Dave Sovka: With conspiracy theories, we’ve got adults thinking like kids

A three-part series exploring science, existential dread and loud people who clearly did not try hard enough in high school.

Part Three: Violence

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In which the author considers: “Am I my brother’s keeper? Really? Because that guy is a lunatic!”

Now that I am a grandfather, our house is full of all kinds of fun new games and colourful toys designed to pierce the soles of my feet. Currently popular with my two-year-old grandson is a game we play with wooden blocks.

First, I carefully balance the blocks into as high a tower as possible, and then he knocks it over. Next, I carefully rebuild the tower, and he knocks it over. Fast forward 10 minutes and one of us badly needs a drink and a handful of aspirins. But first, guess who gets to crawl around the living room, picking up the pieces before they end up in the hallway toilet?

My wife plays a fun game in the kitchen. First, she spends hours picking blackberries, and then she hand-makes the best blackberry gelato this side of Florence. It’s very popular with our grandson, who expresses his delight by enthusiastically applying blackberry gelato to his face, hair and socks, as well as the floor, walls, and — I swear I’m not making this up — ceiling, the colour of which (flat white) I clearly did not think through.

In my experience, playing is one of the sweetest things about being a grandparent, as opposed to the other things, such as arthritis, bunions and coronary artery disease. It’s sweet because a) you give them back after a few hours; and b) you have lived enough life to smile and kiss away their tears because, really, it’s all copacetic. You know that some days, ­little kids will act like little kids, including:

• Impulse control issues

• Refusal to take responsibility for actions

• Knocking things down

• Purple ceiling stains

It’s normal behaviour for toddlers, and we overlook it along with tantrums in the grocery store and bald-faced lies about whether or not you need to go to the potty. But — and this is a big, fat Donald Trump kind of butt — over the past 18 months or so, these behaviours are becoming normal for adults.

How to know if you behave like a toddler

In order to save time, I’m going to skip a very good joke I made up about poopy pants, and just say that the best way to tell if you are behaving like a toddler is to question the degree to which you care about you, versus other people. If you are the centre of your universe, the most important thing going, Mr. or Mrs. Bigshot, then you are 100 per cent acting like a toddler and you should go to your room for a time out.

The other thing about ­toddlers is they believe pretty much anything you tell them. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are as plausible to them as Erin O’Toole and a safe, sustainable oil industry. Absolutely no critical thinking going on in their little noggins! Alas, toddler-think has become a growth industry, and adults are abandoning rational thought in favour of whatever completely bonkers notion ­tickles their ears.

How to tell if you are completely bonkers

Let me begin by saying that real conspiracies do exist. For example, Volkswagen and other major automobile manufacturers conspired to cheat emission tests on their diesel engines. For decades, the tobacco industry deceived the public about the harmful health effects of smoking. We know about these conspiracies through industry documents, government investigations and whistleblowers — you know, involving real people and real facts about reality.

Conspiracy theories, on the other hand, are not supported by facts or evidence that withstands any real scrutiny. This doesn’t stop them from blossoming. In fact, they tend to persist for a long time even when there is no evidence for them, because people are prone to a variety of thinking patterns that are known to be unreliable tools for processing reality.

It scares me a little, because I am a person, too, and not immune to bonkers thinking. For example, in late 1999 I personally put $20 on the counter and bought a Ricky Martin CD. Against my better judgment, by which I mean my wife’s better judgment, I became convinced of livin’ la vida loca.

COVID-19 conspiracy theories

All around the world, COVID-19 conspiracy theories are spreading like, well, like a virus. I kind of admire the irony, apart from all the fear and confusion that is sown by misinformation, disinformation and garden variety cray-cray. But I am not sharing these laughable theories to spread them further, or to make fun of the people who believe them, although I certainly plan to do that later when they are not looking and/or ­writing letters to the editor.

• There is no such thing as COVID-19.

For obvious reasons, such as 220,424,321 confirmed cases and 4,563,254 deaths from COVID-19 in 221 countries, this conspiracy theory doesn’t have the legs it once did. COVID-19 is undeniably real. If you once mistakenly claimed this conspiracy theory as true, then please apologize to everyone you know. Conspiracy theories are harmful to society and you have been very naughty.

• Take Ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, bleach or other dangerous chemicals, not the vaccine.

You’ve heard the expression “Follow the money,” right? It was popularized in the 1976 film All the President’s Men, and suggests that corruption can be brought to light by examining money transfers, such as the transfer of money from your wallet to a self-serving grifter. People who tout unproven, dangerous, crazy solutions instead of safe, proven, free ones are usually con artists looking to sell you something.

• Bill Gates has something to do with this.

Whenever we feel powerless, say in the face of sickness and death, it is common to be suspicious of rich people who do not face the same risks in life as the rest of us (right up until they do). This is especially true of rich tech billionaires with bad hair (Gates, Bezos, Zuckerberg, etc.).

The conspiracy theory has morphed a bit over time, landing on the goofball idea that Gates wants to use a worldwide vaccination program to implant digital microchips that will somehow track and control people.

It’s especially weird because he is pretty clear about wanting the world’s population vaccinated — that’s kind of his whole thing now that Melinda gave him the heave-ho. But that’s because he knows vaccination works: Vaccines are safe and effective and save lives.

• The new 5G mobile network is to blame.

I’ll bet this one has killed more scientists by making their brains explode than any other nutbar movement, aside from the Free Britney movement. It inspired people in the U.K. to burn down cell towers, which is probably the greatest indictment against the British education system since Prince Charles. OK, here we go: it is biologically impossible for a virus to spread using the electromagnetic spectrum. COVID-19 isn’t like when somebody sings the Baby Shark song into your ear and it stays with you all day long, slowly driving you over the cliffs of insanity.

• COVID-19 was created in a lab as a Chinese/American/Britney Spears weapon.

My whole life I have been a fan of science-fiction ­comics, novels and movies, or as it is more commonly known, a “weirdo.” What with the stars and the wars and treks and so on, science fiction was my escape, by which I mean it was what I did instead of homework. What’s not to love about it? You’ve got your tentacled, face-chewing aliens, your planet-busting space weapons and your laboratory-grown super-plagues. OK, about that last one…

It is easy to accept the notion that an enemy state, through malice or incompetence or both, created or refined the COVID-19 virus into a world-disrupting super-weapon. That is not my belief, but I accept that it is possible. I also accept it is ­possible that Zooey Deschanel has a thing for me.

I hope the lab conspiracy theory is not true, but if it is, what are we supposed to do about it? Well, get vaccinated and keep taking precautions, that’s what. And then go behind the social-media headlines and turn to trusted sources for information and evidence. We’re lucky that Canada has experts whose job it is to help keep you safe, not sell you things (I’m looking at you, Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister Adrian Dix).

Places not to go for information:

• Rural gas station toilet stalls

• The Amazing Kreskin

• Mommy bloggers

• North Korean television news

• American television news

I know that, with some people, I am totally wasting my time in saying any of this. But I take solace in knowing that I am also totally wasting their time.

Deep breaths

We’re not all thinking and acting at our best right now. Each of us is under a lot of long-term stress, what with the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, which you probably have heard about. At the moment everything, by which I mean All Of The Things, is a little more difficult, a little more threatening, and a lot more of an opportunity to express strong, sometimes crazy, feelings.

Here’s the thing: we’re in this together, you and I. We won’t agree on everything as we navigate these strange, frightening waters (and you also still owe me that $40 of gas money, remember?), but we need to work together — six feet apart together — to survive.

I am my brother’s keeper, and so are you.

Resources

How to find trusted information about vaccines: bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19/covid-19-vaccine/how-to-find-trusted-information-about-vaccines

Read the excellent Conspiracy Theory Handbook: climatechangecommunication.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/ConspiracyTheoryHandbook.pdf

Why you should not take Ivermectin to treat COVID-19: fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/why-you-should-not-use-ivermectin-treat-or-prevent-covid-19

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