The state health department should provide information, not manipulation

This is subtle nonsense

If there are heroes, there are villains, and if you're not the hero, you're either the villain or the panicked townsfolk waiting to be saved by the caped hero.

It might seem to be innocuous, to toss around the label "hero." But during a time of stress, fear, anger, division -- you need to be more cautious. 

So I responded as such.

I'm not kidding about the tracking app. You cajole and convince people to do things, and you can get another inch and then another and then another and then, at some point, that's it. And we not only refuse to comply on the last, but we stop with all of the others, too.

I don't confront employees trying to do their job under new guidelines. I don't make assumptions about people wearing masks. I maintain social distancing. I try to support local businesses, ordering takeout when I normally wouldn't. If a business required restrictions I wasn't willing to comply with, I would simply avoid them and not insist on a confrontation on their private property. I donate to organizations helping people in need. I line up outside of stores, on taped lines, so they can operate within guidelines. I tune into the press conferences and share the information about changes, programs, and executive orders. I read articles from all kinds of sources to stay informed. I put a tracking app on my phone which violates my principles but I want North Dakota to have a win, to have buy-in, so I did it. Ask me to plant a Victory garden and I will (already do, frankly).

But then you push another thing and do it saying, basically, "well, if you don't do this, too, you aren't a hero."

Really, North Dakota Health Department? Is that what you want to say to people like me?

Before I go further, let's revisit original goals.

1. What was our original goal?
a) Flatten the curve to not overwhelm hospitals.
b) Eradicate SARSCov-2.
c) Never get sick or die ever again and enjoy our new immortality.
d) Scare people so when an expensive sort-of-untested vaccine comes out, someone will make billions.

2. When did the original goal change?
a) When we realized the estimates we'd based our economy collapse on were way off and the leaders who took us down the toilet needed people to stay scared and distracted so their mistakes about a virus with a 98-99% survival rate wasn't noticed.
b) When some governors and mayors received their Il Duce membership cards in the mail.
c) Because it's an election year, the goal must always change until November 4th.
d) When Karen became a hero.

3. Did you notice when the goal changed?
a) Yes.
b) No.
c) Goal?
d) Gaol all salon workers.

4) Why are masks necessary in light of the original goal?
a) They aren't, because we flattened the curve like gangbusters.
b) We pushed hospitals and medical centers to bankruptcy and furloughed medical staff, so now we really don't have the preparedness to handle any sick people so we'd better wrap our faces so no virus juices get out anywhere.
c) What original goal?
d) So we can all be heroes.

Why talk about the original goals? 

Because now we're arguing about the usefulness of masks in general when we should be asking how mask usage fits the original goal. 

"Hey, let's get the people divided and arguing about covering their nose and mouth so they won't notice we're frantically covering our backsides," said random "experts" and various leaders.

The original goal was never about eradicating or stopping all infection, but keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed as we built herd immunity (or got a vaccine, if you're into that). We accomplished the goal.

Think back. THAT WAS THE ORIGINAL GOAL. You know it was. Flatten the curve was everywhere. Scroll back to March in your Facebook feed if you have to.

Now that our hospitals are practically going bankrupt, do you think it's safe to unleash the kracken? Now that we have reports from some nurses saying that where they work, PPE is practically falling off the shelf, and others have time to wear it while twerking in Tik Tok videos, do you think we can allow life to get back to normal (and no, masks and social distancing are not normal) and understand some will go to the hospital and just keep an eye on things so the hospitals aren't overwhelmed?

So back to the graphic the state health department posted. 

They've done an absolutely excellent job posting daily numbers, providing information, with even more detail on their website. They've even broken down who has died with Covid, and who died from it. In light of that excellence, I have no idea why they feel they have to do these catchy social media "public service" announcements because:

a) It's not like we're not already drowning in them everywhere we turn, whether on TV, Snapchat filters, social media, posters in stores, overhead announcements in stores -- ye gads.

b) It can cause further argument opportunities between community members during an already stressful time in which division isn't helping.

c) This isn't social media marketing for a widget, a gadget, a hipster startup, or a party. It's not enough to simply match your style guide. This is public health information during an intense time. It may be that previous social media marketing approaches and guidelines should be set aside regarding frequency and tone, and careful thought be used instead.

"Not all heros wear capes."

I can't disagree. Maybe they meant something like this:

Nothing has disgusted me as much as the idea that some people/jobs aren't essential. That's a lie.

I think we all remember from the Incredibles movie that wearing capes is a bad idea anyway. 

But enough with everyone being a hero. 

The post office exit door tells me their employees are heros. The medical staff are heros. UPS and Amazon workers are heros. Grocery store workers are heros. Coffee shop workers are heros. Anyone who didn't stay locked up safely at home saving lives by doing so is a hero. And also, everyone who stayed locked up safely at home saving lives and who also wear a mask are heros. If you stayed healthy, even if you refused to work, you were a hero. Everyone is a hero.

If everyone is a hero, no one is.

That clip from the "Incredibles" is so prescient. And the whole part about the pressure to fit in with the group is exactly what the health department is banking on. Social pressure: oh, you're not part of the mask-wearing crowd? Tsk, tsk. You should be! We won't force you, but we'll apply emotional and psychological pressure to.

I keep saying people should read Monty Robert's many books about horses and leadership. He makes a point that horses are into-pressure animals. That is, some animals move the direction you want them to when you press into them. Others push back, into the pressure, and do the opposite. You might get some people to cave to your pressure, but there will be some of us who will push back with all we have.

Seriously, we keep hearing how ND is doing pretty good, barring assisted living home spread which is a whole other discussion. Why would we wear masks on top of that, for our every day lives? If the original goal was about hospital capacity and we had about 2600 potential beds and only 1 or 2 percent in use for this, what the heck? It's like pressuring the kid who gets a 99% on his test to do better.

Here's what a state health department ought to be posting for taxpaying citizens: facts, data, and information to help them make decisions. 

If they want to do something cute with a video or whatever else, OK. But you have to be very careful what you imply, and how you handle information. This isn't the social media marketing for some startup. It's the state health department. Your audience is the state taxpayer, all generations, all ideologies, all paying your wage.

So no.

It's not enough to just have cute matchy matchy graphics without a thought about how the message might land. 

It doesn't matter if you have a crack social media team made up of a generation that is fine with this. It's not enough to have a scrum or a standing meeting or a sprint or a brainstorming session or whatever they're calling it now to come up with your next bit of cute.


If the state of North Dakota is going to use #FactsOverFear as a hashtag, they need to inform the state health department's social media team and update that to #FactsOverManipulation. Give recommendations, sure, but not in a manipulative way.

"Here's the data. We're following CDC guidelines so we recommend masks. Make your own decision."

Provide data. Provide preferred recommendations. But DO NOT suggest there are "good" citizens and "bad" citizens especially over something that you already know is causing a great deal of division. Especially if the governor has made mental health a huge component of his pandemic response because people are under a lot of stress right now. Screwing around with people's minds is a super poor approach.

It's not just the state health department, to be sure, that's trying to normalize mask wearing.

A friend was reading an article about three marines who subdued an out-of-control passenger on an airplane. The photo they took of the three men was them standing there...wearing masks. "Why even take the photo," he asked. "You can't even see them. Their face is covered with a mask."

We are being conditioned. This is a grand conditioning experiment, whether it was intentional or not. 

TV ads where everyone is wearing masks, where we see people distanced and not touching, gentle comforting music in the background to let you know they and their message are trustworthy and that they care so much about you because we're all in this together (except credit card companies, the only industry that remained silent in advertising and gave their customers no breaks in interest despite knowing lots of people were living off of credit cards for two months because they had no money). High-traffic websites and mainstream media push article after article on staying home and wearing face masks. Politicians responding to citizens who want to get back to work by saying sure, but you'd better wear masks or have household members removed to prevent household spread (i.e. you want one freedom, you'll have to give up others). 

You're being taught that constant hand sanitizer use is good, masks and space apart from people is good, contact tracing and surveillance of where you went and who you were with is good, isolation and clinging to the internet and online providers of information is good -- and there's the little "new normal" tacked on to imply that the continuation of it is also good. Some of that might temporarily be fine, but you're being told to get used to it. For good. The psyche of millions of people has been permanently changed, and it isn't good.

We have all that going on, mixed in with a carefully orchestrated tastefully branded graphically designed elegant swirl of messages telling us to stay home stay safe stay alive, we're in this together, its the new normal, mask it or casket, together apart -- and now the friggin' state health department jumps onboard with the mindscrew.

I've stopped following the state health department and other agencies on social media. I don't tune into the press conferences much anymore. There are two reasons for this:

1. Serious disaster fatigue. Human beings can take bad news only for so long. The media has been nonstop on this pandemic for months. So far, my 2020 has been impeachment, pandemic, murder hornets, cicada swarms, earthquakes, early hurricane season, economic collapse, tornadoes, burst dams, locusts in Africa, farming disasters, constitutional crisis from dictator-like governors/mayors, and incessant online mockery of my personal stance and decisions on health issues. And oh yeah. I lost my job. I'm done. 

2. Rejection of the overlords I'm apparently paying to keep me "safe" against my free will. In light of number 1 above, I don't need some government agency telling me I'm not a hero, some government office worker, paid by taxpayers, telling me I haven't done enough.

3. Everything is a fight. At this point, you can't say anything about a cancelled event or a store closure and not have someone come in and say "well, if you people would wear masks we'd get back to normal faster." I reiterate: WEARING MASKS IS NOT NORMAL. I could say more, but let's just let this graphic do it:

You are free to stay home or wear a mask. Let others be free to make their own choice without ascribing a negative attribute to them. Don't imply they are lesser or the problem because they chose differently than you.

Are you listening, North Dakota State Health Department? Say it with me, government talking heads:

Do not use psychological manipulation during already stressful times

I've made you an infographic. Feel free to share.


  1. Looking at the stupid health department graphic before even reading your post (excellent as always -- thanks!), my instant thought was: can they really not form the correct plural of "hero?" Apparently not.

    And yes, the Hero Inflation has gone way, way, way over the top.

    1. I didn't point out the misspelling. Low-hanging fruit, maybe. Or, I often misspell things; the older I get the more I think one word and my hands type something completely different, or a homonym (seriously, it's shocking how often I catch myself doing this). Plus, a few years back I wrote an epic rant about the grammar police, ha, so I try to let that go.


Post a Comment

Comments are heavily moderated for language, topical relevancy, and mindless trolling. If you're anonymous, there's a good chance your comment won't be published no matter what it is. Follow the blog commenting rules found here.