There was a flurry of conspiracy theories circulating around FB and conservative ‘news’ last week that truly give me concern. Why have Americans become so gullible? I have blogged on the lack of scientific literacy of our citizenry time and time again. In addition to ignorance, we are divided into tribes or silos and tribal loyalty requires members to align with the party line. For years, conservative party line had maintained that climate change science is not settled and party members fall in line regardless of the preponderance of evidence. And Americans have become so lazy and time constrained (running on the hamster wheel for their corporate overlords) they rarely bother to fact check anything. Facts seem to have become malleable in the hands of FOX news and their viewers swallow whole any speculation or opinion offered by their Junior College drop-out commentators. For these folks, facts are backed up by things like, “people have said” or “I’ve heard” as though facts are a matter of popularity. And the sad truth is, there is very little good news about this pandemic. So the truth is definitely, not popular.
So, as many hide from or disregard the unpopular news, mortality rates continue to rise. And to spin the bad news, these conspiracy theories are formulated to give shade to the utter failure of conservative leaders in protecting and supporting our people during this pandemic. So, they started with blaming the other side (Democrats, liberals) claiming the other side is playing this up for political means (as they would do) and there is no reason to worry. It didn’t take long for that spin to prove ineffective because people started dying of the virus. So, now the spin is to blame China, speculating they engineered this virus that escaped the lab and then they supposedly hid the accident from the world. Now the ignorant will grasp this misinformation right away, unaware that as the entire medical community is trying to find a vaccine, the virus is being studied. And geneticist are smart people, they have mapped the genome of this virus. They have not found any genetic markers that indicate this is a man-made virus, but have found that the virus contains many of the genetic markers found in other corono viruses studied in wildlife. Even though the scientific community has provided evidence to dispute this claim, crazy people on FOX stir the pot, make these unsubstantiated claims, and fools swallow it whole like a fish on a hook. Because of this false claim, the National Institute of Health has cancelled the grant that supports Americans who research these viruses in wildlife in the Wuhan areas. The frontline researchers can no longer do the work that should keep us safe from pandemics. Had we listened to the experts to begin with, conditions here in American would be quite different.
Then there was the Plandemic video. This seemed to offer information, in many ways, totally opposite to what the mainstream medical community was saying. And it attempted to put doubt on Anthony Fauci. But that is the conservative playbook: attack the messenger to distract from the facts. They used just enough scientific jargon to sound legitimate- that’s how propaganda works. Very quickly, the scientific community provided fact-checking, disputing the misinformation with citations to verify. There was a FB meme going around saying science comes in peer reviewed studies, conspiracy theories come in videos (easier for the masses to consume, those peer reviewed articles are long and boring).
And then there was a push to reopen the economy. FOX and conservative media spurred on discontented Americans. All the sudden it was tyranny that you couldn’t go eat out or get your hair cut. I remember stories my grandmother told about the sacrifices people made for the war effort during WWII. There was food rations, you couldn’t get sugar or new tires or even new cars. People grew victory gardens. Americans all sacrificed so our soldiers could get the resources they needed to stay alive. Now that was patriotism. Today, we should be sacrificing so our medical workers have the supplies they need and so we don’t overwhelm our local medical systems. But no, we are too lazy to prepare our own meals and expect that life should go on according to our convenience and comfort. Isn’t this the same mindset surrounding why we have no political will to do anything about climate change either? Who have we become? Atomized individuals who care only for their short term comfort or a community of people who choose to do what is best for the whole?
If this were a minor political thing, it would matter less. For example, I don’t care that some fools want to believe that President Obama was a Muslim; it’s is not a matter of national security. But this is a scientific matter, a medical matter, where lives hang in the balance. Now the propaganda has become dangerous. Even around this life and death matter, we are in our silos living in different worlds with different facts. In a casual conversation I was told that this virus is no more dangerous than the common flu and tens of thousands die from that every year. As of today, 5/13/20, we have surpassed the annual mortality rate of the common flu (generally around 60,000/yr in the US) in only 5 months with over 82,000 deaths. This figure will rise dramatically as states open up the economy. The corono flu is much more contagious than the common flu and one can be non-symptomatic and still spread the virus. So, the conservative hypothesis that this is no worse than the common flu is misinformation. Many states run by conservative governors are no longer publicly reporting their virus data. That way, politicians can continue to fool people into a false sense of security so they will get back to work in the meat-packing plants and other essential parts of our supply chain. So that the majority of us still have our comforts.
Journalism used to require a certain level of evidentiary proof, similar to science and the law. But TV is about entertainment, sensationalism and somehow speculation and opinion have passed for facts. How can we protect people from their own gullibility? And how can we protect the vulnerable from dying? And how do we protect the medical community from being overwhelmed? How do we provide the protective equipment they need to do their jobs without endangering themselves or their family?
Maybe those redneck bubbas with their assault weapons on the steps of state capital buildings might reflect that our grandparents didn’t sacrifice so they could get a haircut or crowd into a restaurant, or go on a shopping spree. Not being able to temporarily do these things is NOT tyranny, it’s about the public good. They might reflect that their freedoms and my freedoms intersect and may require compromise. But then, compromise, the cornerstone of democracy, has somehow become a dirty word. My state is opening up and my household will continue with precautions. We will see what happens to the mortality rate in two weeks before trusting that all is well.