I am still trying to understand why so many people are reluctant to use what many scientists consider the greatest medical achievement of modern times–vaccines. What is going on?
When we give up critical thinking in favour of things like faith, or wishful thinking we can get into the habit of believing crazy things. That is why Patrick Moynhan an American sociologist, politician and diplomat made this very important statement about truth: “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” We must always respect truth and the truth-seeking process. If we are not on constant guard to defend this, we can become easy prey for demagogues. There have been many of them around the world, not just America. According to author Kurt Anderson, who was interviewed by Charlie Rose a couple of years ago, “Trump in effect says that anything that is inconvenient to me or that I disagree with is, fake news.” If we give up on all standards of truth, we become dangerously bereft–babes ready for the slaughter.
Anderson also pointed out on the television show with Rose, and in his book FantasyLand, that “America has always been exceptionally religious compared to the rest of the world… Outliers in our religiosity compared to the rest of world, not just a little bit, but a lot. We are not like the rest of the developed world, we are much more religious.” According to Anderson that had radical consequences for America. That made Americans credulous—ready, willing, and eagerly able, to swallow all kinds of fantastic beliefs for which there was no evidence.
Anderson spoke before the Covid-19 pandemic, but it was the perfect example of what he meant. Instead of trusting in science, many of us, too many of us, have placed our faith in the Internet instead. That has led directly to catastrophic consequences in our failure to defeat Covid-19. When we experience an international health emergency, as we recently have been, we need our best defences open to us. That in such circumstances is science–not fanciful Internet “research.”
All of this, as I have been saying for some time, has serious consequences well beyond religion. Anderson put it this way, “Once as a culture you are more inclined to believe in magic, in supernatural events, it won’t stay in its religious realm. It will leach out into not believing in climate change say.” Or it will leach out to distrusting medical experts like Anthony Fauci in favour of demagogues. And that can–as it did–cost an enormous loss of life and health. Credulity has serious consequences. We are experiencing them now.
Kurt Anderson also pointed out how credulity, as bad as it is, can easily be supercharged by what he calls the “fantasy industrial complex.” This includes not just organized religion but everything in the entertainment industry. In the US, he pointed out, everything becomes entertainment. Real estate business for example, becomes entertainment. Everything becomes part of show business. Religious leaders are show men. Politicians are showmen. This fantasy industrial complex uses modern technology skilfully to convince us of dubious truths and bald faced lies. Then the Internet came along and jacked this tendency up to the stars.
As a result, we should not be surprised when ordinary people believe outrageous claims. Ordinary people are part of a culture that leads them to believe without evidence. When critical skills are lost, and we learn to believe without evidence, we turn ourselves over to fake news and the demagogues that take advantage of it.