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Who controls the Covid-19 narrative? People with no expertise are deciding what can be said about the pandemic

The idea that the virus leaked from a bio-lab isn't mere 'conspiracy theory'. Credit: Kevin Frayer/Getty

The idea that the virus leaked from a bio-lab isn't mere 'conspiracy theory'. Credit: Kevin Frayer/Getty


May 8, 2020   5 mins

We have heard a lot in recent years about ‘fake news’. A concept that is not only ill-defined but was weaponised from the outset so that it has come to mean little more than: ‘News I do not like or agree with.’

Yet, if we agree that there is at least one particular societal health-hazard included in the definition (that is, news which is wholly or partially fraudulent), then we ought also to recognise that the concept has a number of counterparts that are equally capable of demeaning the public discourse. Foremost among these is something that does not even have a name. But if it did, it might be ‘fake gatekeeping’. Although ‘erroneous gatekeeping’ might be more accurate.

I am thinking of those people who present themselves as referees of the era: keepers of the narrative. People who weigh up stories and events and pronounce not just what is right and wrong, but what is discussable and what is not — who allow themselves to declare what is and is not off limits.

The media plays a significant role in such activities, as do politicians. But so too do other actors, including university departments and think-tanks. And the problem with assuming the role of arbiter is that you must have 100% accuracy in your choice of targets. When you draw a line, it should be absolutely correct.

Otherwise there is an obvious danger. If you declare something to be untrue which turns out to be true, or if you claim something to be a ‘conspiracy theory’ when it should in fact simply be deemed ‘a theory’, then you don’t only diminish your own standing. If what you have labelled a conspiracy theory turns out to be true — or even within the realms of the possible — then it diminishes the ability of wider society to determine what is true and false. It casts doubt on the standing of other conspiracy-theories. And it tarnishes the concept of truth.

During the early weeks of the Corona virus pandemic, there was a fair amount of this erroneous narrative-gatekeeping. Outside of a relatively narrow group of experts, few public figures or institutions were warning people about the likelihood of the events that we are all now living through. And many of those who were focused on other problems — especially those individuals and institutions that seek relevance in order to secure funding – have had to do a sharp pivot.

Some are aware that they cannot become virologists in ultra-quick time, or have their views on pandemics suddenly listened to. But they can continue to attempt to decide where the parameters of reasonable discussion ought to sit. And it is here that a further erosion in trust between the public and self-identified experts is at risk of occurring.

A report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in London presents a fine example of what can happen when people pivot onto something they do not know about. The ISD has done work in recent years in what has become known as ‘the online space’, especially the issue of online extremism. When the Coronavirus came along, the ISD chose, like similar organisations, to try to keep relevant. In the ISD’s case this included publishing an online paper on alleged Covid-19 disinformation. It explained that this was part of a series of briefings from ISD’s Digital Research Unit which aimed to:

“
expose how technology platforms are being used to promote disinformation, hate, extremism and authoritarianism in the context of COVID-19. It is based on ISD’s mixture of natural language processing, network analysis and ethnographic online research. This briefing focuses on the way far-right groups and individuals are mobilising around COVID-19 in the US. The first briefing in the series can be found on ISD’s website.’

Given that extremists of all kinds, from the far-Left and far-Right to religious extremists are likely to try to use this moment and its aftermath to further their own political and religious ends, it seems worth trying to identify the games that they are playing. The better to warn people away from such bad actors and purveyors of disinformation.

The reason why the public may be especially susceptible right now is in part because in the wake of a relatively little thought about challenge, we don’t yet have the societal muscles to deal with it. We need to work our way through this exceptionally carefully.

Unfortunately, on this occasion, the would-be gatekeepers have not developed the requisite muscles either. The ISD briefing says that a far-Right online community has “mobilised” to “advance a range of
 conspiracy theories relating to COVID-19”. As well as anti-Semitic tropes, the ISD lists as other ‘conspiracy theories’: the idea that this is a deep-state plot; the idea that it is a cover for celebrity arrests; and that the virus was developed in a Chinese laboratory. It should not be hard to spot which of these conspiracies listed is the odd-one out. Of the last, ‘bioweapon’ conspiracy the ISD says:

‘This theory is part of a wider right-wing conspiracy which some QAnon supporters have adopted. It claims that COVID-19 didn’t emerge from a food market in Wuhan but was rather engineered in a nearby laboratory and then released, either deliberately or accidentally. The main piece of evidence to support this claim is that China’s only Biosafety Level 4 lab (the maximum safety level used to deal with highly dangerous pathogens) is also located in Wuhan, and conservative media has repeatedly highlighted the connection,  despite experts saying that there is absolutely no scientific evidence that the genome is man-made.’

Here is the problem. The ISD’s analysis attempts to put the idea that the virus originated in the Wuhan laboratory into the basket of ‘conspiracy theories’. But only weeks after the publication of the ISD’s paper a report put together by concerned Western governments keeps the possibility that the virus leaked from the laboratory in Wuhan on the table. At a time when the 5-Eyes intelligence network continues to investigate and take seriously the possibility that the virus leaked from the laboratory (whether deliberately or otherwise) why should this idea be deemed a ‘conspiracy theory’?

Of course, the ISD’s paper is not alone in trying to make this claim. But it is symptomatic of a problem which we must weigh up alongside the problem of fake-news. That is, the problem of faked authority. In particular, the problem that arises when non-experts decide what is and what is not permissible to say. Of course, it is their right to do so. But to allow it without challenge is to ignore the wider societal damage that is done when such inexact pronouncements are made. When the term ‘conspiracy theory’ is watered-down or made redundant as a term by being used of things that may be true, then we’re in trouble. It shuts down interrogation.

People who have been told that something is a ‘conspiracy theory’ only to learn that major western governments are looking into the exact same thing, might be forgiven for being more sceptical in future about the way in which ‘conspiracy theory’ is used as a gatekeeping term. In future, they may be far more sceptical of the term whenever it is used. At the far end of this some people may even decide that other ‘conspiracy theories’ are in fact true or at least plausible.

We all know the damage that can be done by the dissemination of false facts. But we should begin to consider whether equal damage is not done by those who try to stop people from considering questions that not only can be looked into, but must be.


Douglas Murray is an author and journalist.

DouglasKMurray

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Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
4 years ago

Douglas Murray is right. Fake authority is a bigger problem than fake news. On April 2, the Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu was asked a question at the federal government’s daily COVID-19 briefing on whether infections and fatalities were underreported by the PRC. She chastised the reporter, saying: “There’s no indication that the data that came out of China in terms of their infection rate and their death rate was falsified any way. Your question is feeding into conspiracy theories that many people have been perpetuating on the internet and it’s important to remember that there is no way to beat a global pandemic if we’re not willing to work together as a globe.” Just over two weeks later, on April 17, the Chinese city of Wuhan raised their death toll by 50%, adding 1,290 fatalities. Peking Patty was unrepentant, refusing to take back her baseless slur that the reporter had been indulging in conspiracy theories when prompted at another press conference to do so. By the way, Hajdu is a graphic designer by training, not an epidemiologist or even a medical doctor, so she is a perfect example of fake authority, someone playing the part of an expert even though she obviously isn’t one.

David Bell
David Bell
4 years ago

The idea that an expert knows best and must go unquestioned is a major issue in many fields, especially in the field of health. We have a child who was born with rare liver condition. This condition also causes certain other conditions that need to be monitored and treated appropriately. Is is scary the number of health professionals who have never come across (and sometimes never heard) of his rare condition yet refuse to listen to me (and in 3 years I have learned a lot about livers and his condition), refuse to speak to his liver team and refuse to investigate further yet demand their opinions and theories must be taken as fact and must be accepted without question even if the treatment has been expressly ruled out by the liver team!

We have “tyranny by expert” and we need to break it!

James Hayton
James Hayton
4 years ago

A prescient piece, a full month before Maitlis and Newsnight went one worse with the diatribe against the PM and Cummings. Sadly, I doubt that BBC news and current affairs journalists will change their approach. There simply is no incentive for them to do so and no sanction if they do not. When things like this happen, a light slap is administered on the wrist – they being ‘reminded of the need to be impartial’ – and they are left free to continue as they were. In many other walks of life, such a significant error of judgement would lead to disciplinary action, the sack or – as in politics – being hounded from one’s job by the media. Funnily enough, that is not happening to Maitlis. Will she not be giving a speech in the Blue Peter Garden to explain why she did what she did?

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
4 years ago

We need to be far more pragmatic when discussing globalism and internationalism, and not allow debate to be shutdown because of wrong-headed, misplaced cries of xenophobia. China has effectively disguised itself as a modern capitalist country, when the truth is, it is a technologically advanced, authoritarian communist state that tries to silence the voices of its people and uses draconian punishments to squash dissent. That’s before we get started on the consumption of rare wildlife species as a conspicuous display of wealth, or due to some ancient medicinal hocus-pocus. Time we started calling a spade a spade, we might get more done in the world.

Howard Bigham
Howard Bigham
4 years ago

Well done Douglas Murray. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and has been doing just what you describe. Thank you for putting in cogent words what I have been mulling in mind.

Gary Miles
Gary Miles
4 years ago

Good article and probably correct, if a little light on evidence. More concerning to me is the MSM’s inability to judge what the public want. There is a gaping hole in the market for a TV station that, while not emulating Fox News, is broadly supportive of our government and our country’s efforts against the virus, sticks to facts and not biased individual’s feelings. I can hope can’t I?

Jean Noir
Jean Noir
4 years ago
Reply to  Gary Miles

It’d be very well supported, probably make good money

krista4h
krista4h
4 years ago
Reply to  Gary Miles

Sky News Australia is rapidly becoming that station down under with more honest, less woke content and of course being roundly abused for doing so by the ABC. Maybe Sky News here will be able to fill that gap soon?

Andrew Lale
Andrew Lale
4 years ago
Reply to  krista4h

Never. Sky News in the UK is more woke and untrustworthy than the BBC, and that’s saying something. Somehow, the woke establishment got Fox News thrown off the satellite news offering on Sky, so we no longer get that here.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
4 years ago

Douglas Murray is right. Fake authority is a bigger problem than fake news. On April 2, the Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu was asked a question at the federal government’s daily COVID-19 briefing on whether infections and fatalities were underreported by the PRC. She chastised the reporter, saying: “There’s no indication that the data that came out of China in terms of their infection rate and their death rate was falsified any way. Your question is feeding into conspiracy theories that many people have been perpetuating on the internet and it’s important to remember that there is no way to beat a global pandemic if we’re not willing to work together as a globe.” Just over two weeks later, on April 17, the Chinese city of Wuhan raised their death toll by 50%, adding 1,290 fatalities. Peking Patty was unrepentant, refusing to take back her baseless slur that the reporter had been indulging in conspiracy theories when prompted at another press conference to do so. By the way, Hajdu is a graphic designer by training, not an epidemiologist or even a medical doctor, so she is a perfect example of fake authority, someone playing the part of an expert even though she obviously isn’t one.

joanneattheswallows
joanneattheswallows
4 years ago

Thank you for putting into words the uneasy feeling I had from the moment the “fake news” concept was introduced to the media and society. The reaction to information from anywhere is to judge its veracity. That has always been so. My daughter was taught to learn about historical events by forming her own views on the likely truth of each source of information, looking at the writers known views, associates and other known or likely biases.
To set oneself up as an authority in fake news is to seek to bypass this sensible and pragmatic approach and to have us engage in unhelpful groupthink according to the authorities biases.

Andrew Lale
Andrew Lale
4 years ago

‘My daughter was taught to learn about historical events by forming her own views on the likely truth of each source of information, looking at the writers known views, associates and other known or likely biases.’ That’s the Marxian analysis. Very much against our traditional understanding of how to determine veracity by the way. Does a statement stop being true if it’s uttered by a bourgeois scumbag as opposed to a proletarian saint? No.

David Morley
David Morley
4 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Lale

Does a statement stop being true if it’s uttered by a bourgeois scumbag as opposed to a proletarian saint?

But if said “bourgeois scumbag” claims something that is very much in their interests, if they have a history of bending the truth or outright lying, if it sounds implausible, if it’s only consistency with what they’ve said before is that it suits their self interest, ideology or political persuasion, if they are, as you say, a scumbag – then it does give us good reason to be suspicious of what they say.

It’s not a refutation of what they say, but it is good reason to be cautious. And lacking any way of determining whether what they say is true or false, we are probably better off assuming it is false.

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
4 years ago

Even the “absolutely no evidence” rebuttal is wrong. The virus bears on its surface a fissure which is consistent with, although by no means proof of, it having been used in lab experiments. The question remains open.

Andrew Lale
Andrew Lale
4 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Nash

Interesting. I had not heard about that. Have you got a reference source?

j.lee
j.lee
4 years ago

Perhaps the status of a theory is not set in stone, but depends on the circumstances. It might be reasonable to say that a theory is a “conspiracy theory”, in the pejorative sense, if there is no evidence in favour of it. At some point, evidence may emerge, in which case the theory may become more respectable. We can’t say that a theory is a conspiracy theory only if it proposes something absurd or impossible (even though many of them do). In principle, there’s nothing wrong with having a conspiracy conjecture, or hypothesis, in advance of any evidence, except that people are likely to jump on it and inflate it into a conspiracy theory, usually for political reasons. And this will make its becoming a respectable theory (perhaps even of a conspiracy) much more difficult.

Andrew Lale
Andrew Lale
4 years ago
Reply to  j.lee

Some good points. With the advent and huge growth of social media, gatekeeping behaviour has become very important to a crucial set of people. Using pejoratives like ‘conspiracy theory’ to attempt to undermine a conjecture is very common. So the left in the US and the UK call the conspiracy to destroy the presidential campaign, and then presidential government of President Trump a ‘conspiracy theory’, despite large amounts of good evidence that such a conspiracy existed. Some participants even went so far as to brag about the conspiracy and insist on its necessity. My prediction is that the contest for the right of adjudication of ‘the truth’ and ‘the facts’ is only going to become more intense and extreme.

David Morley
David Morley
4 years ago
Reply to  j.lee

I think there are other things that set conspiracy theories apart.

They tend to involve large numbers of people working together in implausible ways completely out of public view. Often they are very unlikely co conspirators.

They usually involve some variant of the “the fact we haven’t heard of it just shows how clever they are” argument – so that lack of evidence is presented as further evidence.

They usually also imply a level of intelligence, forward planning and coordination which there is little evidence human beings are capable of. All without any leaks or c**k ups giving the game away.

The idea that the Chinese government might try and cover up something at the Wuhan lab scarcely qualifies. It may be true, it may be not. But it’s entirely plausible.

Julia McMaster
Julia McMaster
4 years ago

I fully agree. There are too many “experts” telling us all what to believe and who apparently is a charlatan. It has become very difficult to determine truth when every thought outside the “politically correct” box is considered “conspiracy theory” or even censored.

Mike Gelbman
Mike Gelbman
4 years ago

good article

Paul T
Paul T
4 years ago

I love that term of Douglas’s, “fake authority”. It sums up perfectly 99.99% of the media, including many presenters on LBC and TalkRadio who perhaps think of themselves as being a cut above the always horrific BBC. But even those on the supposed Right have proved to be just as fantastic at churning out grotesque, speculative, non-stop, 24hr garbage as our own government and its rotten advisors. There is no one I trust left in Britain who speaks for any institution. I only dream about their metaphorical destruction and replacement with a Britain First and Last movement.

michael harris
michael harris
4 years ago

The trouble with finding out whether the virus did or didn’t come from the virology lab in Wuhan (there are 2 of them and the specialist virus lab is quite close to the market) is that we will most likely never know for sure. And we’ll be left where we are now; with ‘conspiracy’ theories.
I do have one question about this which I have not yet seen asked.
On the assumption (perhaps wrong) that the wet market has been in place for a long time in Wuhan, why was it decided to put the virus research lab so close to it? Could it have been a precaution in case of accidents at the lab? The market could serve as a scapegoat (scapebat).

jbunce01
jbunce01
4 years ago
Reply to  michael harris

There is also the issue of ‘The editorial line, do or die!”

The BBC has for a long time been held up as the gold standard of impartiality, but it has become increasingly obvious over the last few years and particularly during this crisis that rather than seeing itself as an impartial observer, it now takes a particular stance on an issue, selects the evidence that fits and hammers it to death, reporting only those facts and reporters opinions which support the editorial line.

This results in aggressive, repetitive and unenlightening interviews with government representatives, which in turn reduce the government’s willingness to submit to interviews and ultimately lead to the ridiculous spectacle of prime time news anchors interviewing “Correspondents” standing in the street outside a government department repeating hearsay, opinion and gossip because, understandably, no-one who actually knows what they are talking about will submit to an interview.

Nobody knows all the facts. Nobody. Governments will make mistakes and feel awful about them because they have real consequences but to constantly focus on them to the exclusion of the bigger picture serves no-one. The obvious recent example in the UK is the news outlets’ reaction to the recent change from the “Stay home” slogan. Do the media really think that the public are so monumentally stupid that this will lead to uncontrollable virus spread? Rather than treating the public as idiots and the government as criminal conspirators, news outlets need to get back to gathering news more widely, reporting it objectively and treating their audiences as adults.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago

BBC is plummeting by the hour,Viewing figures, the mainstream Media is Out of Kilter and plain wrong, not just labelling anything it doesn’t like As ”Populist” but Last four European elections , totally ignored Anti-Eu sentiment ,2004,2009,2014,2019 Now with the Mayhem and ignorance over the history of ”Slavery” blm A Marxist agitprop feted by vulture Capitalists and Globalists,who’s time is past,especially if Trump confounds CNN, ABC,CBS, pollsters again…The truth is there is no Charismatic leader/s Anywhere; only occassional Lights in the Abyss…..

Jean Noir
Jean Noir
4 years ago

Would the mods at Unherd mind taking me off the suspect list? If I have to wait a day to see my posts, the conversation has kind of moved on. I wouldn’t be reading it if I weren’t broadly supportive of the editorial line :o/

W. P.
W. P.
4 years ago

Too many organisations act on the belief truth is whatever serves their purpose. Stifling unhelpful facts is not a failing but rather a beneficial act in pursuit of a higher cause.

Jerry VP
Jerry VP
4 years ago

The term ‘fake news’ seems destined-at-birth to suck intelligence out of the room, when more precise and evidence-oriented and potentially determinative language is often easily available–as with “That is a misrepresentation of an abridged quote, and here, I can direct you to the full five minutes (or five pages) of context in which that mis-quote and mis-representation [presumably] deserves to be corrected”. As for ‘conspiracy theory’, my sense is that it cannot be saved at this point, other than as one of a collection of terms which convey a directive to “shut up”. (Perhaps for ‘conspiracy theory’ as well, there can be some remedy and better instruction in more precise language around presumed unreliability-of-evidence and unreliability-of-inference.) … One truism in which reference to ‘conspiracy theory’ finds merit seems to be this: “The wildest conspiracy theorists are seldom right about the true story, but they are often right about the official story being untrue”. … In terms of people presently being told-in-effect to shut up when they actually have valid objections, well, I agree with this article certainly.

stuuey
stuuey
4 years ago

Thanks for the very eloquent summary of this big problem…
It’s usually happening by omission. The best example is when comments which disagree with the article are removed….
Or when news is censored so that only half the story becomes the ‘main stream’ for example facebook and even Google.

naomimoan
naomimoan
4 years ago

Thank you for so eloquently describing this growing issue which is most certainly causing great confusion and aggression among not just people but friends and families. I’ve just decided to deactivate Facebook as a protest to my “friends” against the growing unkindness and quick fire labelling of any questions as “conspiracy theory”. I applaud your ability to articulate the issue so well.

Andrew Lale
Andrew Lale
4 years ago

Also, the ISD flim-flam deliberately conflates two separate arguments: whether the virus was ‘bio-engineered’; and whether it came from the Wuhan Virology Lab. Every scientific article I’ve seen relating to Covid-19 which discusses the issue confirms that it is not a bio-engineered virus, but a naturally occurring one. Does this preclude the possibility that it came from the Wuhan Virology Lab? Of course not.

Andrew Lale
Andrew Lale
4 years ago

By the way, I’ve just read the Comment Policy here, and it’s more strict than the average Catholic Girls school. I suspect I won’t comment here again.

Bill Bolwell
Bill Bolwell
4 years ago

I follow the alternative media and the mainstream. I try to work out the truth. There are such things as the “flat earth” theories which are rubbish and although some believe it, or are shills (pretenders who often offer 80% truth 20% false).Most blame the Zionists, some blame Talmudic Jews, some blame the Chinese, some hate Muslims. Personally I say there are good and bad in every religion or race, that those religion, and of course race, are environmental mainly, if you are born in a country that is a particular religion,say, you will tend to adopt that religion. They say that after John Kennedy (JFK) was assassinated, the FBI/CIA decided anyone who had a theory about a conspiracy the murder be called a “conspiracy theorist”, to make them look stupid and paranoid. It has stuck. Now used to believe we went to the moon, but if you study NASA, you will find the Van Allen radiation belt makes impossible for living people to get to the moon or now mars. You see we are being lied to and brainwashed. Now, this SARS2 is part of the same, another psyop, Like in 9/11 where the TWC buildings collapsed, not by planes that were fake images, but by bombs, the virus is real but the statistics are rigged. Some say the virus came from a Chinese laboratory, that too may be a psyop. If it is true the full story would be , if true, it originally came from the USA.

Not a NPC
Not a NPC
4 years ago

What like the conspiracy theory about the deep ties between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Anthony Fauci, (who after HHS halted and banned the gain of function research at the University of North Carolina with Corona virus, gave the Wuhan Lab $3.7 million of taxpayer money to continue the research there),
Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London, the World Health Organization (WHO), Sanofi Pasteur (vaccines) and George Soros.

Opps sorry that is factual and not a conspiracy theory. My bad

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
3 years ago
Reply to  Not a NPC

You are 100% correct sir.

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
4 years ago

Even a ten minute rudimentary search will expose who are telling the lies, and who is telling the truth, and unfortunately there isn’t one single thing (anywhere) that suggests the government and media are telling us the truth over Covid-19. In fact, as soon as you follow the money trail, it all becomes crystal clear. We have seen the biggest crime in history, catastrophically wreck the worlds economy, and all committed by a few psychopathic “big Pharma” millionaires with no conscience and no compassion for the plight of their fellow man. Truly evil.

Andrew Lale
Andrew Lale
4 years ago
Reply to  Russ Littler

What are you ‘searching’ to come to that ludicrous conclusion?

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Lale

I will start your education for you. Research something called “Event 201” and when you’ve digested the implications of that, then I will supply you with all the names of all the players, and of course,….the money trail. Do please wake up.

jetpac76
jetpac76
3 years ago
Reply to  Russ Littler

Hi Russ. I also find it difficult (or should I say impossible) to believe the government and media narrative, but if as you say just a few individuals who head the tech/pharma industries are responsible for wrecking the global economy, what will they stand to gain over and above their capitalist peers?

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
3 years ago
Reply to  jetpac76

Many will find this hard to digest, but this plandemic is the final last chance for the globalists (the UN and World Bank) to achieve two things. (A) to remove Trump from office), and (B) to bring in the New World Order. It was meant to be completed by 2030, but they were forced to bring everything forward when Trump was unexpectedly elected in 2016. He has been undoing the machinery they put in place to destroy the nation states,and he also has the full intel on who the perpetrators were. Indictments for some extremely high profile people are coming this year, and they fully understand this. We have been at war for the last four years, (globalists v patriots) and the majority of the population are completely, and blissfully unaware of what was about to transpire. It will come as a shock to the majority of people, that the world they thought they understood was not what they imagined. We are now getting a little taster (citizen lock-down) of what they intended to do. Everyone thinks Trump is a clown, but in reality, he was “asked” to stand for presidency, to combat this “unseen foe” (and I don’t mean the virus. Watch and wait.

Michael Baldwin
Michael Baldwin
4 years ago

The whole idea of “fake news” is completely without any rational basis, because well known psychological experiments show that you can take any number of people, and show them the same real life event – even on a video – and then ask them to report it, and you get as many different “news stories” as there are people telling them.

So in practice, all it means is those who accuse others of “fake news” are simply trying to impose their view of reality (whether honest or not) upon everybody else.

Which of course is once again, dictatorship.

The only honest truth for example about covid-19 is, we don’t actually know what the truth is, not one of us.

It is not only those at Westminster, but each of us lives in a tiny bubble of personal awareness and experience, which is largely (and especially currently) limited to what our physical senses tell us in the confinement of a small physical area, such as a room or office, and even those who stand on top of a mountain still have a very limited horizon – for a 6ft man the horizon is only ever a few miles away, or for an insect it is mere inches.

And usually it is not more than a number of feet, unless we live out in the country, and even then, all we are likely to be aware of is what the trees, flowers, and possibly cows and sheep are up to in our still tiny vicinity.

So we rely on “the media” for almost all our knowledge of the wider world, and the limited amount of “second hand” information we can pick up from our personal contacts, along the “grapevine”, bearing in mind of course we may be hearing messages of the “send three and fourpence for some stamps” variety, when the original message sent was “send reinforcements, we are going to advance.”

The presumption of course, by all those who accuse “fake news”, is that there is this large group of people, called “the masses”, “the general public” who have to be told “the authorised truth”, which means this same group of people cannot be trusted to know what is true and what is not, to use their own “commonsense”, “discernment”, “judgement”, “intelligence”, etc.

So therefore all “alternative views” have to be eliminated, in order to make sure “the mob”, “the people” do not get “the wrong ideas.”

And there’s an argument that in modern times at least, all this leads directly back to Hitler.

Because, basically, what Hitler Germany proved (so this theory goes) is that anybody who can control the minds of the masses, the mob, which clearly this same history suggests is not that difficult to do, as long as you are the only person who has “the trumpet”, “the microphone”, can if they like commit genocide – and here is the really interesting part on whomever they choose.

Yesterday it was Jews, but today or tomorrow it could just as well be Muslims, or Catholics or Protestants, or as unlikely as it may currently seem, even atheists.

So it doesn’t actually take much thought to realise, it’s not the elimination of “alternative views” that prevents a Hitler, as the “fake news” concept promoters and free speech deniers claim, but rather it’s the elimination of alternative views that leads directly to Hitlers.

The real disease, is we have this growing in numbers of influential and powerful people who live by the mantra: we are/I am always right, never wrong.

And likewise, they inflict on their enemies, those who politically disagree with them (you are) always wrong, never right.

Which of course also results in this endless finger pointing exercise, which is always at somebody else; always somebody else to blame, never them, always somebody else responsible for the mess, never them, and that is the common philosophy of nearly all the main political parties and politicians.

It was a lot of years ago when I heard one politician it seemed almost proudly quoting advice they were given by an older already long established one, as if they were learning the great secret of power: never apologize, never explain.

Which as we can see, seems to be very much the current policy regarding the lockdown.

If as in the Emperor’s New Clothes story, almost everybody can see the king is naked (but dare not say so, for fear of losing their position “at court”), as it become blindingly obvious this lockdown was a huge mistake, we are almost certain now that those in power will never admit their error, and the only “explanation” if ever given, will be by finding a “scapegoat.”

In fact, as illegitimate and fundamentally evasive of governmental responsibility as it was, the scapegoat has already been prearranged, by the government having from the outset emphasized it was “just following scientific advice.”

But when science is not itself a unified or proven reliable body, as neither are academics in general, such as economists who routinely fail to predict recessions (I mean, some are predicting them all the time, so that’s no more than buying a lottery ticket that wins at least occasionally), it is no excuse for government abdicating its responsibility.

Government requires wisdom, which means that while the leader cannot know everything himself, he has to somehow have an ability to know if others are able to demonstrate they know what they are talking about.

If he isn’t sure, he had better not change things, unless he is convinced there are beyond reasonable doubt arguments and evidence to do so.

I think the ultimate answer to our dilemmas comes from yet another Douglas, Douglas Adams.

Who in his satirical parody “Hitchhiker’s Guide”, divided humanity up into the groups – the Thinkers, the Doers, and the “Middle Men” (governors/administrators) who had been sent off into space on a ship known as “the B-Ark” with the orders something like “don’t call us, we’ll call you” as to the possibility of their return.

Their first “wise acts”, when they crash landed on what they had not realised was prehistoric Earth, were to adopt the leaf as the unit of currency, and declare war on the next continent, even though they did not know if anybody was actually there, or if they were, whether they were hostile or not.

The problem with our society and world is it is “the B-Ark” people currently running it, not the thinkers who wrestle with the deeper questions of morality, justice and philosophy, or the doers who actually make the things the world needs like roads and houses and factories, but are likely not suitable to govern nations either.

Persons therefore running our society, who despite whatever public school they may or may not have been to, are not necessarily very far above the mentality of rowdy market traders (hence the conduct of the House of Commons) or bullying fish wives, who may well be very au fait with the price of cod, but not well equipped to determine the existence of God or the contrary.

And definitely not well equipped to run modern, very complex, very diverse nations.

Such horrendously difficult and responsibly jobs are for geniuses, not idiots, not for people who think that being able to make out a shopping list adequately means you are qualified to run a national or international economy safely and profitably.

The shutting down of freedom of speech and thereby “unwanted truth” is the reason and mechanism of those of the lower mentality, who wish to shut out those of the higher mentality.

Sadly, if their plans succeed in shutting out the wise higher minded voices completely – the Lord Sumptions of the world and so on – the dictatorship they are rapidly forming, and is about 90% there now, will eventually be overthrown by the masses they seek to dominate, like a dangerous dog that a foolish person buys, believing they can control it, but eventually turns upon and savages them.

Because though the masses may be in pure objective intellectual or academic terms, somewhat stupid, they will not in the long term allow themselves to be led by the stupid, as their stupid decisions lead sooner or later to absolute chaos.

The kind of chaos that leads to these unwise in power saying “let them eat cake” when the people have no bread; and storming of palaces and parliaments then occurs, no matter how high and well protected the gates and barriers.

As a student of history, Boris Johnson knows this well, and let us hope that his knowledge of history is enough to persuade him not to abuse the masses beyond their endurance, and he’s getting pretty close to that line now with this lockdown.

Just because 70% may still support these measures, the 30% who don’t, and the 5% who very, very don’t, as we’ve seen with the armed protesters in America, are the ones who start revolutions, not poor frightened old people being treated like children, forced to stand on lines 2 metres apart in long tiring food queues, in a desperate effort not to die of starvation amongst this madness.

Andrew Lale
Andrew Lale
4 years ago

A man obviously not acquainted with the ‘nutshell’ concept of commenting.