You know, in all honesty, I have no idea whether anyone in the government gives a shit whether you read this post or not, but it felt like an accurate title for this blog post – along with a nice helping of click-bait. So, welcome.
I’ll start with this:
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
That quote, attributed to Socrates, is one I really like, and I think it’s important for today (and… well… every day, really… but especially right now because I’m writing about it.)
Have you ever thought about how there is so much in the world that you don’t know? It’s a bit overwhelming. Think of all the various things in which you are most likely not an expert – quantum physics, psychology, educational policy, black holes, the chemical makeup of the earth’s core, why some people embrace the mullet haircut, or… drum roll, please… the intricacies of viruses.
Let me lose my smart-ass-ed-ness (had to sound that one out…) for just a moment. Things are a bit crazy right now with the whole coronavirus a.k.a. COVID-19 pandemic going on. Things are uncertain. Things are scary. Things are closed in some places, kinda-sorta closed in others, and wide “come on down and get you some COVID-19” open in others.
And it’s still going on weeks after Kenneth Copeland blew on the virus to make it go away! Astonishing!
In our ultra-tribalistic times, it seems that people fall into two main camps: 1. Close it all down, or 2. Open it all up.
Here’s the thing: I have empathy for some on both sides of it.
I can understand people that want to keep things closed. They don’t want more people to die. They care about their safety and the safety of others. They care about friends and family, and also about total strangers, front line workers, medical professionals, etc.
I can also understand a small business owner who just wants to get back to work and thinks it can be done safely. I can understand people who are scared of losing the roof over their heads because they have no income (or dramatically less than before) and in some cases, that government help hasn’t arrived. Some people didn’t know where their next meal was coming from before all this hit, and now that number has grown.
And in all of this chaos, and in all of these areas between the two extreme ends of the spectrum, there is so much disinformation going around, especially conspiracy theories – like this very blog post that the government totally doesn’t want you to read!
I find interest in conspiracy theories in a similar way that I find interest in religion and belief systems (ooh, and cults!) I don’t adhere to or believe the stuff myself, but I find it interesting to learn about the motivations and mindsets that go into someone believing them.
Now, of course, I’m not an expert in this stuff. To pull from Socrates, I know that I don’t know. So I’ll just share a couple of things I’ve found in some articles that have caught my attention.
Mark Manson, per his website, describes himself as an author, thinker, and life enthusiast. He tends to write about psychology and human behavior a lot, in easy-to-understand language with profanity (which, apparently bothers some people, but I’m not one of them.) In his May 4, 2020, “Mindf*ck Monday” newsletter, he discussed “why people believe crazy things.” He says:
“As with most human behavior, conspiracy theorizing doesn’t appeal to us on an intellectual level, it appeals to us on an emotional level.”
He then explains that conspiracy theories originate from three things:
- A desperate need for certainty
- Feelings of moral and intellectual superiority
- Lack of critical thinking
He goes into more detail on all of those in the email, but I’m not going to put too much here since I’m not trying to plagiarize or get sued or something. (Please don’t sue me, Mark, although if you actually see this… uh… hi.)
On that first point – the desperate need for certainty – I read another article, this time a first-person account on Vox by Dannagal G. Young, an associate professor of communication and political science at the University of Delaware. The title: “I was a conspiracy theorist, too.”
In the article, she says:
“Under conditions of uncertainty, information that helps direct our negative emotions toward a target is psychologically comforting. When we feel powerless in a situation that is both complex and overwhelming, the identification of people and institutions to ‘blame’ feels good to us.
Uncertainty. Complex. Overwhelming. All the various emotions we’re all feeling these days have led to normally reasonable, well-meaning people getting sucked into sharing all kinds of crazy things.
Young goes on to say:
“These feelings of collective uncertainty, powerlessness, and negativity likely account for the popularity of Covid-related conspiracy theories circulating online. Perhaps you’ve seen folks on social media claiming that Bill Gates is responsible for the coronavirus (he is not), or that 5G towers are somehow amplifying the virus (they are not), or maybe your friends or family have shared pieces of the propagandistic ‘Plandemic’ documentary in which discredited biologist Dr. Judy Mikovits advances several false claims — including the notion that wearing a mask “literally activates your own virus” (it does not).”
Of course, there’s a lot of information out there on this – much more than the two articles I’ve quoted from above. I think the psychology of it is interesting.
And hey, I’ll even admit that conspiracy theories can be entertaining sometimes (I’ve seen things like Zeitgeist and JFK and some 9/11 conspiracy movie that I can’t remember the name of… ooh, and Ancient Aliens! That show is fun.) But I’m not going to stake my name on defending them or go around calling people “sheeple” because they are “blind to the truth” or whatever nonsense gets thrown around these days. (That kind of falls under Manson’s 2nd point above: Feelings of moral and intellectual superiority, if you think about it. And if you think critically about it, it hits on his 3rd point.)
So with all the insanity going on and being shared and spread – like a virus [rimshot] – maybe we should all take a step back and think of ol’ Socrates and remember that we know nothing. Or, we can remember the wisdom of Ruth Langmore from the show Ozark:
Let’s all try to be kind to each other as this 2020 shit-show rolls on, yeah?
Much love. Thanks for reading. Ooh, and subscribe below: