The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

"Normalizing Insanity"—The Book is Live

My new book, Normalizing Insanity, is now live in hardcopy and e-book (Kindle) editions on Amazon. As an introduction, I've included the Preface.

To purchase the paperback edition on Amazon, click here.

To purchase the Kindle edition, click here.


I don’t know about you, but I’ve been suffering from cognitive dissonance lately. Someone in the government or the media or academia or even the entertainment industry has an idea that doesn’t make a lot of sense. It becomes a viral narrative—a story that we’re all supposed to believe. You wonder, Is that really true? “Journalists” who are supposed to speak truth to power don’t question the narrative, they confirm it almost every time as long as it comes from the right people with the right ideology. 

Social media influencers begin pushing the narrative. Researchers at universities back it up, entertainers on late night talk shows mock anyone who questions it. Finally, government agencies use the narrative as the basis for policies that are more than just crazy—they’re ineffective and sometimes, downright destructive. 

Remember a virus that visited us recently, SARS-Cov-2, a.k.a. COVID-19? Sure, you do. Remember how the government insisted that SARS-Cov-2 came from wet markets in Wuhan, China? Wet markets are places where exotic animals are sold as food, and yeah, they have been the source of viruses in the past. But right down the street from the wet market in Wuhan, there was a Virology Lab where, rumors had it, the scientists were working to genetically modify bat virus variants. A few people suggested that maybe SARS-Cov-2 was inadvertently leaked from the lab, and all hell broke out. Our public health oracles at the time told us, “No way!” The hamsters in the mainstream media jumped right in, not asking any questions about the government claim of a wet market origin, mind you, but rather questioning the sanity of the people who thought it might be a good idea to investigate.

Think of it this way. You’re visiting Hershey, PA and you walk past a very big red brick factory. There’s a distinct smell of delicious chocolate in the air. As you walk just a little way down the street, you encounter a very large puddle of chocolate—right there in the street! Is your first reaction to think someone stole a bunch of candy bars from the local Walmart, melted them in the sun and created the puddle? Maybe not. You wouldn’t have to be Willy Wonka to think the origin of the puddle had something to do with the chocolate factory.  

It turns out that the Wuhan Lab “conspiracy theorists” were right all along,  although there are bitter clingers who still insist that it all had to do over-ripe bat and pangolin filets.  

“But, but,” you might be saying, “the origin wasn’t obvious at first.” That’s true, but it became increasingly obvious as time passed, and yet, the leaders of the public health establishment and their media shills insisted that there was nothing to see at the virology lab, move on.
Of course, the SARS-Cov-2 origin story is just a single story, and if that’s all there was, well, I wouldn’t have a book to write. But the origin story is indicative of something really weird that’s happening in Western countries. Ideas pop up, and with the right push, evolve into viral narratives that somehow engage an emotional response from a large group of people who follow the story. When the follower group hits critical mass, politicians get involved and create policies that address the narrative. 

But there’s a problem. More often than not, the original idea is based on a fantasy interpretation of our world. The narrative that it precipitates is nutty, but plays to the fears, uncertainty and doubt that affects members of its follower group. And the public policies that result? Sometimes they don’t make a lot of sense.   

Just to be clear, a "fantasy idea" is a statement of belief with little connection to evidence, facts, statistics, history, or common sense. But if influencers who promote the idea describe it right, it hits an emotional chord with followers and becomes conventional wisdom for millions.
Sometimes, a fantasy idea starts with good intentions. But as it grows, the narrative around it can go off the rails, leading to absurdity. When influencers push a fantasy idea and followers adopt it as "their truth," a few things happen. The idea creates a self-reinforcing echo chamber, and becomes the center of their thinking.  

And when all that happens, the idea and its narrative evolve. The idea claims to be an undisputed truth and becomes more extreme, even apocalyptic. If you question the idea or the narrative, you’re often accused of some form of moral failure. As this happens, things can begin to spin out of control. The idea, its viral narrative, and policies derived from it move from fantasy toward insanity. And when this happens with one idea, it tends to happen with others. It becomes easier and easier to allow fantasy thinking to take over. We normalize insanity. 

I'm an engineer, not an expert in fantasy ideas or social science. But maybe it's time for an engineering perspective—one that looks at the process that is used to transform fantasy ideas into viral narratives that become public policy. One that examines various inputs that start as noise and turn into something more dangerous. In any system—and western culture is definitely a system—small faults, if not nipped in the bud, tend to spread and cause unpredictable damage. When those faults get amplified, the damage can escalate, potentially causing the whole system to fail. 

That's what I'm seeing today, but not many folks are talking about the way our society has normalized it. Even fewer are sounding the alarm that it's spreading and could be a real threat if not contained. That's why this book exists.

It really doesn't matter what issues are most important to you. It seems as if insanity is increasing across the board. After all, what rational observer would label an embryo to be used in IVF as a "person"? What serious political commentator would suggest that a cognitively disabled candidate for POTUS was 100% lucid and in charge of his administration. Yet both things happened. And worse, many in society have normalized this craziness, shrugging their shoulders as if nothing can be done. Normalizing Insanity discusses why and how this happens, and what we can do about it.