Relying on past experience and taking into consideration, the ongoing fervent rate of intensive scientific research, it is reasonable to suppose that a relevant vaccine will be developed soon to assuage the threat of the present coronavirus epidemic. An enormous variety of diseases to date, have been prevented by the development and public administration of vaccines including, diphtheria, flu, mumps, polio and pneumonia. By bright contrast, we have scant assurance that the long-standing pathology of ignorance and misinformation, which we have labeled, “the infodemic,” will be abated, anytime soon.
It is inarguable, that a thoughtful man, in deciding, whether or not to act, and if so, the chosen nature of his action, or to refrain from acting altogether, is completely reliant upon his apprehension of relevant information, real or perceived. It might well be said that lack of information, or worse, misinformation, depending upon the circumstances, may be more societally toxic than any selected medical pathology.
The very existence of society, from the homo sapiens Paleolithic era to date, has vitally depended upon a commonly understood language and man’s consideration and response to acquired or received information, ranging from matters of interactive socialization to those of urgent and existential nature. With the acquisition of accurate information, patients get healed from dire disease, bridges are properly erected, families are shielded from harm, and businesses and careers prosper. With inadequate or misleading information, buildings collapse from poor engineering, people lose their way, dinner is burnt, superstition and bigotry are accommodated, and errors, big and small, are facilitated.
In our view, the most colossally tragic result of misinformation, was the American participation in the Vietnam War (1950’s to the mid 75’s). The war was not only costly in blood (58,000 deaths, 1,601 MIA) and treasure, but effected a deep and enduring schism in our population. Violent, as well as peaceful protests erupted throughout the country, disrespect for the mainstream of life was expressed through the growth of a young drug culture, hippies (“make love not war”), famously publicized by the cinema and the historic, 1969 Woodstock Festival, divisions within families, and general disrespect for authority.
General Robert S. McNamara was the architect- in- chief of this travesty and, with many others, oversaw the nationally promulgated and propagandic proposition, that unless we stopped the Communists in North Vietnam, (“containment”) that an entire “Communist Bloc” would ensue, consisting of China, Korea, the various countries of Indochina (Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia) constituting an existential threat to the United States and the democratic world. The numbers of troops and civilians killed and horribly disabled was uncountable, the domestic affairs of our Nation were traumatized by deep division and street protests, and America’s traditional brand of peace and justice was tarnished forever.
Not very long after the two decades long, painful wait for the unpopular war to end, Robert S. McNamara, himself, the orchestral conductor and popular steward of this unwarranted, bloody war, authored a book, “Lessons Learned From Vietnam,” in which he purported to apologize for his mistake as the chief architect of the wasteful, tragic and costly war, in that (he claims) he did not know that the countries which he warned would join together in a Communist led Armageddon, were in truth, historically, mutual enemies, so that no practical threat of a “Communist Bloc was ever possible. The Nation had been grossly misinformed causing irreparably major damage to its previous moral standing, tens of thousands of military and civilians were killed and maimed, and the Nation’s Treasury, along with its name, took a serious nose- dive. Misinformation, or lack of it, apparently, can accrue small or Olympian size repercussions.
As an aside, we, at plinyblog do not, for a moment, belief that McNamara’s apology, for this colossal dissemination of misinformation, purportedly realized by him, suddenly, after two decades of major bloodshed to be in the slightest degree credible. But this, for a future essay. We are here discussing the pathology of wide-spread ignorance or the dissemination of wrongful information (“the infodemic”)
The provenance for damaging misinformation du jour is confidently bestowed upon the inept, corrupt and egocentric (former second- rate television gameshow host) President of the United States) Donald J. Trump. (See: plinyblog # 546 “Schadefreude Vindicated”). From his first days in Office, Trump, solely interested in “winning,” with little or no understanding or capability to perform the complex and multi-faceted job of POTUS, was relegated to a program of defensive mendacity, and attacks on the critical media, including the prestigious New York Times and Washington Post, as purported perpetrators of “fake news.” His defensive program of anti-media rants, apparently, appealed to those inadequately educated and poorly informed “flat earth” supporters (his loyal “base”) who were largely responsible for his election victory. To their delight, and to the dismay of the informed citizenry, he embarked on a program to minimize factual truth and with his tactical, but ignorant mendacity, issue statements that have little resemblance to actual reality; while simultaneously attacking accurate media accounts of events, as “fake news.” We have observed in past writings that any serious programmatic attack upon the dissemination of vital information is anti-societal and dangerous.
The (fool’s) gold medal for disinformation and mendacity, is inarguably awarded to Trump, as delineated in past writings. In essay “#546” cited above, we noted his covering up of the serious and lethal significance of the coronavirus, burlesquing and mocking medically preventative advice and useful information given by the nation’s health experts, and his broadcasted misinformation, caused tens of thousands of unnecessary cases of illness and death. As the “President” his ignorance and tactically false information was relied on, illustrating the hazard and danger of misinformation, intentional or ignorant.
These two examples of the disastrous impact of inadequate information or misinformation are by no means (except for scale) at variance with the information problem that characterizes by far too many Americans. In many of our mini- essays, we have lamented the public’s metastasizing disinterest in activities which promote self- advancement and the acquisition of knowledge. Over recent decades we have, most regrettably, observed a decline in the reading of good literature, interest in the arts and educative pursuits in general, in favor of ephemeral and superficial diversion. Such surrender to the status of mental couch potato, in time, predictably, results in a useless and low information citizen lacking in considered thought or opinion on any matter, except basic creature comfort. It is this limited individual who never develops an independent persona with its own confident perception of objective rectitude and no aspiration to learn about life and the world around him. His felt insecurity when unavoidably confronted with the perception of informed and aware others, results in insecurity and makes him vulnerable to demagoguery and a needed sense of belonging, by surrendering his mind to tribal, or “group think.”
It is our considered view that such low information mindlessness, evangelized by demagoguery and financially supported by unconscionable (anti-health regulation) big money corporate interests to vote for the most incapable, ignorant and egotistical Presidential in American history. We have often quoted the admonition of Thomas Jefferson to the effect that, for a Democracy to succeed, it requires an informed and literate public. This fundamental requirement was negatively confirmed, by the elevation of an ignorant travesty like Donald Trump to the Oval Office. It is instructive that from the first day of his surprising ascendancy to office, Trump initiated his ongoing, defensive attack on science, education and the press, by his mendacity and the regular dissemination of false information.
A disappointingly large segment of our population seems fixedly resolved to rely on outmoded, and disproven thinking, rather than on developments in empirical science and medicine, on aphorism, on bug-a-boos and taboos against vaccination, on the denial of the well- proven theory of Darwinian evolution, on the foolhardy denial of climate issues (in the face of confirmation by a consensus of the world’s leading scientists), by its disbelief in astrophysics and in scholarly revelations concerning the origins of the Universe and the Earth, in the denial of equality of the sexes (and races) and the acceptance of homosexuality and same sex marriage, in psychotherapy, in environmental issues, in birth control and rational family planning and in genetic research.
There does not seem to be an empirical possibility of a corrective vaccination for this problem. The enlightened and discerning citizen should, alternatively, consult the responsible media on current issues and, if felt warranted, pursue his own independent inquiry, by the use of authoritative sources to ascertain and confirm the desired accurate facts.