Dis versus mis-information: Unexpected insights from Covid-19

Challenging false arguments/claims has never been more important, and yet more arduous.

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One of the least anticipated consequences of Covid19, and therefore least planned for, was the wave of bizarre and outlandish arguments/claims that were constantly put forth by those bitterly opposed to taking the vaccines. As a general rule, they are so far beyond the pale of ordinary thought that they are literally unthinkable to most.

Yes, it’s unfortunately true that such arguments are not entirely without precedent for they accompany all important outbreaks such as HIV and SARS. Denialism is a major feature of all events that are too painful to comprehend, let alone bear. Still, why weren’t they better anticipated? If they were, would it have helped lower resistance to the vaccines and thereby upped the rates of vaccinations?

What’s supremely sad, if not tragic, is that the vaccines that were produced in record times were for the express purpose of protecting as many people as possible from the deadly disease, thus curtailing its spread.

In a previous blog[i], I reported that in analyzing the various arguments/claims that were advanced against getting vaccinated, it became clear that they easily grouped together into distinct clusters. In this way, they reinforced one another more than if they had merely occurred by themselves. No less important was the realization that the same clusters applied generally to all of the significant issues facing us.

First and foremost is the Hoax Cluster, namely that Virus is not real, and thus not deserving of attention. It was aided by its natural ally, the Conspiracy/Paranoia Cluster, which asserts without any proof whatsoever that by surreptitiously placing micro-chips in the vaccines, the Virus has been deliberately fomented by the Government to spy on us. Not only can the Government thereby track our every whereabouts, and most of all our thoughts, but it can then control us and take away our precious freedoms and liberties. Another important group is the Invulnerability Cluster, namely that “If in the highly improbable case that the Virus is real, I’m immune to it.” The Product Defect Cluster is the absurd and unfounded claim that the Vaccine, not the Virus, is the true danger since it’s responsible for causing the Virus in the first place. It thus completely reverses the correct order of causality. While these do not exhaust all of so-called arguments/claims, they capture the general spirit of the madness.

To reiterate, the clusters apply to virtually all of the important issues with which we are struggling. Climate Change comes immediately to mind. The Hoax Cluster takes the form of outright Climate Denial, namely that it’s not real at all. Invulnerability takes the form that its effects are exaggerated and thereby completely overblown. And, given that it’s a perfect excuse for more unwanted Government Intrusion into our lives, Paranoia is never far from the surface.

In broad terms, consider how they apply to Dis and Misinformation. Whereas Misinformation is supposedly unintentional, Disinformation is intentional. Be this as it may, the general clusters apply to both simultaneously. Indeed, more often than not, it’s supremely difficult to distinguish between the two of them.

Consider the general outcomes of Dis and Misinformation. Both play major roles in the instigation and spread of Anger and Distrust, Disengaging from Public and Private Life, Divisiveness and Polarization, and especially the Promotion of Widespread Fear and Panic.

The Hoax Cluster works both ways. The first is saying that there is a Hoax when there is not. It’s thereby one of the major forms of Dis and Misinformation. The second is saying that there is not a Hoax when there definitively is. Indeed, it cannot be stressed enough that both forms apply equally to Dis and Misinformation. Either is capable of Causing Havoc and thus of promoting Widespread Anger, Fear, and Distrust.

More generally, the Hoax Cluster is not only capable of Raising False Hopes, but of Dashing Honest Ones; Creating Versus Ignoring Legitimate Crises and Threats; Creating Unrealistic Expectations Versus Suppressing Realistic Ones; Setting Parties Against One Another and in this regard Creating False Allies and Enemies, etc.

The Invulnerability Cluster applies equally as well. In this case, the claim is that one is Invulnerable when one is not. The exact opposite is the false claim that one is Vulnerable when one is in fact secure and well-protected from threats.

To reiterate, the Defect Cluster wrongly attributes Cause and Effects. Thus, not only does it confuse them, but it attributes the wrong things to each. In effect, it leads one down the wrong paths. It’s directly responsible for the commission of Type 3 Errors, Solving the Wrong Problems Precisely, thus diverting attention away from the most important problems.

The worst are Rampant Fear and Unconstrained Panic and Paranoia.

In no uncertain terms, the most serious case is the fallacious claim that mandates for vaccinations are entirely new and that President Biden is clearly to blame. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mandates for serious diseases go back as far as George Washington who ordered them for smallpox.

If only Dis and Misinformation could be easily corrected by Accurate and True Information. If only it were that easy. Unfortunately, it’s not the case, especially in a world where they’re not only easily distributed but constantly reinforced by the latest technologies such as so-called Social Media, more accurately labelled Anti-Social Media.

As best we know, the most effective way of countering fallacious beliefs is by means of close trusted friends who’ve not only been down the same false paths, but have the courage to admit that they were wrong. It’s as close to a truly heroic act that most of us ever get.

Arguments big and small, true and false, make the world go round. They are the foundations on which our lives are built. Challenging false arguments/claims has never been more important, and yet more arduous.

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