We shall overcome

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Let’s face it: most of us are thoroughly fed up with covid, restrictions, and all the other irritating aspects of life these days. And it’s not just a pandemic that’s getting on our collective nerves. There’s the climate: did you know that the past six years have been the hottest six on record, worldwide? That’s according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. And it’s not going to get any better soon, if ever. Feeling a little discouraged now?

This issue of the Times contains quite a lot about the latest results of covid: a province wide lock down (again), stay at home, wash your hands, keep apart as much as possible. It is so easy to just throw our hands in the air and tell it all to go the way of the Dodo. Not that any of that would do any good either.

Last week, someone sent me a troubling rant sent out by someone to their “dear neighbours”. It was another of those conspiracy theory things that warn you to “read this before it gets taken down”. It promised to “disclose to you [what] very few people know about”. Of course, naturally. Only the privileged few get to see behind the curtain and appreciate the diabolical things that are happening, and who understand that the “mainstream media…has largely been controlled by corrupt CIA and evil individuals”.

I am amazed that these evil and machiavellian powers are so bad at their plotting that everyone finds out about them so easily. I am also amazed that no-one seems to have a rational (too much to hope for?) reason for why they are doing these dastardly deeds. If they are so powerful that they are already pulling the strings of world politics, media and social affairs, why do they still need to keep plotting? I’m sorry: I’m trying to be reasonable about something totally unreasonable. How pointless.

Of course, these “enlightened ones” will simply point out that, as a newspaper editor, I have been either co-opted by the nasty villains, or simply fooled into blindness. You really can’t win when you try to discuss conspiracy theories rationally. But I am also an historian, and I know that this kind of witch-hunt has been a regular aspect of times of confusion, fear and social disruption throughout history. It has only become even more toxic in an age of online social media platforms that encourage the most baseless and insane ideas free access to millions. And there are always going to be those who swallow these idiotic ideas wholesale because it makes them feel they are privy to secrets, and therefore makes them important.

What is particularly dangerous in these days, could be seen in Washington on January 6. Thousands of people, most of whom are “regular” folks, getting caught up in the emotion and excitement of the mob, and committing acts that led to the deaths of five people. Don’t dismiss the power of the mob mentality too easily. I have experienced it first hand. Back in 1972, after the British Army shot 26 unarmed protestors in Derry, 14 of whom died, there was a very understandable anger in Ireland that led to a protest march on the British Embassy in Dublin. The emotion, the feeling that we were part of a righteously angry people, allowed some individuals to throw molotov cocktails through the doors of the embassy, which was completely gutted in the ensuing fire. During the entire event, we cheered lustily and totally lost any sense of reality. (Aside from the fact that most of us were anti-violence in any other situations, we also had to pay for a new British Embassy!).

But back to our “dear neighbour” and that flyer. One of the sources listed there is to a youtube video by Lin Wood. That should be enough to put anyone on the alert for some genuine, 100% nonsense. This is a really weird example of the conspiracy theorist. The Huffingtom Post reported that: “He predicts the execution of Vice President Mike Pence by firing squad on charges of “treason”; he tweeted that he believes Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts raped and murdered a child on video; he claims hackers from “Lizard Squad” have encrypted evidence of a global cabal of powerful individuals whom intelligence agencies have blackmailed to do their bidding.”

Look, this is not a “good” world in which we live. In spite of what many want to believe, people are not always good, not even fundamentally. But history is full of these stories of cabals and secret societies that are secretly a. running the world for their own enrichment; b. drinking the blood of innocents; or c. controlling the media in order to brainwash regular people into believing their lies. In past generations, these powers have been identified as Masons, Illuminatti, the Jews, Catholics, witches, or any number of others who were the focus of the day.

Life is difficult these days, and we have to keep our heads, as well as our bodies, safe from viruses. There are people who will claim masks, social distancing, vaccines, and other measures, are not only ineffective, but positively dangerous, and part of a plan to somehow keep us all down. No reliable evidence is offered to support these claims. Believing them puts others at risk. The evidence is all on one side, and it is not that of the QAnon initiates who somehow know all. Of course, even if they’re right, and that we are helpless against an all-powerful elite who play with us as puppets, what do they suggest we do about it? Create insurrection and anarchy? If these conspiracies were true, there would never have been a revolution of democracy, civil rights, an end to Apartheid, an ecological movement, a feminist movement, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and assembly, because these are all anathema, we’re told, to the “hidden ones” who run the world.

This is no time to be fearful, gullible, irresponsible. This is a time when we have to stand together against a very real danger; one that has killed more than two million people worldwide; one that continues to threaten us and our children, parents, friends and neighbours. That is the real truth that’s out there. That is what we have to guard against, no matter how tired, irritated and genuinely fed up we may be. This will take time; but this, too, shall pass. We shall overcome.

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