Truth and Conspiracy

Road to Resilience


This week, I give you an article by Jeff Krasno, edited for length.  I couldn’t have expressed this any better.  The whole essay will be, but is not yet, on his blog here:

“On November 22, 1963, [a soap opera] is interrupted by a news flash concerning an incident in Dallas, Texas, with the presidential motorcade. Walter Cronkite appears in the CBS newsroom. As he reports on the developing story, he is handed a memo. Cronkite removes his signature glasses and, in his inimitable tenor, announces the death of John F. Kennedy. For just a moment, Cronkite, visibly shaken, looks down and to the side, tightening his lips to hold the anguish of a nation.

“This is how most of America got their news. Walter Cronkite, dubbed ‘the most trusted man in America,’ was the anchorman for the CBS Evening News for 19 years. It didn’t much matter where you stood on the political spectrum, when Cronkite said it, it was accepted fact.

“People of all ideological bents could bicker and debate their opinions, but diverging views were girded in a shared inter-subjective understanding of truth. While certainly not infallible, the institution of journalism, with its code of ethics, independent fact-checking, multiple sources, and corrigendum engendered trust.

“Science and journalism, the way the world works and the medium through which we access that information, were the dual pillars of social cohesion for my generation.

However, in 21st century America, this ceases to be true. We lie scattered, matches flung from a box.

“Nowhere is this fracturing of society more apparent than in this pandemic. More than just a health crisis of epic proportions, COVID-19 in the United States is an epidemic of social polarization. The countries that have cohered around fairly straightforward solutions have stanched the viral spread, while those unable to unify are bickering their way into dystopia.

“Certainly, this is partially due to illiberal leadership peddling “alternative facts,” which slowly erodes the riverbanks of long-trusted institutions. Experts, despite years of study and research, are often pilloried as nothing more than effete, out-of-touch intellectuals.

“But the erosion of a coherent narrative of unifying facts knitting our country together cannot simply be chalked up to deepening partisanship and the constant drone of “fake news.”  Medical science, for example, has sown its own seeds of mistrust, capitulating in many cases to big pharma. With misaligned incentives, pharmaceutical companies have biased studies and shrouded truth at human expense.  Proxy agricultural ‘science’ has decimated our soil. There have been over 13,000 lawsuits filed against Monsanto in connection with its herbicide, glyphosate, which allegedly causes cancer.

“Science, which once promised to deliver us from drudgery and the darkness of superstition, has so often been kidnapped by unfettered corporatism that it has squandered its moral credibility. That these very same companies—Bayer, Merck, P&G, GlaxoSmithKline and others—pump billions of marketing dollars into our media outlets elicits a well-founded skepticism about journalistic independence.

“In the absence of trusted sources of fact, it becomes all too easy to fall prey to dystopic conspiracies of a New World Order. The decentralization of media distribution, which gives game show hosts and wellness influencers equal footing to news organizations as vectors for the proliferation of information, contributes to the unbridled spread of conspiracy theories—some that may be true, and many that lack any basis in fact.

“Not all conspiracy theories are as specious or malicious as Pizzagate, Birtherism, and the denial of Sandy Hook. If I told you that a private prison company funded an organization comprised of legislators and private sector executives to write and pass legislation leading to mass incarceration, you might think I was wacko. But this is exactly what the Corrections Corporation of America and the American Legislative Exchange Council did. Conspiracies are seductive because truth is often just as strange and twisted as fiction.

“No political leaning has a monopoly on conspiracy. There is a bizarre emergent horse-shoeing of leftist conspiritualists and alt-right libertarians that is coming to a head around the potentially impending COVID vaccine, ratcheting up an already intense vaccination debate. This anti-vaxx alliance makes strange bedfellows of a slice of the “wellness” community, civil liberties advocates who oppose governmental overreach, and “truthers” who fear that the illuminati will implant micro-chips as part of mass vaccination.

“With all of the countervailing forces at work, what is a citizen to do? What are we supposed to believe? How do we distinguish between ludicrous theories devised to divide and true corruption that warrants exposure? How do we find the social cohesion that is necessary not only to beat COVID but to address all of our salient global problems?

“How much longer can we keep loving America and hating each other? Human success has always been predicated on our ability to cooperate flexibly at scale. Without social cohesion, we are [lost].

“As institutions wobble, [we individuals] inherit a growing responsibility for the cohesion of society. Be inquisitive. Be humble. Think deeply and critically. Engage with and learn from others. Understand the best part of an opposing opinion. Apply methods of rigor in the quest for truth. Be willing to admit you are wrong.”