So why do so many people reject official doctrine in favor of wild conspiracies? Why are so many of these people evangelical Christians or right-wing zealots, or both?
First there is some evidence that this assumption is true. In my community, I am sorry to report, vaccine up take has been slow. The Winnipeg Free Press has recently reported this way about our region (“Falk’s riding”),
“As of Aug. 4, 81.7 per cent of eligible Manitobans have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but the uptake has been much lower in some of the public health districts in Falk’s riding.
In Hanover, which borders Steinbach, just 44.8 per cent of people aged 12 and up have had one shot. The vaccination rate stands at around 60 per cent in Steinbach and further east in the La Broquerie and Ste. Anne area.”
Charles M. Blow of the New York Times described what was happening in the United States:
“A recent Monmourth University poll found that “among those who admit they will not get the vaccine if they can avoid it, 70 percent either identify with or lean toward the Republican Party while just 6 percent align with the Democrats.”
From such statistics it is clear that our region is not doing a great job at getting vaccinated. Frankly, I am not surprised. I have encountered many people here who are not getting vaccinated. At least not yet. Most people I know outside our region have no such hesitancy. Why is that?
At the same time my community, and others in southern Manitoba where vaccine uptake has been slow, voters routinely vote for conservatives unless more extreme views are available. What is the connection between the two?
I have a theory. Get ready for it: It is their parent’s fault. What did their parents do you ask? They indoctrinated them. That was the debilitating sin. Through indoctrination parents taught their children to listen to them and believe. Forget, about what others say. Forget about what scientists say. Believe what the parents say. When children are young it is important for them to believe their parents. If a parent says the element is hot the child must believe the parent. It is important. And it is important that the parent is always right about such admonishments. Such indoctrination is good, but only for a limited time. It is good only until the child has learned to think independently. But such training can go over the top. And most parents do go over the top. In fact, they go way over the top.
The problem with believing things without evidence that they are true, is that this becomes a habit–a dangerous habit. Such a habit makes us suckers for every crackpot theory, no matter how outrageous. We are really seeing how that happens now. Someone near and dear to me has been taught by a parent that pedophile Democrats eat babies. This is a wild conspiracy theory promulgated by Qanon, believed by many conservatives as gospel truth. She believes this is true because her parent tells her this is true. She has also been taught by that parent that vaccines are not trustworthy. She has been disarmed. She cannot think critically about this. We need our critical intelligence to keep the crazies at bay. That job is getting increasingly hard. This is particularly true in times of an international pandemic amplified by disinformation on the Internet Without critical thinking skills we can be hoodwinked easily.
If enough people are so gullible as they currently are this can be dangerous for society. Abandoning Covid-19 vaccines for example, leads easily to too many cases of the disease. In Manitoba our health care system was recently overwhelmed. We were very lucky that Ontario and Saskatchewan were able to take our overflow intensive care patients. What would have happened had those provinces experienced their peak level of Covid-19 cases at the same time as Manitoba? This could have been a disaster. An entirely avoidable disaster because we had the tools to handle covid-19 and too many of us chose to ignore the best instrument of our survival–i.e., vaccines.
This is what happens to a credulous society–like Manitoba–which had too many vaccine hesitants. Although he wrote the book before the current pandemic, according to Kurt Anderson, the author of a FantasyLand, we encountered such dangerous situations because of our abandonment of critical intelligence. It has “allowed preposterous thinking all over the map.” He wrote the book before Covid-19, but it is relevant. Very relevant.
Anderson believes this idea of defanging critical thinking, which we learned at a very young age from our parents, led to the expectation that there is no objective truth and this has seeped into a large portion of American thinking. As Anderson stated, “it is part of the American operating system.”
Anderson said this tendency has been amplified by the arrival of the Internet and as a result “The Internet gave the alternative fact universe its infrastructure.” Part of the problem, says Anderson, is that the Internet through its search engines “rewards the excitingly false.” Instead of truth, the Internet gives us ever wild conspiracy theories. For example, he said, people are attracted to conspiracy theories for the same reason we are attracted to religious speculation. Both make it easy for us to believe there is a puppet master controlling the world which is an attractive point of view because it gives us a ready made explanation for what otherwise often seems fantastical.
Conspiracy theories make the world seem simpler than it really is. According to Anderson, “Conspiracy theories make a tidy fiction in the way that reality is not tidy.” Conspiracy theories teach us to ignore science and evidence and instead believe the theorists.
This is the mess into which credulity has thrust us. It is not pretty. Especially in a time of a health crisis this is dangerous stuff.