The rise and rise of polarisation has been a theme of everything I’ve been speaking about for a great many years now. From politics to consumption to the increase of moral panics, and then into the responses to the coronavirus pandemic, humans are being confronted by issues that pose great danger to us. So why are huge proportions of the human race determined to go with outlooks that may damage- or quite literally destroy- us?
There are two main arguments that absolutely flummox me every time they come up- and they do come up, every day. Climate change, and coronavirus.
Studies going back decades show that climate change is a huge threat. Sea levels could rise, the earth could heat up enough to disrupt sea currents which would cause mass death of marine life, the weather could be so destructive that we’d see mass death as crops wither in the fields.
The main contributors to this emerging disaster are big businesses who refuse to do anything that may damage their profits- the main enablers are governments, who accept what we can probably call “legal bribes” to legislate protections into law for these businesses to continue. But behind the scenes, those businesses have also sunk money they could have used to change their models for something more green, to flood the internet with disinformation about climate change- and for some reason, a huge subsection of human beings- not big business owners or the politicians they pay for, but just everyday people have taken this information and fashioned it into a fight.
Climate change is not something you can deny if you believe in science. It’s happening. You might not be able to see it every day, but it is happening. It’s like denying the existence of the sea floor- you may have only seen it on documentaries but it is there…
Yet these individuals are convinced that it’s all a scam, designed to tell us how to live!
The core thinking that seems to revolve around this type of mindset is, as I’ll lay out here, rooted to the idea that essentially these people are extremist libertarians who don’t want to be told how to live. Oddly they’re fine with the laws that say they can’t be gunned down or robbed, that they legally own their own home and so on- just the suggestions they could throw paper and plastic in different bags are the ones they don’t like.
We see the exact same mindset with the coronavirus deniers- because yes, in 2023 people still exist who think coronavirus is a scam, made up. Having caught it in November and still having lung problems now, I can assure you it’s quite real and though my second brush with COVID-19 didn’t kill me, having lung problems 3 months later and having been forced to lie in bed for a solid week, death isn’t the only way viral illness can affect your life. But still, if they don’t deny covid they refuse to imagine a world where we’d continued on as normal and likely almost a billion people would have died.
A survival rate of 97% sounds good until you realise that that means if everyone on earth was infected once, 240,000,000 deaths would have occurred just from viral infection. I, though, have been infected twice, some people multiple times. Three and a half United Kingdom’s worth of people would have died just from COVID, then those who needed healthcare outside of viral infection would have died due to overwhelmed hospitals. Supply chains would have completely fractured, goods would have ceased production. Famine, death en masse, long term health issues. All a worthy price to the people who think covid is a scam though!
The prevalence of these mindsets seem to revolve intimately around one thing- a cocksure attitude that you’re so right that it doesn’t matter about the possibility of being wrong because you aren’t, so these heinous scenarios could never occur.
Frustration buds from two main points here: if I’m wrong about climate change, we sink a lot of money into new energy solutions that hasten technological development and we harshly tax businesses for refusing to update their business model. I’ve no doubt a harsh pursuit of green solutions would cause societal change that would cause issues to the populace but we already have issues causing the populace problems -floods in Pakistan that wipe out whole villages, days so hot in the UK that asphalt melts, crop failures in vast patches of eastern Europe due to abrupt weather changes. Complaining about problems when there are problems is reminiscent of those who took pictures of empty shelves during early 2020 and posted them to social media saying “this is what Corbyn’s England would have looked like”, failing to see the irony of posting photos of Johnson’s England looking like their apparent idea of a worst case scenario. No, there is no easy way to pursue green solutions- but when the cost of not doing so is a smouldering crater for a planet perhaps it’s worth doing so.
You, when raising this, will predictably be met with people who will scoff: It won’t happen at all, it won’t happen for a long time or it won’t be that bad.
The same absolutist confidence that I see as one of the main reasons humankind is doomed.
The world doesn’t have to follow the worst case scenarios for it to be a disaster. We don’t have to face ecological wipeout for climate change to ruin millions, tens of millions of peoples lives. If the seas currents do change it will affect those whose living relies on the sea not doing so. If the sea levels rise it will affect coastal living. If the climate stays the same as now the horrific flooding and storms and weather irregularities will continue- and that is a disaster already occurring. But the possibility of worse to come is still not enough- because the people who push the oppositional thinking aren’t directly affected; or are, but are not invested enough to care.
Looking at covid- this is not a virus that is simply going to vanish. Thousands of people a week are still dying. “What would you have us do” they will reply, “another lockdown that ruins peoples mental health and does nothing”.
I don’t actually know how we could ever tackle coronavirus, but the issue is- there’s a gulf between “doing nothing” and “zero covid” and people refuse to budge one inch, refuse to wear a mask because “they aren’t effective” (I just finished reading my third study that shows they are). I asked an anti masker once, why do they bother you so much and after cornering her enough she confessed the truth. “I just don’t like being told what to do”.
The terror I feel, being surrounded by a not insignificant number of people who will risk becoming a vector for a virus that’s ruined my lung capacity because they get offended at not being asked politely if they don’t mind very much to cover their face for five minutes is immeasurable. I can’t not go into this without mentioning how ridiculously obvious it is that these people are wrong. I keep seeing people posting about “adverse reactions to vaccines”. Yes, there were always going to be adverse reactions to vaccines; it’s been a known side effect since vaccines were created, and when you scale that up to billions of doses, shockingly those side effects that we already knew about- happen. You know what didn’t happen? The explosion of severely autistic people you were all talking about 5 years ago. If vaccines caused autism I suspect giving out over 16 billion vaccines might have caused a spike in people with autism… and yet here we are.
When it comes to covid and our thinking- if we’re wrong, you look a bit stupid because you’re wearing a mask when you don’t need to. Masks don’t cause any of the nonsensical rubbish people talk about, if they did, doctors and cleaners and builders would all be sick constantly. The worst that happens if we’re wrong is that you look weird in public. If you’re wrong, you are spreading a disease that can be as bad as a nasty cold and having had a few it’s rude and gross to spread that anyway, it can cause illness severe enough to take a 34 year old off his feet for a week and give him long term health issues, or it can mean someone ends up choking to death as their lungs fill up with pleural fluid. Is it worth that risk? Still, for many of these people, yes- hence my semi withdrawal from a society I was, until now, unaware was absolutely filled with people ranging from deluded to frighteningly callous.
The reason we’re told masks cause disease is because they can’t just rely on “I don’t want to” as an argument on an international scale. The reason we’re told that green solutions would decimate industry is because they think those industries won’t be decimated by an earth that becomes close to uninhabitable. And when it comes to other arguments- about marginalised groups etc, you will often find that it’s not enough to simply dislike others, no- people of colour are causing a “white genocide” just by existing, gay people are corrupting your children with drag, trans people are trying to sneak into spaces not for them… I often wonder if the people who fall into these utterly ridiculous ways of thinking genuinely believe them or they know that “I just don’t like them and I don’t want to change my mind because being wrong equals losing” is a stupid mindset.
Being wrong is not a sin
People seem determined to conflate incorrectness with losing. Being corrected on something you’re wrong about is not losing. Rejecting correct information and clinging to bias, bigotry or abject nonsense because you cant possibly be seen to be wrong is.
Being wrong is usually a huge part of how we learn. We study at school and we write our sentences out and the teacher corrects our spelling and grammar and we learn. We make errors in our calculations and we’re shown where we make a mistake and we do better. Why does the idea of being corrected suddenly go from par for the course to equivalent to “losing” as soon as we leave mandated education.
The reason culture wars are such lucrative social currency is that the world has decided collectively that it’s better to fall into a tunnel of disinformation that backs up a lie than to bend to the acknowledgement of the objective truth. And many people without morals exist who are all too happy to partake- from Tucker Carlson whose show is so wildly unreliable that he has had to declare that he does not tell news but is a fictional show, to pundits in the UK like Jeremy Clarkson who is so blithely unaware of his radical hatred of women he writes columns about flogging and sexually assaulting women he doesn’t like.
Hartley-Brewer, Oakeshott, Coren, Johnson- these people’s careers are built on spinning the idea that the objective truth- of good relations with the EU, of climate change, of viral mitigations- are all bad. That we should be able to do exactly what we want, where and when we want because it is our right- and yet when your rights conflict with others physical safety, when your simple wish to display your face to the world consists of an unbalanced risk of viral disease, why is it suddenly feeling over fact, for the people whose moniker has always been, fact over feeling?
Fact, climate change is real, you can see it happen in real time. Fact, masks work, vaccines work and covid kills. But we live now in the world of alternative facts, of fake news, a whole deep pool of comforting mistruths that people can dive into if simple reality is too much.
Ultimately, I wish I could say I didn’t care. I wish it was as simple as letting people get on with it. If you want to end up choking to death because of covid or going hungry because you set the world alight, I wish I could let you get on with it.
But you’re dragging us down with you. The stupidest most selfish humans in existence are using the rest of us as collateral. And I am sick of it.
If you want to die- die. I won’t stop you. But stop wrapping the noose around my neck too, and telling me to stop complaining about it.