Our collective understanding of reality within these United States has always been in jeopardy as we remain exceptionally diligent in exercising our perceived freedom to believe whatever insane notions we choose to. Conspiracy theories are one of the many social contributions into this malignant puddle of irrational thinking we all feel entitled to have. This toxic practice of group think has been shown to manifest through social movements like antivaxxers, flat earthers, climate change deniers, birthers, and so on. Groups like these will continue to exist as long as they are afforded a platform. Tolerance, is just another word for enabling those who believe in and perpetuate harmful ideologies, making us weaker and more susceptible to future social ills.
Protests at state capitals in response to coronavirus restrictions have facilitated an increase in activity among multiple fringe groups by providing a platform to promote each of their unique and specialized brands of nonsense onto a larger audience. Anti-lockdown protests in Sacramento were organized by an antivaccination group, seizing an opportunity to gain national attention and peddle their misinformation to the public. The same is true regarding protests in other states where we have seen the convergence of different fringe groups united in governmental opposition, such as militias and those believing covid-19 is a hoax. What allows for this overlap in groups engaging in such protests is their shared underlying susceptibility to conspiracy theories, which continues to erode trust and confidence in our institutions.
An article published in The Atlantic reported 31%, out of 2,023 Americans surveyed, believed the coronavirus was intentionally manufactured and disseminated on purpose. It was also reported that 30% believed the alleged dangers of vaccines had been covered up. While these findings are anecdotal in nature due to the small sample size of this survey, this speaks to a larger ideological pandemic which has been brewing in America for some time.
We are seeing a measurable level of social change resulting from the influence of such fringe groups, most likely due to their increased ability to promote their agendas through social media and other web-based platforms. The impact of the anti-vax movement provides a great example. A 2019 Gallup survey, reported that 84% of Americans believed that it is extremely important that parents vaccinate their children. While this number is relatively high, it is lower than the previous 94% reported in 2001. Those surveyed who believed vaccinations caused autism had increased to 10% from 4% over this same time frame.
Since President Trump’s election there has been an increase among those who choose to entertain such conspiracies, weakening our institutional foundations and basic principles rooted in evidence and reality. New and old language has emerged aimed at confusing reality with delusion, “alternative facts”, “witch hunt”, “hoax”, and so on. Trump and his administration along with certain media outlets have actively encouraged a number of conspiracy theories (too many to name but you can find a list here). Trump continues to peddle lies, propaganda, and misinformation, further muddying the waters of our objective reality, destabilizing us as a country, and most recently attacking our medical and scientific communities.
As we begin to claw our way out of this recent pandemic, we find ourselves in a vulnerable position as a nation. The barrage of misinformation which has been streamlined into our living rooms and cellphones since March, coupled with the continued display of incompetence from the president and his administration, has lowered our collective cognitive immunity as we search for a way back to normalcy. As we reemerge, we must remain vigilant in our resistance to reject such cognitive pathogens that aim to exploit our fears and confusion. Now is the time to reject all attempts to dilute facts, science, and reality. Now is the time to build a stronger and more efficient collective conscious. Now is the time to remove any platform that enables conspiracy theorists and reclaim a more objective, functional, and intelligent reality.