentially a kind of brainsickness, then how can we make such people better?
Well, the same way we make people safer from viruses. You can vaccinate and inoculate children from harmful viruses by presenting them with an inactive or weaker form of the original virus. So, to inoculate people from ignorance, you test and strengthen their critical thinking skills with logical hypotheticals, riddles and puzzles. You can also give people antibiotics to prevent viruses, or other medicines to work alongside our immune system, but the memetic equivalent is education, an understanding of logic, reason and meaning which boosts how we think overall making critical thinking stronger as a result. And, of course, we can never forget the importance of herd immunity. If there are those amongst us with weaker critical thinking, such as the young or the gullible, then we can protect them by making those around them more critical as a whole.

But, what of the people that are already sick? In all honesty, prevention is the best cure. Some ignorances are too deeply embedded to be easily cured. However, there are some things you can do.
Setting a good example, through herd immunity, can help others to get better. Also, in regards to virulent memes, introspection is equivalent to bedrest. Just as bedrest lets a person rest and let their immune system work, getting a person to stop and think about their own beliefs allows their critical thinking to get to work.
It can even be dealt with through quarantine.
No, not isolating people from you, or bigots from others, but rather, quarantining those thoughts and working on others, to develop the strength of their critical thinking as a whole, so that they can tackle the memeplex later when their mental faculties can overcome it.
Or, if you're incredibly patient, you could treat them symptomatically - deal with one issue at a time. Start with one meme, move onto another, move onto another. This is incredibly difficult and requires a lot of patience and empathy, and at the end of the day, it will only ever succeed if the ignorant person themselves is interested in developing their critical thought.
Unless the two of you have the same goal, you are wasting your time.

In conclusion, before you go home thinking that every viral meme is completely borne of ignorance and degenerate thought, keep in mind that all transmissible thoughts are memes.
The content in this blog is a meme, a belief that "ignorance can be harmful" is a meme. Your brain is essentially the biome within which the complex ecosystem of your memes exist in a complicated, living system of thought. Some of those memes are born of ignorance, some are not, and some are in a constant battle with your critical thinking, trying to survive in the harsh mindscape within your brain. You have to remember that, although I have only ever spoken about harmful, viral memes, some viral memes are helpful - like charity, uplifting fandom, education & comedy. This is why I don't like to judge ignorant people. They, like you, let memes into and out of their brain on a daily basis. By reading this very blog, you are exposing yourself to memes, and testing your critical thinking. Hell, within this blog I left a link to a YouTube video that I thought was worth learning, essentially perpetuating a viral meme. Memes are not good or bad, they are just a thoughts. And the study of memetics is just a tool to understand how thoughts are shared, not whether they are good or bad.
Although I think this can help you to understand ignorance, and potentially even help those around you who have been too gullible for their own good, I know some other may believe that this memeplex I've presented to you today is potentially harmful. As to whether they are right or not, well, you'll have to decide that for yourself . . .