John Colson: I’m ready to talk … are you?

John Colson
Hit & Run
John Colson

I was heartened to see last week that Colorado sits somewhere in the middle of a list of U.S. states in terms of the surge of COVID-19 outbreaks around the country.

According to a New York Times analysis of a recent study by Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government, the present surge of COVID-19 cases around the United States is worst in states that “neglected to keep up forceful virus containment efforts or failed to implement basic measures like mask mandates in the first place.”

With graphics and text, the NYT laid out a statistical case that in states where there were relatively few, if any restrictions put in place when the pandemic outbreak got started in early 2020, the surge is strongest.

Gov. Jared Polis imposed lockdowns, mask-wearing guidelines and other efforts to keep the virus under control, measures termed “intermediate” in severity by the NYT analysis, and in consequence we in Colorado apparently are in better shape than some other states.

That might seem an odd conclusion, since Polis last week announced that roughly 1 in 49 Coloradans are now infected, to varying degrees, which means they can infect someone else.

And we haven’t even gotten through Thanksgiving yet.

I know, I know, we’re all suffering from pandemic fatigue, and we don’t want to hear from our health experts that we have to be much more vigilant about “social distancing” and mask-wearing, even washing our hands, than we have been so far.

And an awful lot of us who won’t believe that the virus is as dangerous as the experts say it is, a situation that I find remarkable and incomprehensible.

Do these doubters actually believe that our nation’s health care system, our government, and our news media are locked in some global conspiracy centered around the pandemic?

Do they truly believe that the people who work in our hospitals, health care think tanks and other repositories of expertise are lying to us?

For what purpose? I have to ask, and I do so seriously, because I see this kind of conspiracy-theorizing as dangerous and counterproductive to our goals as a country.

I would like to hear from anyone out there who can shed light on this subject, because I suspect that it is somehow related to our nation’s deeply rooted racism and political extremism, all of which require a mind-set that refuses to accept things that many of the rest of us regard as the truths of our times.

I recently read a piece by historian Yuval Noah Harari, also in the NYT (a paper that I generally trust) who wrote about the rising number of conspiracy theories focused on the supposed existence of a “global cabal” of wealthy, powerful people who are running the world from some unknown location and for their own dark purposes.

Harari cited a survey of 26,000 people in 25 nations asked whether respondents believed there is “a single group of people who secretly control events and rule the world together.”

Apparently 37% of Americans agreed the idea is “definitely or probably true,” compared with 45 percent of Italians, 55 percent of Spaniards and 78 percent of Nigerians (not sure why those particular populations were named).

This “theory,” of course, is at the heart of the Qanon conspiracy theory framework, which has been mentioned in positive terms by President Trump and is endorsed or followed by at least a couple of newly elected congresswomen who will be helping to write our laws starting next year.

I regret that 37 percent of American respondents even gave the idea a passing nod, given my own belief that Qanon, whomever he or she is, is mainly interested in fame and fortune, if either are available through such an obvious, if creative, pack of lies.

Harari conceded, at one point, that “there are, of course, many real conspiracies in the world,” wherein organizations and individuals hatch some nasty plot, typically to gain money or power. But there also are many of these theories that are based on sheer fantasy and bravado, which feckless promoters spread by drawing in those gullible enough or predisposed sufficiently to believe in just about anything that aligns with their own feelings of helplessness, disenfranchisement, anger and fear.

One example Harari cited was Adolph Hitler, who latched onto a global-cabal conspiracy theory about how Jewish financiers dominated the world. That overall theory, along with a tangled snake’s nest of related subplots, brought about World War II.

The upshot of such thinking unfortunately appeals to a broad number of people who, faced with an increasingly complex and frightening world, are unable to come up with their own set of explanations and defenses.

So they look around (much easier to do now, with the Internet at our fingertips) for a proponent of some kind of philosophical framework on which they can hang their anger and their anxiety.

And for some reason, the noisier and more extreme the framework of a given set of ideas, the easier it is for someone seeking answers to fall into line and join whichever mob, or militia, or underground army they are connected with.

As a result, we have a wide and violent chasm that separates the “right” from the “left” in our country that might bring about our undoing as a nation, unless the two sides can begin talking with each other in serious, quiet dialogue.

I’m ready to talk. How about you?

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