Sunday, May 10, 2020

Icy Fingers of Doubt

Conspiracy theories flourish in an atmosphere of fear and ignorance.

They’re like fungi, spewing spores that fall on us when we’re feeling small and inconsequential. Or especially aggrieved. A pandemic creates their ideal medium for growth.

Spreading such inventions is a human failing. That’s why the Bible cautions: “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.” (Exodus 23:1)

Oh, but we do it anyway. Some of us. More of us than we, ourselves, may realize.

The internet has exploded lately with conspiracies about the origin of COVID-19. These run from the absurd to the semi-plausible, if you don’t look deeper.

They attempt to smear with doubt the people we trust most. I’m thinking of Dr. Anthony Fauci, an experienced voice of calm and reason and scientific information in the midst of the viral storm.

I’m thinking of Bill Gates, too, widely admired for the extraordinary work his foundation does to alleviate human misery around the world.

Each of these men stand at the forefront of medical efforts to understand the scope of the danger we’re in, and to find ways to combat it.

Yet concerted attempts are made to undermine their efforts with falsehoods. And those falsehoods are being spread by ordinary people on social media.

People who are fearful, like many of us, unsure whom to trust.

And other people, too, of a bristling ignorance. Angry at what they don’t understand, and wrapped in longing for simplistic answers, instead of the slippery complexity of a brand new virus.

Conspiracy theories, whether left or right, can be seductive. Once you allow the first deadly spore into your conscious mind, it will multiply according to a design that exists only within itself, quite separately from any other reality.

Like a virus does, in fact.

The only “vaccine” against conspiracy-think is knowledge. Verifiable knowledge that’s at everyone’s fingertips, if we take the time to look for sources and read critically. (That means outside the thread of links that support the conspiracy.)

I have spent a great deal of time in recent weeks researching what is known about COVID-19 and its fellow coronaviruses. I subscribe to a daily compendium of articles from medical journals related to the virus, in addition to other well-respected and verifiable sources. Science is accretive. New information arrives each day. And as we learn more, we revised the picture of what we know. It’s like turning a pencil sketch into a painting. Understanding is a work in progress.

The half-truths, no-truths and innuendo that are woven together by shady operators to comprise the most prevalent conspiracy theories are a disgrace. They are designed to promote various agendas not related to your or my good health.

Run them down for yourself. Make sure that you look at a variety of unrelated sources to evaluate your information. Don’t swallow Laura Ingraham or the Washington Post headlines in one, undifferentiated gulp. (The actual articles in the Post are far more balanced, by the way.) Political axes continue to be honed, even now, when we should be pulling together.

As for those who spread misinformation about subjects that affect me and those whom I love, I have a few questions:

What are you trying to do? What are you trying to gain? Who are you working to benefit? I’d really like the answers.

You seem to want communities to unravel. You want children and unsuspecting adults to die from preventable illness. You want to topple rational, experienced leaders and replace them with what—a leaderless massing of people? For what purpose?

Your spreading of lies about Dr. Fauci and Mr. Gates will cause some well-meaning people to resist the COVID-19 vaccine when it is developed. And that will undermine the herd immunity we need for life to resume a more complete normality. Herd immunity is basic science, which you scoff at.

If you’re successful in sowing doubt your result will further imperil my husband and me as we are imperiled now in our self-isolation. You will cause people to die.

Why? Why would you do that?

[Titled "Conspiracy Theories," this post ran as my column in the Fayette County Record, April 24, 2020.]

1 comment:

  1. I can't help but wonder how much of this divisive misinformation is being spewed across the internet like droplets of coronavirus by Russian hackers.