The Northern Spy — Grim Reflections

The Northern Spy

And the not entirely so grim
as, once again, Canada persists in celebrating the Spy’s birthday a couple of days
early and the Excited States a day late. ‘Course, both have been at it a tad longer
than he, so he extends best wishes that both will outlast him, despite at least some
indicatiors to the contrary.

Truth and Consequences
There was a time in the increasingly distant past when the truth of one’s
statements was considered non negotiable, for it had to founded on actual
repeatable and experimentally verifiable facts. That is, it had to reflect the reality of
the physical world, past or present, and be verifiable as such. In the same vein, an
“honourable” person was one of integrity–(s)he could be counted on to tell the
truth, to accept same as reliable from other persons of honour, and to faithfully
carry out commitments. One’s word was as good as one’s bond.

Today, promises made are not even meant to be promises kept
(especially the political), and there are numerous instances of the widespread
refusal to accept manifest truth, to insist on falsehoods as alternate reality. Indeed,
many purveyors of falsehood have discovered that more people are likely to believe
egregious whoppers then mere distortions. When the Spy writes alternate history
science fiction, he has no expectation that people will believe it to be literally true–
the point in his case instead being to explore the ethics of technology development
and adoption in a fictional context–to think and to entertain. But fantasy, though a
useful medium for floating ideas, has no time and space correspondence to reality.

For instance the reporting of general non-acceptance of recent election
results in a variety of third-rate countries has led many to assume that the Excited
States has now joined that company. There is a difference, however between the
Soviet-style “elections” conducted in many parts of the world (why are they
oxymoronically termed “Democratic Republics”?) where the dictator jails his
opponents in for treason and wins nearly unanimously, even though few people
vote, and on the other hand, a tightly run, carefully scrutinized election in a modern
Western country where both sides garner tens of millions of votes, and one wins by
a healthy margin. The extraordinary claim of “rigged election” may not need much
evidence in a place where even raising the issue can result in torture and a death
sentence, but in a real democracy it does require extraordinary evidence–enough
to convince at least one judge somewhere not to throw out the claims as vacuous
and frivolous for lack of proof. But against all evidence, some believe the most
fantastic lies.

The same is true of vaccine and COVID deniers
who for similar reasons can be compared, say, to Holocaust deniers (and there is a
strong participant overlap). Europe had a population of many millions of Jewish
ethnicity and/or faith before WW II, and very few afterward in those regions that
had been under Hitler’s boots. Those who deny the concentration camps and gas
ovens existed, or claim fraud, need to explain hard evidence. Where did they all go?
On vacation and forget to return? Really? And the remains of the actual death camps were…luxury resorts? What of the eye witnesses who survived? The soldiers who liberated them?

Millions today are dead of COVID-19, just as tens of millions died of the
flu in the early twentieth century, and far more in previous pandemics of smallpox
and the plague. The disease crisis was and is real, the graves and medical records
genuine, and the vaccines are working–just as those for smallpox, polio, mumps,
whooping cough, yellow fever, chicken pox, measles, and others work and are safe.
Vaccines save millions of lives and, incidentally, have been proven with exhaustive
real world studies not to cause autism.

People who irrationally believe fables to the contrary create a real and
present danger to themselves and others. Why do they not rather choose to believe
they are potted plants, that the second world war never happened, that Julius
Caesar, Napoleon, Mao, and Churchill never lived, that science and mathematics
don’t exist, that China and Russia are benevolent populist democracies that
encourage free speech, or that there is no reality and we are but actors on a stage
for an audience of invisible manipulative aliens? Wait. Perhaps there are people who
believe some or all those things.

The worst tragedy is that a subsequent wave of the virus driven by a far
more transmissible and much deadlier variant mutation will cause a horrific death
toll among the very people who deny the efficacy of vaccines and refuse to accept
one that would save their lives. In anticipation of this possibility, a new false story
is now circulating that no virus has ever mutated into a more deadly form, only into
a less deadly one. Unfortunately with the deniers who play fast and loose with their
own lives and those of others, this too is utterly false. Every virus that has jumped
from an animal or bird population has done exactly that to the human one. Point
proven. Q.E.D.

To cite other cases of false beliefs,
apparently some give irrational credence to a story now circulating that the blood
lusting January sixth rioters who broke into the U.S. Capital building seeking to kill
those they hated were merely tourists doing a little sightseeing. Tell that to the
security people injured or dead in an effort to NOT welcome the destroyers and
would-be murderers.

In several places (look them up) the Old Testament mocks those who
believe in and worship idols of wood, stone, and metal–pointing out that a piece of
wood of which some is burnt to cook a meal and the rest carved into a god to
worship, has neither mouth to speak nor legs to walk, and can do a person neither
any good nor any harm. Apparently, believing and trusting in the blatantly false is
nothing new. Neither is worshipping another human, even if, especially if that
person tells dangerous lies.

The Spy does not deny
the necessity to resolve open questions, such as the actual origin of COVID-19, the
explanation of as-yet-unidentified objects in the air, or to expose more clearly the
details of historical events known to have happened, but perhaps reported on thus
far only in a biased or incomplete manner. There is always more to a story, more
truth to be discover, more myths to be debunked. Moreover, it is certainly the case
that the “winners” initially write the history of a conflict, not the losers. But such
cases amount to filling in details in a narrative of why and how, not of whether. (A
scenario in which the losers actually won a war is fantasy, not reality.) Scientists
also refine and expand upon their work. But when something is demonstrably
proven to be true and this is verifiable by repeatable experiments and/or multiple
open examination of actual data, fraud can be ruled out and the fundamental truth
remains. Only minor details need polishing.

Part of the big-picture problem may be that truth
can be extremely ugly, not merely inconvenient. Take the history of slavery, for
instance. In ancient times it was practiced in a straightforward bloodthirsty and
vengeful manner by nearly every civilization in every portion of the globe–
vanquished peoples were enslaved by their conquerers and bent to hard labour.
But in an evil twist in more “modern” times one of most despicable beliefs
of many Western nations was to justify slavery under the darwinistic-derived lie
that some groups of manifestly human persons were instead a kind of “lower”
intermediate form between the animal and human line, and therefore could be
owned or otherwise treated as mere property or goods.

This falsehood survives today under the widespread fabrication that
people of one skin colour are superior to those of other colourations. However,
neither science nor the Bible (both get falsely cited) support this idea, for on the
one hand, genetics manifestly demonstrates there is only one human race, (the
human race, with mere trivial variations), and on the second, the Bible makes no
such distinction, instead clearly proclaiming that all human beings are treated
exactly alike by God, that their status before Him has nothing to do with the
modern invention of so-called race and everything to do with His grace and their
faith manifest subsequently by behaviour.

Thus, despite obviously false beliefs, skin colour is of no more significance
genetically or spiritually than eye colour, hair colour, the shape of one’s toenails,
how one ties one’s shoelaces, or the preferences of one’s taste buds for tea over
milk. We humans are all in this together, without distinction.

The Spy admits that in one of his novels he chose to mock discriminatory
absurdities by positing a society that did indeed discriminate on the basis of hair
colour. He was brought up short on the matter by a colleague who informed him
some people are in fact prejudiced on that very basis. Really? This is nuts. He left
the material as he wrote it however, as his own parody of complete and utter
irrationality and of the blind and dangerous refusal to give credit to the obvious.
There is something pathologically wrong with anyone who considers that colour is
worth hatred.

Indeed, specific and obviously ugly reminders of past history have been
unearthed in both Ireland and Canada in recent years that bring similar matters
back out from under the rug and into the spotlight of truth where they belong. In
both cases, it involves the discovery of bodies roughly where they had been known
by many to exist. In the former, they were the bodies of women and infants on the
former grounds of homes for unwed mothers-to-be where they were brutalized
instead of being cared for, and in the latter, the bodies of aboriginal children taken
from their homes ostensibly for an education, but instead brutalized and starved
with extreme cruelty, often to die of neglect, abuse, disease, and hunger. Past
governments established or tolerated these practices, and several institutionalized
“church” arms carried them out in utter cruelty.

Cautionary note: No
institutionalized church was established in the New Testament, just a kingdom upon
human hearts. A church as an institution is entirely a human idea. It may be useful
as such, but it may have all the flaws of the humans who assume authority over it.
The one thing that the Spy finds rather astonishing is that no one thought
to look for the proof of what was known to be true by many, but ignored by those
with vested interests. The bodies were, after all, there all along, dead proof of what
had been done to them. The institutions of other countries have a reckoning yet to
come, and the evidence for it will be found on similar grounds. But, good on the
technology of ground-penetrating radar for “unearthing” actual hard evidence of the
truth, and a rare win to both the tech and the people who finally thought to rent the
equipment for the purpose. No hidden truth (and no open lie) will fail to be fully revealed for what it is–eventually.

What has all this to do with the relationship between technology and its
social context (the reason this column exists)? The salient issue, as mentioned
several times in this space, is that the instant communication enabled by the
Internet, far from promoting cooperation and understanding among peoples to
expand and unite communities, has as long ago predicted here, done quite the
opposite–create echo chambers for the reinforcement and spread of dangerous
falsehoods in the service of prejudice and hatred. “Free” speech is in theory the
bulwark of democracy, but too many, in turning it into a codeword for hatred and
threatening speech wopuld have us all forget that true freedom requires honour and
entails responsibility.

Democracy by its very nature includes a paradox. In allowing any and all
forms if dissent, it permits to some extent speech that would destroy itself. So, is
there a solution to the problem of dangerous false speech short of the demise of
democracy? Unknown at this point, but nothing bodes well when lies are so often
given more credit than obvious truth. Second, and at least as important to someone
like the Spy who nearly died of the mumps as a child, the efficacy of vaccines to
save lives is a proven fact critical to multiple millions of lives–undermining
confidence in vaccines could make one responsible for untold deaths. People who do
or abet and enable this are a threat to others as surely as are violent sexual
pedophile predators and racist haters. They need to be held accountable when, not
if, their lies kill others.

Embrace honour and the truth it implies. Forget the very idea of “race”.
Get the vaccine. Encourage others to do all three.

(Quite Enough Said.) The Spy is meanwhile experimenting with more stable and
longer lasting (hopefully) backup and archival systems, but rather than attach the
mundane to the critically important, will postpone that review to next month, as will
he some speculation on Apple’s possible (or not) electric car intentions, and further
comments on the cancer saga.

See you all again next month–DV.
–The Northern Spy

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author's own, and no
endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be
attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing
Science and Mathematics and Assistant Dean of Science at Canada's Trinity
Western University. He completed his fiftieth year as a high school and university
teacher in 2020. He has been involved as a member of or consultant with the
boards of several organizations, and participated in developing industry standards
at the national and international level. He is a co-author of the Modula-2
programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has
written two textbooks and ten alternate history SF novels, one named best
ePublished SF novel for 2003. His various columns have appeared in numerous
magazines and newspapers (paper and online), since the early 1980s, and he's
been a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences.
He and his wife Joyce celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 2019 and have lived in
the Aldergrove/Bradner area of B.C. since 1972.
URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Arjay Enterprises:
  • The Northern Spy Home Page:
  • opundo :
  • Sheaves Christian Resources :
  • WebNameHost :
  • WebNameSource :
  • nameman :
General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Books:
  • Author Site:
  • Publisher’s Site:
  • The Fourth Civilization–Ethics, Society, and Technology (4th 2003 ed. ):
Other URLs of relevant interest:
  • BC Government COVID site:
  • TWU COVID Info:
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