In Defense of Karen: Disprove Yourself
“I’m not getting vaccinated,” the LCBO cashier exclaims, as she rings in my two bottles of wine and four beers. Her name is “Karen,” even though that’s not what her nametag says. Karen, after all, is the universal North American gold standard for privilege and ignorance.
It was my fault really. I started the small talk conversation with “isn’t it crazy we are in a plague?” I really should have taken David Sedaris’s advice, and asked a very obscure question like have you ever peed on your hands or would you eat a placenta? Hindsight really is 20/20.
She goes on…
“This is going to go on forever you know? It’s all about population control.”
If it was really about population control wouldn’t they not bother with lockdowns and just let large amounts of people die off?
I don’t know how to respond but my voice is cracking, and I stutter, “Well… hopefully, it will be over with soon.”
I’m not good with confrontation. Just finish packing up my Hahn wine Karen, so I can politely leave and rehash this interaction with friends.
This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve come across a conspiracy theorist.
In September, Alyssa and I went to Niagara on the Lake for a bike and wine tour.
Because of restrictions, there were minimal visitors, leaving Alyssa and I as the sole riders for the tour. Our guide, Julie, expressed her gratitude for our well-behaved albeit slightly buzzed energy and joined us at the picnic table while we sampled wine. “It’s not as bad as they say it is,” she says, as we silently drink from our plastic wine glasses.
Is this a good time to tell her Alyssa works in a lab that tests COVID positive swabs?
“I’m still planning to go to Croatia this winter. They can’t tell me what to do,” Julie adamantly says, her face turning red from frustration.
If I have learned nothing else from Trump and the Spanish flu its that history always repeats itself; no matter how much we progress, human behavior does not.
I arrive home from the LCBO and place two bottles of pinot on the wine rack.
Wine replenishment seems to be a weekly errand during the pandemic.
I mull over Karen’s comments.
Should I complain?
Her opinion, however wrong, was her opinion.
I was the one who brought up the plague.
At that moment a notification pops up on my phone from CBC.
Community rallies to support 13-year-old Mississauga, Ont. boy orphaned after mother dies with COVID-19.
What if I had lost someone to COVID-19? Does she think about that when she says she’s not going to get the vaccine?
What do I know about Karen anyhow?
I know she doesn’t want the vaccine and that she thinks that COVID is about population control. Where does she get her information?
I certainly know that the paramedics, journalists, and scientists in my echo chamber would have something to say to her.
“The problem is that people think their opinion is equal to that of experts,” my friend Jason explains. A neuroscientist, I often go to him debating the merits of psychics, aliens, and the supernatural. And on this day, after signing up for Neil Degrasse Tyson’s masterclass on scientific thinking and communication, he sends me a YouTube video he regularly shows in his lectures. Breaking down the process of testing ideas, the video shows Dr. Derek Muller experimenting with a group of strangers on cognitive bias, presenting a three-number sequence with a rule in mind that the three numbers obey. The goal is to figure out what that rule is. To get that information, the participants have to propose their own set of numbers to which Dr. Muller will either say yes it follows the rule or no it doesn’t follow the rule.
Dr. Muller proposes 2, 4, and 8.
Participants propose 16, 32, and 64.
“Is the rule multiplying by two?” One participant asks.
“That is not my rule,” Dr. Muller responds, encouraging them to keep going.
After some time listing ascending numbers, some odd and some even, each participant gets stuck on what the rule could be. “You’re approaching it the way most people approach it. Think strategically about this. You want information, I have information; the point of the three numbers is to allow you to figure out what that rule is,” he hints.
This leads them to propose numbers in descending order, with Dr. Muller confirming it doesn’t follow the rule. A light bulb goes off from the participants.
The rule is that the numbers have to be in ascending order.
“It explains how people get sucked down rabbit holes online with conspiracy theories. The human tendency once you have an idea is to look for evidence that supports your idea. But in reality, you should do the opposite,” Jason explains as I rewatch the video. “If something is true, it will stand up to scrutiny. If it’s not true then it won’t. So don’t be afraid to scrutinize your beliefs.”
Admittedly, I have gone down this confirmation bias route myself.
“The whole, look at all the evidence and make up your own mind mentality doesn’t work if you’re not smart enough in an area,” he bluntly and hilariously adds.
Would reporting Karen’s opinion to management change her stance on vaccinations?
A Reuter’s notification vibrates on my phone.
Overwhelmed India running short of COVID-19 vaccines.
How does she not realize how lucky she is to have access to a vaccine?
“They have to realize on their own that they’re wrong. Telling them they’re wrong will only further harden their beliefs and conviction oddly enough,” Jason adds.
What else do I know about Karen?
I know nothing about her story.
I know nothing about her circumstances.
I know nothing about where she gets her information or how she thinks.
All I know is that she does not want to get the vaccine.
And I didn’t ask her why.