Psychological warfare in the form of advertising. Brainwashing in the form of media. Controlled isolated bubbles in the form of social media.
Such are some notable and familiar tools of political manipulation barrelling straight toward our pathetic pandemic existence in the next few months now that the political circus is in town.
Much as we all want to shut our eyes or cup our ears or hold our breath from all things political, we are sadly sucked into politics, hands up in the air in abject surrender.
Still, even if we do knowingly succumb to politics, even at the cost of drowning in our own innards, let’s at least be wide-eyed about it.
Right off, let’s admit to the fact that existential anguish over the damned virus has softened many heads.
This pandemic is making many of us just about ready for bad actors acting in bad faith, clearly abusing our vulnerabilities and our credulities, as they inculcate into us whatever it is they please about their politics.
But before you even hang your head in pity, I’m not crucifying here the suffering masses of the poor. Not at all. I’m talking about the educated classes.
The so-called educated classes squawking in horror at the so-called ignorance of the poorer classes are far from innocent themselves. There’s evidence.
And the evidence? I’m pretty sure that in your isolated social-media bubbles like Viber group chats are friends and relatives, all college degree holders, trading barbs or insults over vaccines or over Ivermectin.
Don’t be aghast, however, over the heated debates, the smirks over each other’s credulity (the capacity to be easily fooled) and over each other’s “granitic certainty” of their positions. They’re victims as the poor are of our sad times.
The sad times in this case, as political theorist Marco D’Eramo points out in a thoughtful essay, is that we’re all caught in the paradoxical times of “sceptical credulity.”
This means that even if one is a thoroughgoing skeptic over so many things, one is still easily fooled.
So, even if one is highly educated, believing one is marked or given to doubt because of education, one is nothing but a pretentious snob.
In short, the paradox is this: Educated people easily believe in extraordinary tales precisely because of their sceptical disposition.
Being easily fooled is, of course, old hat. “Ancient credulity… was shared by the highest state authorities — who typically employed court astrologists — and the most downtrodden plebeians,” D’Eramo says.
Science’s rise and prominent role in modern life were supposed to do away with all that. But somehow along the way, things didn’t turn out as intended because the ways of science have been coopted.
Take, for instance, those vehemently against vaccines.
“The anti-vaxxers, one must concede, are enacting the very process which permitted science to develop: Refusing the principle of authority… upholding the principle that a theory is not in itself true just because it is espoused by an expert at Harvard or Oxford,” observes D’Eramo.
Many consequences result from this turn. But it’s all heady stuff.
One glaring result, however, has been “it’s more and more difficult for non-specialists to distinguish between science and pseudoscience — or between scientists and salesmen.”
Yes, salesmen have caught on and are exploiting the exposed vulnerabilities of so-called skeptical people. And, this brings us back into the political loop.
Thus, the prosaic reason I brought up about pandemic angst resulting into precarious frames of mind that are making it easier for bad political actors to take advantage of. Skeptical people aren’t safe.
Arm yourself then. If we’re indeed now even more readily manipulated in this pandemic, we are, in the lingo of corporate geeks, already inside a “gray rhino event.” This means we should take seriously what is obvious, visible and charging straight at us.
Navigating through all these will take some doing.
But this I’ll leave with you. Since we’re living in the digital era, don’t amplify any unproven claims. Take heed that with the magnifier effect of the Internet, any small thing manipulated here and there can easily produce a real-life typhoon in politics.
Be a real responsible skeptic, in short.