People are trying to sort through conflicting information on the coronavirus pandemic. How did the virus originate? How serious is it? What is the best treatment? How long should lock-downs continue? Should we encourage herd immunity or keep flattening the curve with stay-at-home orders? How likely is it that we will be able to develop a safe, effective vaccine?
I’ve never claimed to have all the answers, but I believe we should be allowed to ask these questions. Intellectual freedom starts to die and groupthink becomes the only option when you’re not allowed to ask questions.
Here’s another question we should be asking: Why are so many people willing to entertain ideas that others dub “conspiracy theories” regarding the pandemic?
I don’t think it’s because we’re stupid or uneducated. Some people seem to be suggesting that we all just turn off our own brains and do whatever the “experts” advise. (Because the experts have never been wrong before, right?)
I believe it stems from a fundamental loss of faith in our democracy.
In the last thirty years, an enormous gulf has opened up between the common people and the elites. Globalization has created winners and losers, with the winners moving to insulate themselves from the effects of their own policies (for example, by moving to privileged enclaves where communities and institutions still function), leaving the rest of us feeling unprotected. The biggest losers of globalization (whites without a college degree) responded to this perceived divide by voting for Trump in 2016.
Globalization has been a mixed bag of costs and benefits, but any way you spin it, it does pose a challenge to democracy. How can a people make decisions for itself (one definition of democracy) when the old borders between nations and economies have eroded?
During the Cold War we knew who the enemy was, even if our perception of the enemy often resembled a cardboard villain. Now the children of American politicians sit on the boards of energy companies in Ukraine, giving the appearance of corruption.
While the Internet has seemingly increased access to information, it has also resulted in a new kind of inequality: Facebook, Google, and YouTube (which is owned by Google) now have the power to kill a story by taking it down or bury it within their algorithms to minimize views.
Then there’s the classic case of FOLLOW THE MONEY.
We are told that profit is the only way to motivate people to innovate. So we allow pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers to make billions of dollars treating diseases.
The American people are not stupid. We know there is more money to be made in treating disease than curing or preventing it. It’s not that we don’t trust our doctors. But we know that they are operating within a paradigm that has been at least partially designed to profit large corporations.
Just watch the Netflix documentary “The Bleeding Edge” to meet some of the people who have been harmed by these profit-making products (Essure birth control, vaginal mesh, chromium cobalt knee replacements). Or consider the fact that pharmaceutical companies benefit from taxpayer-funded research and tax breaks for themselves, while charging exorbitant prices for essential drugs like insulin.
Remember the opioid crisis? 399,000 Americans have died between 1999 and 2017 as a result of drug overdoses involving prescription and illicit opioids. While drug dealers and individuals bear some of the responsibility for this, so do “experts” in medicine and government – you know, the ones who prescribed the Oxycontin and assured consumers that it was only minimally addictive.
Medical errors contribute to more than 250,000 deaths in the U.S. per year, according to a Johns Hopkins study. Other studies put the figure as high as 440,000. That makes them the third leading cause of death in the United States.
To recap: globalization, inequality, Big Data censorship, crony capitalism, widespread corruption, documented cases of medical malpractice and product liability.
This is why your friends are sharing a video about a doctor with dubious credentials.
This is why we don’t trust the experts.
This is why we are trying to think for ourselves, taking in the information from all sides and weighing the evidence as best we can.
If you don’t want people to believe in so-called conspiracy theories, you need to start by restoring faith in democracy. This can only occur by breaking up the monopolies that currently control our media, our medicine, and our government.
That is all.