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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

There Is Nothing New Under The Sun

     A conspiracy theory is an explanation for an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy by sinister and powerful groups, often political in motivation, when other explanations are more probable. 
     Research suggests that belief in conspiracy theories can be psychologically harmful or pathological and that it is highly correlated with psychological projection, paranoia and those with a personality trait in which a person is so focused on their own interests they will manipulate, deceive, and exploit others to achieve their goals (known as Machiavellianism). 
     Conspiracy theories have always existed and were once limited to fringe audiences, but today mass media and social media means baseless and even harmful conjecture can reach millions of people in seconds. 
     The most recent involve conspiracy theories involving Covid-19. People across the United States are donning homemade masks, staying at home and seeing businesses shut down in an effort to curb transmission of the coronavirus. At the same time the coronavirus has brought with it a flood of conspiracy theories. That is because when the future looks uncertain, or people feel a lack of control, they turn to conspiracy theories to make sense of what is going on. 
     In some cases conspiracy theorists are nothing more than bullies looking for a fight while in other cases they originate with those who are fearful. In the case of bullies, it’s probably best not to engage them in a discussion at all. If somebody thinks that global public health officials, politicians and the media are all involved in some big conspiracy, you're not going to be able to have a reasonable conversation with that person. 

     We are living in a time where credible, well sourced facts in scientific research or news reports are not meaningful to, or trusted by, a lot of people, so it may be necessary to use sources that the person you're talking to won't reject and that can be difficult. Fact-based arguments are best, but even then it may be unsuccessful. 
     In one study involving 3,000 Americans it was found that people who believed in one conspiracy theory were likely to believe in several more. What that means is that debunking one conspiracy isn't likely to be all that effective. The researcher compared it to playing whack-a-mole where you try to knock down one but then another one pops up. 
     Some facts that are ignored by conspiracy theorists on social media regarding coronavirus: 
* Here are the numbers for the US for Oct-Apr 2019: the CDC estimates that 24,000 to 62,000 died from the flu. The exact number is unknown because the flu is not a reportable disease in most parts of the US.
* US coronavirus deaths so far: over 82,000. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington believes the US will see 147,000 total deaths by August.
     Clearly, even though we are not at the end of the coronavirus cycle, the number of deaths exceeds that of the flu. That doesn’t matter to the conspiracy theorists because they think the numbers are faked. 
     Masks. Do they work? The conspiracy theorists say no even though the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people cover their faces with cloth or fabric when going out in public. 
     It’s true that cloth may cut down on some large respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze, but it’s unclear whether it will catch smaller droplets called aerosols that are released by just breathing or talking. In any case, cloth masks, as well as surgical masks, are designed to protect others from virus spread by the mask wearer, not the other way around. When the masks are worn they are designed to prevent people from unwittingly transmitting the virus to others. Wearing a mask is not meant to be a replacement for social distancing, hand washing and other efforts
     The prestigious Mayo Clinic says face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing, help slow the spread of the disease. 
     The Cleveland Clinic, one of the world’s premier health care organizations, continues to take the threat seriously and is continuing to take stringent safety measures at their facilities. 
     All this stuff isn’t new. In the Bible, Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 
     Cholera is a nasty infectious disease that causes severe watery diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration and even death if untreated. It is caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated. 
     When a cholera pandemic swept through Europe in 1831, a riot broke out in the Prussian city of Konigsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia). What were people rioting about? People who did not agree with the cholera regulations assembled on July 28 for the funeral of a carpenter and after refusing a request to disperse, they invaded the police building and threw files and papers into the street. The military fired on the crowd and eight people were killed. 
     According to author and historian Richard S. Ross in his book Contagion in Prussia, 1831, the rioters believed that the carpenter had died not from cholera but from a medication prescribed to treat him. They were also angry about the quarantines and other cholera rules that interfered with their ability to go about their lives. 
     Many of them believed a conspiracy theory in which the disease itself was a government plot to cull the lower classes. By the chief of police's account, the rioters shouted that "the doctors are poisoning the poor, the police drag them to (jail) and close up their houses, saying they have to go because they are poor."
     By the end of the upheaval, there had been looting, armed clashes in the streets, and hundreds of arrests. Ross noted that when the rioters stormed the police building they destroyed police records and papers concerned with cholera and quarantine measures while chanting, "We want the cholera germs." See my post Beware of the Pot Lickers
     Similar cholera riots broke out across Europe. The ruling classes were likely to be targeted by rumors and revolt because it was they who belittled the superstitions of villagers, minorities, and the poor, violated their burial customs and religious beliefs and ...imposed stringent anti-cholera regulations even after most of them had been proven to be ineffectual. 
     Some of the elite rulers addressed resistance with military force and brutal repression. But, as many cities were rioting, the authorities in Berlin loosened the local cholera regulations while the government and charities organized relief efforts. Berlin saw no riots. See Michigan's Gestapo Governor
     The unrest in America hasn't been entirely nonviolent, but mostly in the form of civil disobedience and organized protests. There has even been report of speakeasies opening up in New York, San Francisco, and elsewhere. Again, nothing new.

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