Covid? The truth is out there, says columnist Nicola Miller
‘Go and look it up” was the equivalent of “just Google it” when I was young. What that actually meant was an exercise book with a scribbled list of questions I needed an answer to and a wait until a trip to the library came around if the adults in my life, or my own books, failed to yield an answer. Feelings of uncertainty and a lack of an immediate answer and the idea that things didn’t always add up were constant companions and we lived with this. Not always easily, but we coexisted. Sometimes the library did not have an answer. I had to live with this too.
Zoom forward a few decades. Never has it been easier to access knowledge and have direct interactions with people working in every field. It is also democratising because many of those reference books I pored over in the library were written by white men. For its sins, the Internet has increased the diversity of expertise and opinion available to us all.
That democratisation has another effect though. I’m referring to the growth of fake news and conspiracy theories both online and offline (It has permeated print media too) and in an odd way, this is healthy. The [formerly] platform-less have the right to reply (and I am aware of my privilege in having a column to exercise my own). The problem is when conspiracy theories and their platforms are monetised by sinister organisations in order to protect their own vested interests (Parler, I am looking at you), turning generations of people into useful idiots.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good conspiracy theory. The psychology of it all fascinates me. Grey areas are hard to live with and as instant and easy access to knowledge and opinion has increased, our discomfort with not knowing grows ever stronger. It is unsurprising when it comes to particular events, we struggle when all of the evidence does not add up 100% to one particular conclusion. As with hair, life is never a perfect plait. There are always odd strands and short hairs that refuse to comply and simply cannot be worked into a Narrative Of The Plait. But this does not deny the objective reality that the plait exists.
When it comes to my own personal amusement, I thought no conspiracy theory was too outlandish for me to disbelievingly enjoy but last week I hit I my limit. The masks ones are bad enough, let alone the people who believe the vaccine microchip theory which would be hilarious if its implications were not so deeply, worrying stupid. Welcome to the world of the Dog Conspiracy Theorists who were having a deeply earnest Twitter conversation about whether the death of one of the Queen’s dogs and Joe Biden breaking his ankle tripping over his dog was “code for something else?” I sh*t you not. They believe that Biden’s walking boot is concealing an ankle bracelet. It was at this point that I was tempted to run headfirst into the nearest wall because, dear reader, we are all doomed when the integrity of good dogs is brought into question. The name of the account? ‘Abnormal1971’ which, on reflection, gave me some hope because he is showing some insight at least. There’s hope for him yet and my wall remains un-headbutted.
Has anyone met a conspiracy theorist who is prepared to admit they are wrong? Because I haven’t. Instead, their theories become more and more entrenched, despite mounting evidence to the contrary as they filter out everyone and everything that does not agree with them. Kind of ironic really. This is in marked contrast to the people who constantly test their theories against the evidence then change, adapt, or even drop them as a consequence of what these tests show. We know this because our knowledge of Covid and its behaviour has changed in one short year. Yet conspiracy theorists see this as ‘evidence’ that because the scientific establishment had yet to discover certain truths about the virus’s nature, this must mean that everything that follows must therefore be a conspiracy. In the thirst for one definitive and stable truth, in a climate where science has become a living and evolving part of our everyday life in a manner unprecedented, they can no longer live alongside the grey areas. They are no longer prepared to wait to ‘find out’.