It’s bizarre how politicians promote alternative realities, expecting us to buy in. I was listening to a podcast by Ezra Klein addressing reality distortion, which he says is a given in the old Soviet Union but is (surprise, surprise!) now quite the norm in two of the biggest anti-communist countries, the UK and the US.
Klein takes the view that spin doctors and politicians do not control information by throttling it, but by shaping it. (1989 is the anniversary of the victory of freedom of information over censorship, he reminds us – speaking of the collapse of communism and the Wall.)
Just like Klein, another ‘philosopher’ by the name of Bruce Springsteen (!) made a similar observation, back in 1984. I made me want to revisit that interview of Springsteen by Rolling Stone magazine. To the question about the Boss’ response to president Ronald Reagan invoking his name when visiting New Jersey, Springsteen had this to say:
“I think what’s happening now is people want to forget. There was Vietnam, there was Watergate, there was Iran – we were beaten, we were hustled, and then we were humiliated. And I think people got a need to feel good about the country they live in. But what’s happening, I think, is that that need – which is a good thing – is gettin’ manipulated and exploited. And you see the Reagan reelection ads on TV – you know: “It’s morning in America.” And you say, well, it’s not morning in Pittsburgh. It’s not morning above 125th Street in New York. It’s midnight, and, like, there’s a bad moon risin’. And that’s why when Reagan mentioned my name in New Jersey, I felt it was another manipulation, and I had to disassociate myself from the president’s kind words.
In hindsight, the beautifully crafted campaign ad, “It’s morning in America“ seems like the kind of place we want to go back to. Except it was a distorted mirror. I wonder what the boss would say about the present batch of ads and sound bytes.
Worth listening to someone who looks into the long-term impact of this pandemic and the virus. Nicholas Christakis is both a physician, sociologist.
As Tanu’s school is also closed, she’s keeping her students connected with the class through Zoom. Meanwhile I created this message for her students.
Why is it so easy for people –governments, even– to believe in conspiracy theories, but ignore science? We will have to figure this one out as we deal with Covid-19.
As recently as 2018, Jonathan Quick in the Guardian wrote a detailed explanation of how we must prepare for a ‘looming pandemic,’ so I’m aghast how governments –meaning people in decision-making roles in governments, ignored this. Here’s an enlightening paragraph, with eerie predictions at that time.
“Somewhere out there a dangerous virus is boiling up in the bloodstream of a bird, bat, monkey or pig, preparing to jump to a human being. It’s hard to comprehend the scope of such a threat, for it has the potential to wipe out millions of us, including my family and yours, over a matter of weeks or months.”
Some would have dismissed these and other Cassandra-like statements as overblown. The prediction at that time was that a mismanaged pandemic could cost the world 3.5 trillion dollars.
Jonathan Quick (of Harvard Medical School, and Chair of the Global Health Council) used this infographic that puts outbreaks and a pandemic in context. I urge you to read his article, though.
If only our leaders listen to experts rather than attempt to be the experts and geniuses themselves. We didn’t elect them to spread unfounded theories, but to lead.
Do the math,
Bend the Curve,
Keep your distance,
Don’t lose your nerve.
Read a book,
Cover your noses,
Write a letter,
Smell the roses.
Follow your heart,
Not the herd,
Help a stranger,
Spread the word.
Enjoy the pause
It’s not so bad,
The curve will flatten
Trust in prayer.
Like this are rare.
To understand pandemics, the one that puts matters in context is the Spanish flu of 1918. It was caused by the H1N1 virus which had an avian origin.
A pandemic is obviously a global outbreak. It is due to a virus that is “easily and spread from person to person in an efficient and sustained way,” according to The Center for Disease Control. How easily spread? During the Spanish flu, nearly one-third of the world population between 1918 and 1919 was infected by H1N1. (An epidemic, by contrast is not global, but also spreads fast. The 2013 Ebola epidemic in Western Africa which killed about 11,000 people.)
The panic caused by a pandemic is the result of a lack of information, leadership, and a slow response. In the 2009 pandemic (the H1N1 ‘flu), it took 26 weeks for a vaccine to become available. Not too long ago, Bill Gates warned about our need for preparedness for a pandemic. As we get to grips with the gravity of COVID-19 and pandemic we are living in, it’s worth watching his TED Talk on this.
Before the term ‘going viral’ became part of people’s conversations –being randomly applied to any nugget of information from tweet or some silly meme that skimmed across the Web- we had another term for it: Buzz. PR companies did not create viral campaigns, they created Buzz (or ‘buzzy’) campaigns.
Emmanuel Rosen, one of my favorite authors, addressed this well in The Anatomy of Buzz. This was pre-Twitter, and Pre-Facebook, remember. (I interviewed him for my book, Chat Republic.) He foresaw that some people could hijack your buzz. Information and disinformation make reservations on the same train.
Fast-forward to today. The Coronavirus is a serious topic because we are in uncharted territory. But like a stone skipping across multiple bodies of water, important news, gossip, and vital information races across our landscape blended with conspiracy theories about the virus. Unfortunately these conspiratory theories are going viral, so to speak. I won’t even bother to name what the major conspiracy is, but (it has already been debunked by scientists) only say this: It is poorly concealed character assassination by conspiracy theorists with political exes to grind. The kind who complain about fake news, while spreading more of the same.
In the age of information overload, and disinformation, our brains are being rewired to disbelieve everything at face value. It’s healthy to be skeptical, sure. But at this time let’s be skeptical about all things that ‘go viral.”