Today’s northwest Oregon weather looks like my feelings and my Facebook feed. Bright and dark, clear and stormy, warm and cold, and general mayhem — predictable in that it’s all chaos all the time right now, and unpredictable as far as when, exactly, the next deluge will start.
I admit, Diary, I’m becoming increasingly distressed by the viral spread of conspiracy theories and debunked scientists/doctors’ videos, and disheartened by the swirling funnel clouds of disinformation wreaking havoc on people’s minds and hearts. I have no problem with disagreements regarding Staying Home vs. Reopening our economy; I just wish folks would use peer-reviewed science and respected epidemiologists and public health experts to make their arguments. Not all the experts agree — there’s a discussion to be had here, a debate to respectfully curate — but just as America failed the Ability to Source Reliable Data test in the 2016 presidential election which, in retrospect, was grossly influenced by bots and bad actors reporting an enormous amount of false information via alarmist headlines that fed confirmation bias and encouraged viral spread, so America is failing the same Ability to Source Reliable Data test in this 2020 global pandemic in exactly the same way.
I genuinely do not understand why people choose to believe two Bakersfield urgent care doctors who have no background nor expertise in epidemiology or public health over tens of thousands of experts in the field of infectious spread and people who’ve spent their education and careers preparing for a pandemic. I do not understand the hubris of people who fail to see that the very definition of Confirmation Bias is saying “AH HA! I KNEW IT” when they decide a debunked anti-vax activist is more reliable than the actual scientists who’ve capably led our nation through previous health crises like the AIDS epidemic, among many others. I do not understand why conspiracy theories and belief in a “deep state” are so appealing to so many. I don’t understand how “the media” came to be so reviled, as though it’s a monolith or a homogenous entity acting in cooperation with itself to discredit a noble president and administration.
I am baffled. And I have no idea how to combat the determination of so many people to believe the liars and false prophets and twisted pied pipers leading them down bizarre and nefarious paths — all while they look at those of us trying to vet sources and use peer-reviewed data from respected scientists and call us the “sheeple” who are being led astray.
What do we do, Diary?
Is there a solution for this?
How do we reason with the unreasonable?
I was a history major in college, my fascination with the past sparked by an 8th grade assignment — a semester long project — to research a Major Historical Event and write a ten page paper, with sources, describing what happened and why. I chose the Holocaust. I wrote about it again in 10th grade Composition Class. And again throughout college whenever I could shoe-horn the subject into an assignment. And also along the way, I felt in equal measure a) confusion as to how it was possible that so many could turn a blind eye to the injustices and inhumanity and hatred all around them, and b) gratitude that we, as a western culture, had evolved beyond that behavior.
Isn’t that ADORABLE, Diary?
Wasn’t I PRECIOUS?
Thinking we’d learned the hard lessons about propaganda and “Us First” nationalism and “othering” our fellow humans and following leaders who are racist and xenophobic?
Thinking we were living in an era where everyone actually enjoys the same civil rights?
Thinking we were smarter than stoking fear through the wide and broad spread of noxious, faulty information?
Tell me, Diary, do you think we might be able to ditch the national effort to teach our children via distance learning during this crisis and instead expend that energy on teaching grown-ups critical thinking skills and source vetting and how to tell the difference between “a difference of opinion” and, well, lies?
Yeah, I don’t think so, either, but a girl can wish.
It’s sunny again, Diary, so I’m going to go build a compost pile in my backyard. I’ve heard it’s easy, alternating browns like leaves and twigs and cardboard with greens like grass clippings and veggies. And, quite honestly, if I can make rich, fertile soil out of rotting bits of plant and earth and water, well, then, that feels like a measure of hope.
Maybe the rot around us can be turned and churned and shaped and, with patience, become a place where beautiful things grow.
Photo Credits: Hands by Gabriel Jimenez, Compost Pile by Edward Howell