CONSIDERABLE ANGST has been expressed by those of a sensitive disposition at the recent eruption of irrationality in Sydney. “How can people be so reckless and uncaring?” They cry. “How can people be so ignorant?” They Add. “It’s as though they live on another planet!” They surmise. And, they’re right – a great many of those Covid-19 deniers and anti-vaxxers do come across as aliens. When was the last time you saw anyone punch a policeman’s horse on the nose?
So, it’s forgivable, this angst. And the questions it prompts among the sensitive and susceptible do deserve some answers.
At the core of all the Covid craziness lies a disconcerting absence of trust. There is a surprisingly large number of people out there who simply do not trust the authorities. Should we be surprised, though? After all, there are a whole host of very good reasons why some citizens might refuse to believe anything the Powers-That-Be tell them.
Consider the victims of the Catholic clergy: the boys and girls whose lives were scarred forever by the abuse they suffered at the hands of people trusted by pretty much the whole community. Those who found the courage to report the abuse were all-too-often told that they were wicked liars: that it never happened. Nor were these egregious breaches of trust confined to the Church. Evidence presented to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care suggests that the State, too, has a lot to answer for.
How are we supposed to offer a rational explanation for the fact that the leading physician at a state health facility deliberately tortured children by running electrical current through their bodies? How are we to account for the fact that a great many people knew that this was happening, and yet did nothing? Or, the way Crown Law frustrated the efforts of the victims of state abuse to receive justice – for decades?
Remember, these are just the examples of appalling institutional abuse that we know about. How many people out there exist in their own private hell of hidden injury, humiliation and derision? Victims of persons in authority who inflicted pain casually and continuously, confident that they would never be held to account. School principals, police officers, petty bureaucrats of all kinds: for how much hurt are they responsible? How many people have been damaged by official cruelty?
For those blessed with happy lives, trust is easy. For the unacknowledged victims of unacknowledged abuse, it’s a cruel joke.
And, what about all the lies? The Baby Boomer generation grew up to The Who’s prayer that “we don’t get fooled again”. After the publication of The Pentagon Papers, that voluminous catalogue of all the lies told to the American People by the American Government in relation to the war in Vietnam, surely only a fool would trust their political masters? After the release of Nixon’s White House Tapes, which proved that the US President was, indeed, “a crook”, a lack of trust in authority generally denoted someone who really did know “what’s goin’ on.”
For the generation coming along behind the Boomers, there were the non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” that the United States Government swore blind were at the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s command, and which only a full-scale (and illegal) invasion could neutralise. For the generation after them, of course, there was President Donald Trump’s insistence that the mainstream news media were guilty of purveying “fake news”, and that Americans should rely, instead, on his much more exciting “alternative facts”.
Trusting the authorities turned out to be a lot harder than it looked. At some point in their lives, most Boomers would have encountered at least one “Thalidomide Victim”. In the early months of their pregnancies, the victims’ mothers had been prescribed a brand new drug to ease their morning sickness, and trusting the medical authorities implicitly, they had taken it. Their severely disabled progeny bore testimony to the fact that, sometimes, medical science and the pharmaceutical industry get things totally, terribly, tragically, wrong.
For the young people growing up in Twenty-First Century America, the proof of “Big Pharma’s” perfidy was another “helpful” drug, Oxycontin. As addictive as Heroin because, well, it sort of was Heroin re-branded, “Oxy” swept through the suburbs of the United States like Hell in a blister-pack. And the doctors? Oh, the doctors prescribed Oxycontin like it was going out of style, which, once people twigged to the fact that it was turning pain-afflicted Americans into helpless opioid addicts, it did.
Trust the science? That’s not what it says on the Internet!
Ah yes, the Internet, and its irrepressible love-child, Social Media. A wonderful resource, providing you come to it with a bountiful helping of what used to be called “general knowledge”. Those who approach the Internet with a pretty good grasp of basic science and history will have little difficulty in distinguishing shit from cheese. For those who don’t read more than 140 characters at a time, watch documentaries, or listen to the news, however, the Internet is a field full of rabbit holes. Easy to fall into, hard to get out of.
Too many people out there don’t know what they don’t know. Team them up with the Internet, and the problem is not that they will trust too little, but that they will trust too much.
None of this is, of course, any excuse for punching a policeman’s horse in the nose. It just might be enough, however, to quell the rising panic of the sensitive and the susceptible. The Powers-That-Be of the past 70 years have hardly proved themselves to be the most trustworthy of masters, and the society and economy they have presided over has hardly been conducive to producing a population of uniform sanity and resilience.
Those of us who have, mostly through sheer good fortune, escaped the pits and the pendulums of life in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, have learned to live in the light. We have no reason to doubt, because we have been given every reason to trust, those in authority over us. For those who dwell in the dark, however: fearful, angry, untrusting; those who praise the light will always be the enemy.