The COVID times, part one: understanding our neighbors who have chosen to be conspiracy theorists
Let’s start by saying, I believe that COVID-19 is a real, highly contagious and dangerous virus. I don’t want anyone to get it. I am willing to wear a mask and social distance as long as is needed. I live in New Jersey.
This post is about coming to terms with the rapid deterioration of the modicum of civility the United States still had left after the 2016 election. I am having a tough go of it, and, spoiler alert, I’m still not at terms with it.
When I was younger, in the ancient times of the 1990s, a very common question was, “what superpower would you wish for, if you could have any superpower?” I used to say that I would want to be able to read minds so that I could understand why people do the things they do.
The internet granted us that superpower by accident, and dear lord, I’d take back that wish in a heartbeat. Perhaps taco hands* would have been a better superpower after all. Before the internet, before I knew what was on peoples’ minds all the time, I assumed that people were inherently good, and I could easily see my own best qualities in others. And now…now we know what they’re thinking. And they’re thinking about conspiracies. And it’s insulting to the people who are suffering from COVID-19 and to the people who have watched a family member suffer from COVID-19. And I don’t know what to make of any of them.
Conspiracy theory social media posts render neighbors, fringe friends, and fellow human beings unrecognizable to me. I assumed many of the posts I was seeing had to be from hackers and bots or whatever devious individuals lurk on the web, but they’re not. They’re people I’ve met. They’re friends and family of people I know. Their Facebook profiles weren’t created a few weeks ago. They’re CEOs, CFOs, business owners, and (brace yourselves) medical professionals. They all seem human!
It calls into question my perceived notion of what makes someone seem human. It’s forcing me to adjust my perception. The commonality of suffering is real, and there is no denying the the people we agree with AND the people we disagree with are suffering in some way. We have had to practice a lot of radical acceptance on that front, though, right? (At least since the 2016 election?) What qualifies as suffering? Do we have to agree on that? How do we respond to suffering? Can we accept others’ responses to suffering even when they are radically different from what we as individuals deem appropriate? It’s a journey that I am on, personally, and I hope other people are still working on it too.
In a few years, though, can we lump the COVID-deniers into the same group as holocaust deniers, “9/11 was an inside job” people, people who believe that Sandy Hook didn’t really happen, and the Alaska mind-control lab people? Do we have to wait a few years to do that or can we just do it now?
*Taco hands is a superpower by which you can create an endless supply of tacos because they appear in your hands upon command. We were weird kids, and now we’re weird adults.