Simply dismissing, as idiots, those who reject what our government and its science advisors have instructed us about Covid 19, doesn’t help.
While debates over Covid can be between friends and colleagues, I’m concerned that when they involve those ‘closer to home,’ the likely long term effects of Covid, risk damaging families for even longer.
More than splits caused by differences over political or religious convictions, most often parlayed in good humoured banter, the seismic cracks caused by the Covid conspiracy debate could take a long time to be absorbed by the surrounding landscape.
It all started when a casual comment about the need for us to all follow the new government measures to beat Covid brought forth such a torrent of the now familiar Covid conspiracy rhetoric, from a family member, and I was shocked. While we’d always hoped that our kids’ upbringing would instil a certain healthy scepticism, I didn’t expect this.
But worse was to come. After researching a raft of authoritative material which I thought fairly debunked all the Covid conspiracy stuff, and I emailed it off, back came an even more violent rebuttal, with some additional “home truths” thrown in for good measure.
Since then, now many months on, an ozone hole of iciness has opened over our family and the clear signs of a catastrophic climate change seem undeniable.
So I thought I’d do some more research and try and find out what has induced so many to be convinced by information so radically opposed to that accepted by the vast majority.
Writing in the Guardian Mike Bartlett says rationale argument doesn’t work with anti-vaxxers because it just reinforces in them the idea that “I’m a brainwashed servant of a conspiracy involving, the government, big pharma and the mainstream media.”
And while there are those on the right who are only too ready to exploit people willing to believe the world is not as it appears, Bartlett says the time he spent researching his article, convinced him that the “antis” are neither disingenuous nor right-wing nut cases.
So what is it that has produced such hostile dissent in such numbers?
What Bartlett noted whenever he produced a verifiable fact, the anti-vaxxer’s argument would immediately shift to a different belief system, full of “coruscating levels of excruciating, nonsensical detail unearthed from (selective) online research.”
What’s needed is a long-term focus on “critical literacy”.
And that certainly tallies with my experience. For instance Covid conspiracy theorists seem to lack even the slightest appreciation of the astronomical organisational requirements, involving nations literally at war with one another, for such a scheme to ever work.
“But,” says Bartlett, “theirs is a form of fundamentalism where what you believe isn’t as important as what you don’t believe. Whatever is happening isn’t happening. Whatever reality is, they’re opposed to it. Which makes the movement uniquely dangerous.”
They exude, “A sense of righteous zeal that makes them feel that are at war, and so justified in the most extreme actions. They can harass, they can abuse, they can spread half-truths in the name of their holy mission. They believe they are doing this for the rest of us, fighting an injustice that nobody else can see.”
In trying to fathom where all that suddenly came from Bartlett says; “This devotion to a cause brings with it a great deal of emotional investment, Their noble mission – whether it’s being anti-vaccine or anti-lockdown measures – it’s a core part of their identity.”
And Bartlett blames education, or a lack of it, for the problem. What’s needed, he says, is a long-term focus, in our education system, on “critical literacy”. People who know how to read the media, with all its biases and omissions, will be less vulnerable to cranks. And he argues for a greater focus on basic civics, a simple understanding of how the system works.
Trump Election Campaign Legitimised Ignorance
To me that echoes a little of nuclear physicist Neil deGrass Tyson’s famous quote; “The great challenge of life: – Knowing enough to think you’re right, but not enough to know you’re wrong.”
Bartlett blames much of it on the 2016 Trump election campaign which he says, empowered conspiracy theorists by legitimising their ignorance. “Suddenly knowing nothing was imbued with a certain kind of purity or genius,” he says.
And he concludes by advising that a conversation on this subject shouldn’t be a battle for a winner and a loser, but for a chance to find some common ground, on which relationships can be still maintained.
And that makes sense, except that, in my experience, when sides divided by this issue meet, and first have to decide what the mask and social distancing protocols are – that’s when the argument starts.