Brendan Hoban:…a vaccine is a personal, family and social responsibility.
Utter Gibberish is now Part of the Mainstream
Western People 4.5.2021
‘I saw it on Facebook’ joins ‘I won it on the horses’ and ‘The dog ate my homework’ as the most incredible statement anyone could possibly make – and expect to be believed. A close second is ‘I looked it up on Google’.
We used to be told not to believe everything you read in the papers and, as we grew up and learned a bit, most of us came to understand that the advice made great sense. The fact that something was in print might once have seemed to suggest that it was thereby conferred with a certain authority, or that it was true or even that it made sense. Ditto, if someone saw it on the internet.
As we grew up a bit and as media stretched to include the strange world of Twitter and other similar manifestations, we came to realise that what some regarded as an exciting democratic extension of a right to comment on anything under the sun was suddenly unmasked as (more often than not) self-centred gibberish, sometimes even dangerous gibberish.
I usually don’t watch Claire Byrne on RTÉ television on Monday nights but flicking channels I discovered her interviewing someone. I suspected (for a very short time) that it might be another of those immunologists now regularly wheeled out to comment on COVID matters now that we’re tiring of the repetition of Luke O’Neill and Sam McConkey. (Where did this outbreak of immunologists come from, I wonder – there’s now even a professor of immunology in Maynooth University!)
But I was wrong. The lady in question, after finding on the internet evidence for her conviction that COVID didn’t exist at all, was sharing her thoughts with the nation. With almost 5,000 dead, the physical and mental health of possibly thousands of others damaged significantly, thousands of jobs lost and the government forced to spend oceans of money we don’t have, apparently it was all a mistake because this lady saw it on the internet.
I thought to myself, what’s going on here? Was this the Callan man in drag who takes off people for a living? Was it some kind of set-up? Was Claire Byrne about to announce that April Fools’ Day had been officially relocated to the 26th?
But, no, it was actually happening and Claire Byrne was treating her guest with her customary, respectful questioning. It made me long for one of the old Cathal Mac Coille interviews on Morning Ireland where interviewees who made no sense were ruthlessly exposed for the limitations of their arguments.
What was this doing on national television? Was it fair to expose that lady to the nation? Wasn’t it unconscionable to give such blatant propaganda this kind of credibility?
But there was method in what appeared as a form of media madness. One argument is that conspiracy theorists shouldn’t be given a platform – especially not on national television – to convert gullible viewers to their point of view. The opposing view is to give them a platform so that the nonsense they propagate can be exposed for what it is.
Some are old enough to remember the hapless David Icke on television explaining to Terry Wogan that he was the son of God and that the world was run by reptiles. The audience laughed and Wogan pointed out to Icke, ‘They’re laughing at you, not with you!’
While the Claire Byrne item was handled delicately and was afterwards dissected respectfully, I’m not too sure that exposure followed by evisceration is a good policy. For whatever reason, possibly the rise of social media, an increasing number of people now seem ready to believe almost anything.
Once the credulous were mocked because, the reasoning was, they were uneducated or ignorant, and they didn’t know any better. Now those who might be expected to know better are proposing the most bizarre theories and beliefs. There probably were always daft doctors, daft priests, etc. but now it would seem that no matter how off-the-wall a view is there seems to be a ready following waiting to nod approvingly.
Religion, of course, is particularly susceptible to nonsense, especially holy nonsense. A recent example was someone who was told that there were bits of a towel that Jesus used that had become available and which had miraculous curative powers. You could almost hear the till opening and closing.
A more alarming example is the current effort to rubbish the medical and scientific experts charged with overseeing the protection of public health in the pandemic. Presenting NPHET or NIAC as having too much power and influence as if they were part of a vast conspiracy to lead us astray or giving legs to unconvincing reservations about the safety of vaccines may well lead to less of a take-up that may eventually endanger life. And the effort to make the government and NPHET seem unreasonable by refusing to submit to the particular vested interests of a retinue of groups from teachers to bishops does nothing to quell populist conspiracy theories that run counter to the public good.
Leaders in society are expected to lead and if they don’t, it leaves space for those who will point society in the wrong direction.
The latest dangerous wheeze is the effort to bad mouth vaccines, with spectacularly unqualified people offering opinions based on little more than what they read in the papers or what they saw on Google.
The blunt truth is that taking a vaccine is a personal, family and social responsibility. Taking the advice of a conspiracy theorist is nonsensical and may prove fatal.
This phenomenon, this mental virus, is deeply unsettling. It threatens us physically, but it also undermines the bases of our educational and religious systems.