I read today’s Frank Bruni column in the Times, less because of his potent arguments against the anti-vaxxers of our weird world than for his equally potent and disturbing discussion about how so many people ignore the facts of life.
The further along I get in writing my short book, How I Learned the Facts of Life, the more bothered I am to read about our anti-fact world.
Here’s how Bruni begins his essay:
How many studies do you have to throw at the vaccine hysterics before they quit? How much of a scientific consensus, how many unimpeachable experts and how exquisitely rational an argument must you present?
That’s a trick question, of course. There’s no magic number. There’s no number, period. And that’s because the anti-vaccine crowd (or anti-vaxxers) aren’t trafficking in anything as concrete, mundane and quaint as facts. They’re not really engaged in a debate about medicine. They’re immersed in a world of conspiracies, in the dark shadows where no data can be trusted, nothing is what it seems and those who buy the party line are pitiable sheep.
And, boy, are they living at the right time, when so much information and misinformation swirl by so quickly that it’s easy to confuse the two and even easier to grab hold and convince yourself of whatever it is you prefer to believe. With Google searches, you find the ostensible proof you seek. On social media, you bask in all the affirmation you could possibly want.
I’ve bolded the sentence that — along with other parts of Bruni’s essay — caused me to realize something I hadn’t consciously understood before.
People who are denying reality — about climate change, about Trump, etc and et alia — are convinced they’re right, without any evidence to display, because, as Bruni points out, they need to believe and rejoice in believing they know deeper secrets, deeper truths about life than the rest of us.
Their “knowledge” makes them vastly superior to us, with our…knowledge.
As Bruni writes:
I should also add that alternative facts had currency long before Kellyanne Conway christened them such and that junk science, nutty hypotheses and showy apostasies have been around forever. Humans aren’t rationalists. We’re romantics, and the world is wondrous when you believe that you belong to some brave and special tribe and have experienced enlightenment — about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, about the existence of extraterrestrials, about the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, about vaccines — that all the less perceptive, more gullible conformists out there simply can’t comprehend.
It’s a thoughtful good essay. Made me think about stuff. What more could I want from an opinion piece?