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  • Writer's pictureKarl Koerber

Unmasked: Science and Reason Under Siege in the Post-Truth Era

Updated: Nov 20, 2022

I was flabbergasted to see an “anti-mask” demonstration taking place the other day in Nelson, the small BC city near my home. I thought this irrational movement was mostly a big city phenomenon, but I should have known that it would propagate and spread like an invasive weed—an ideological toadflax or knotweed. I can keep an open mind about some conspiracy theories. Chem trails? Okay, a top-secret military exercise has at least a modicum of plausibility. Aliens among us? Well, how would we know? They could well be, I suppose. What on earth they are doing here (no pun intended) is another question. Maybe they are waiting for the right moment to step in and pull us back from the brink. Well, any time now, guys.

At the Nelson demonstration, one protester was carrying a sign that read: “The Virus is a Hoax.” Now, there is a claim that just beggars belief. Millions of people pretending to be sick, thousands of doctors, nurses and researchers around the world complicit in this elaborate plot to put one over on us. Not to mention the pharmaceutical companies pretending to spend millions developing a vaccine, and hundreds of long-term care homes faking a huge surge in deaths, with the families of the deceased playing right along. And yet, there they are: individuals who seem to view logic and science as a Machiavellian scheme devised solely to undermine the truth as they know it: that the pandemic is a hoax. Reports are now emerging of Covid patients in hospitals who refuse to believe that their illness is caused by the virus because they know—absolutely—that it doesn't exist. It must be something else—lung cancer—they insist, with the last few breaths remaining to them.

The claim of a fake Covid-19 pandemic is so laughably absurd that we tend to dismiss the proponents as wingnuts from the lunatic fringe. I’m starting to worry, though, that this fringe is not only growing but increasingly exerting political influence as well. Just witness the recent American election and its unnerving aftermath—the bizarre farce in which the country is now embroiled. Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated assertion that he lost the presidency due to widespread fraud has been picked up by his “base,” whose members seem to believe every lie their idol tweets. Popular support for Trump and his reactionary dogma is pervasive enough to make most Republican lawmakers nervous, to the point where they refuse to repudiate their current president's falsehoods, thereby adding credibility to his desperate narrative.

Cynical operatives are quickly finding the so-called post-truth era to be a rich feeding ground for political exploitation. The gullibility demonstrated by certain segments of the populace, like those who believe the current pandemic to be a hoax, is not lost on them. The widespread, simmering anger that permeates blue-collar America is recognized by right-wing opportunists as a force that can be nurtured and channeled to their advantage. Social media platforms have become weaponized; disinformation and deception are merely tools used to construct an “alternative truth,” which is, in fact, an untruth—an untruth that becomes true for millions because it reflects their irrational beliefs and prejudices and offers simplistic solutions to complex problems. It's frightening to realize that so many people are blind to reason and will fervently believe the most ludicrous claims.

The anger and frustration we see exploding on American streets—the anti-maskers, the white supremacists, the rabid crowds of Trump acolytes in MAGA caps brandishing their AR-15s—is rooted in disparity and despair. The chasm that separates the haves and the have-nots in America (as in Canada and other countries around the globe) is wider than ever. There is a massive imbalance in income and quality of life. Those on the short end blame the establishment as they perceive it. For some reason, perhaps a preconditioned intolerance, it is “liberalism” that becomes the target of their rage and resentment, and somehow science and rational thought get lumped in with this ideological bogeyman: they are all in the enemy camp and not to be trusted.

It’s ironic. The “socialist” policies espoused by Bernie Sanders and others would go a long way toward mitigating the economic hardship experienced by many Americans, yet any mention of socialism is immediately branded as blasphemy by the very people it would benefit the most. Of course, this outlook has been conditioned by decades of free-rein capitalist propaganda and is deeply entrenched in the American psyche. Perhaps, once the fetid miasma of the Trump nightmare has dissipated, Joe Biden’s administration will find some success in narrowing America's great economic divide. At least, one hopes, it will set a tone of reconciliation and turn down the bitter partisan rhetoric that has split the country into warring factions. Still, Donald Trump did not create the disparity that feeds the rage of his base, he merely poured as much gasoline on that fire as he could, and then harnessed the resulting conflagration to further his political agenda. But the evils of unfettered capitalism were spawned decades before the arrival of Trump and have now morphed into a many-headed monster that is running amok. Slaying that beast will require a paradigm shift in American political culture, something I can’t see coming anytime soon.

The fact that Trump ultimately failed in his bid for a second term does present a faint glimmer of hope—hope that democracy in the United States may still survive despite its many shortcomings, and that the pendulum will swing back in the direction of decency, civility and reason. The anti-mask, anti-vax, QAnon conspiracy devotees, however, are not going to disappear. The best we can hope for is that, with the removal of their cheerleader-in-chief from the oval office, their influence will begin to wane, and they will gradually fade away.

Interesting days, months and years yet to come.

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Nov 22, 2020

Thanks for the post Karl, especially loved your second paragraph in which you described the set of beliefs one would have to have to believe Covid19 is a hoax. I fear the absence of logical thought has prevented these people thinking this out...

I (unfortunately) was not at all surprised by a demo in Nelson - there was actually a demo advertised for Nelson on a poster at the little whole foods store in Winlaw, several months ago. Although if the early covid days, this store had sanitizer and even free gloves available, and a sign on the door limiting the number of customers, they (and I quote the owner) "got tired of it" by the end of May a…

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