8.5 billion human beings and counting, that’s easily more than 50% exponential growth in the global population since the beginning of the 20th century. They say that population growth statistics are slowing down, however, thanks in great part to yet another global pandemic. As of this date, a pandemic that has lasted a little longer than two years and claimed a mere 5.5 million lives. This is found with a quick Google search, if you believe that those numbers are reliable. But this brings two topics to question: the authenticity of a result from a general Google search and the reliability of the source itself. Does the statistic “5 million deaths” even warrant concern anymore on a planet of 8.5 billion? Here we are presented with the conundrum of believable information in the “information age”. Or what I refer to as, “what Kool-Aid are you drinking?”
In case those reading this are not familiar with the reference to Kool-Aid, it’s a dark allusion to the Jonestown Massacre of the 1970’s in which 900 members of a cult committed ritual suicide by consuming poison-laced Kool-Aid. Considering America’s fascination with true crime and penchant for exaggeration, does it not make sense that we would compare belief in specious facts to committing suicide under influence of a cult? Of course it does. The point of this essay isn’t so much to examine the allusion itself but to the curious manner in which people have become accustomed to belief, what they deem reputable compared to what is falsehood. Once again, the buzz term “false news” rears its ugly head. We can thank the last President for thrusting this into the forefront of our cultural vernacular and now constituents on all sides wield it like a sword of truth even when their own methods and sources are often poorly researched and subsequently unreliable. Donald Trump emboldened large swaths of our citizens to disbelieve what we once relied on our officials to educate us on, and this at a time that truth needed reliability instead of incredulity. This has had the effect of rendering the statements of professional physicians, scientists and administrators questionable and opened the door wider for conspiracies, speculation and more damaging, eroded trust in legitimate institutions.
If you think that this did not do real-world damage, then look no farther than the January 6, 2021 assault on the Nation’s Capital building. Many citizens are convinced that the 2020 election was stolen as the former President and many of his Republican constituents continue to echo that same sentiment. Trump’s 2024 campaign slogan might as well be “Repeal the Steal”. And here is a perfect example of two sides of the “truth coin” of an issue. You have those who trust the results of the election and which includes the process of counting and confirming legitimate votes. Then those who fall on the side of mistrust of the entire process and its validation, that not only was the process dishonest but that voters themselves should not have been qualified to register votes. These repercussions are still being felt as the Republican wing of the country is now pushing back against efforts to improve voter turnout through the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Both sides would claim that the other is the one “drinking the Kool-Aid”. Not assisting this outcome is the fact that the American Presidential election process is confusing and in need of improvement.
If you read articles from viewpoints not based in the U.S. then you get an impression of alarm based on observations of the political, civic and public approach to the ongoing pandemic. Donald Trump and his followers successfully convinced millions of Americans and now the majority of his party that the 2020 election was stolen despite substantial evidence to the contrary. America’s history of slavery and segregation still continues to haunt it and its legal courts have sent mixed messages over how to handle instances of violence regarding blacks, whites and law enforcement. The decisions regarding Derek Chauvin and Kyle Rittenhouse demonstrate the difference in adjudication of cases regarding civil cases in the wake of the BLM protests over the past two years. Finally, many conservative states are proposing significant acts of legislation regarding mask and Covid protocols, namely to block requirements for masks and mandatory vaccinations. With the help of social media there has perhaps never been such great resistance to decisions and recommendations from professional and authorized institutions and officials. The Kool-Aid pitcher is equally full whichever perspective is taken.
Covid-19 and the “New Normal”
Did it really have to be this way? Although this is a rhetorical question, it is one that many will ask for years to come. As I have observed in past entries, pandemics aren’t new, and the way in which societies have handled them has changed vastly since they began ravaging populations since the dawn of humans. The 20th and 21st centuries have afforded our communities the benefits of improved healthcare and medical science, vast communications networks, and more ample access to vital resources including medication and basic utilities. But as humans are, there is a tendency in many to resist popular consensus and doubt the evidence placed before us. Herd mentality is a powerful force and when paired with the fierceness of human individuality it can accomplish many things. Denial happens to be one of these things, and it is evident that it is a primary constituent of those who oppose how officials recommend handling the Covid virus.
From the beginning of when the United States addressed citizens concerning the oncoming Covid threat, poor communications and mixed messages plagued announcements and press conferences. The President contradicted the advice and recommendations of his lead medical adviser and mocked the severity of the warnings from countries already seeing the cases rise rapidly. This initial erosion of trust in public officials set the tone which the country has followed since. Two years later and the battle rages on, but not only in ICU’s and clinics across the country, in the minds of millions of unvaccinated adults and children. As the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads at record pace, government buildings and capitol rotundas across the country are packed with citizens demanding not more vaccines, masks and tests but repeals of mask mandates, vaccine requirements and school closures. That’s right, America is over this thing and wants to go back to business as usual. A quick glance at a daily tracker shows that the United States average for Covid cases hovers just below 800K per day. Easily the world’s highest despite the instance that it is a wealthy, developed nation with ample vaccine supplies compared to many others. Additionally, America leads the world in mortality, just under 1 million. If you believe those numbers.
Apparently many do not, or they do not care. In the U.S. Covid isn’t about the numbers, the risk of contraction or even death counts anymore. Citizens are sick and tired of being sick and tired, as the saying goes. They just want a return to normalcy, but so does every other person on the planet. The difference is that if this reality cannot manifest soon enough then Americans will take it upon themselves to force it or ‘will’ it. Remember what I said about herd mentality? What used to be a small percentage of the population has rapidly assumed perhaps the majority. They have become so desperate to not have to deal with the reality of a deadly virus that through collective will and denial they act as if it poses a reduced or no threat. Justifications include wild conspiracy theories, exaggerated information from mainstream sources and relatively low mortality numbers. Hopefully in doing so this will all pass over and we will emerge unscathed from the threat that wasn’t. After all, what’s a few million sacrificed on a planet numbering in the billions?
This is quite the cynical exercise. However it is not surprising given this time and state of humanity. Never before have the seeds of doubt been planted in such fertile soil. America is not alone in its reluctance to invest in truths. The other powerful countries of the world are grappling with their own naysayers and deniers; opposition to popular belief is a common ruse. But it is too often used to conceal individual insecurities and misguidance towards institutions and norms than the rationale behind questioning common sense and reason itself. In Jonestown, Guyana 900 followers of a religious cult drank Kool-Aid that they were convinced would kill them. If you knew that you had a choice between drinking a pitcher full of death or one that could potentially save you, wouldn’t the choice be obvious?