Note: I would much rather blog about music and art and writing, but it’s sort of hard to consider the future of music and art and writing without some thought to making sure we can get to a future that includes them.
We may live in the Information Age, but that doesn’t mean that it is all good information. There is a whole industry devoted to pumping our interwebs with more and more garbage, and the trouble is, some of them are really good at it. It is tempting to say, “oh, yes—the opposite side always falls for the garbage!” But the truth of the matter is that people all across the political spectrum, smart people, have fallen for some pretty bad garbage. (See this article for just one example of how disinformation-spreaders, in this case Russian organizations, spread misinformation: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/russia-troll-2020-election-interference-twitter-916482/ ) Unfortunately, garbage is also spewing out of the mouths of leaders we are supposed to be able to trust.
This creates real problems when regular folks don’t know who to believe and what is true. It’s causing enormous problems right now in the middle of a global pandemic. The pandemic isn’t anyone’s fault any more than a hurricane is anyone’s fault—it is a side-effect of living on a planet with lots of people and other organisms and some of those organisms are viruses. How we and our leaders respond to it—or choose not to respond—that is on us.
But surely it’s in the interest of our leaders to do something to mitigate the pandemic and get us out of this crisis! Right? Unfortunately not. Let’s say I’m an elected official and my main goal is to get reelected. Do I need to solve the problem? Not necessarily. Maybe I just need to convince enough folks that it isn’t really a problem. Or it is a problem but let’s find someone else to blame! Or there is a way to solve it but folks on the other side won’t listen to reason! Just see how much masks have become a political issue, or the use of hydroxychloroquine. Neither of these things should be political issues. Or misdirect people to some other problem. Sure, that problem is bad, but look over here! Why aren’t people focusing on this other problem? Those folks are not on your side. They are interested in being in power, not actually governing.
When in doubt, look for the people who are actually proposing real solutions, not throwing blame around or telling us all everything is fine, or will be fine if we just keep on with life as usual. Follow the science, but realize that science also evolves and changes. Listen to the experts—the epidemiologists in this case. If you have been diagnosed with brain cancer, you’re probably not going to run to get the opinion of your gynecologist, for example.
Know the difference between medical articles and infomercials. This is tough, because a lot of medical ads look like scientific articles. Look for things that are peer-reviewed, and if something is an opinion piece, is that someone whose opinion on the subject seems trustworthy? Do other experts agree with them? Is this article from a respected organization like the Mayo Clinic or from Dr. Joe Nobody who wants to sell you his supplements?
And sure, some products people want to sell you are useful. I was having food sensitivity issues and bought a book to guide me through a restrictive diet, even joined a facebook group for people doing this diet. It was helpful, because as soon as I reintroduced wheat I found out very quickly that wheat was the major cause of my terrible, bronchitis-inducing, reflux. So that was a win. But a little later I decided to go back on the full restrictive diet again to see if I could identify other triggers. I was using the facebook group for recipes, moral support, etc., until my husband was hospitalized (he’s fine now!), and I posted in the group that I was having to bow out of the challenge due to not being able to have as much control over my meals. The author of the book showed up to respond to my post. Most people were expressing sympathy that my husband was hospitalized. Did the author of the book express sympathy? No—she tried to sell me a product. “Buy my expensive meal kits!”
Many of our leaders are trying to sell us a product right now. “Everything will be fine and let’s just go about our lives!” is one. “Only a small percentage of people will get very sick or die!” is another. Now that one is just offensive in the face of numbers of deaths greater than most wars in which the US has been involved, as if those lives don’t matter, and implies that we don’t have to try to control the spread. (Do people not realize medical care is a finite resource?) It’s a cop-out, and worse, it is dangerous. People trying to sell you these faulty products do not care about you—they are trying to direct your attention away from a very serious problem and they are trying to dodge coming up with or participating in solutions, because that is difficult, while “spinning” things is easy. Look for the solutions, not the spin. We can solve this if we decide to—it’s not like we don’t understand how the virus spreads and it’s not like we can’t look at how other countries have managed to contain it. If our leaders won’t participate, we need new leaders.