A few weeks ago, an old coworker appeared on my personal Facebook page, raving about infertility and pleading with me to “research” because “this is NOT a vaccine!!!” She was worried about my son, whom I’d posted a picture of getting his first dose. After several comments worth of fruitless debate, I unfriended her. It wasn’t the first time we’d had an exchange like that, and I couldn’t take her unhinged ranting anymore.
This woman is not evil. She likes puppies and plants and a gentle summer breeze just as much as the next person. She ends her Facebook comments with an emoji heart or an “xo.” But this woman is utterly unable to process a piece of information to determine whether it makes sense or not. She’s unable to ask the kinds of critical questions that expose inconsistencies. She cannot tell the difference between real, peer-reviewed science and material she finds on the internet that’s made to look like science.
It scares me when I look out into the social media landscape and see so many other Americans just like her. Americans, by and large, do not know how to engage in deep critical thinking. And it’s scary.
I’m watching non-American friends fly to the United States to get their vaccines because we have so many left over and their own countries don’t have enough. It’s unbelievable to them that American citizens refuse the vaccine that the rest of the world wishes they had.
Some of those who don’t want the vaccine cite reasons I can empathize with — they’re not sure what’s in the vaccine, or they feel it was rushed. It worries them that the FDA has not given the vaccine full approval. But others, like the woman I unfriended, cite a worldwide conspiracy to implant chips in us or make us infertile. And they sincerely believe this.
Do they not know about the people coming from other countries to get the vaccine? Do they not know that other countries across the globe are angry with the U.S. for hoarding vaccines? Wouldn’t that make them question what they’ve been told? Or are they so encapsulated in their particular worldview bubble that they’re not seeing this information?
Even with the first set of concerns, about the vaccine feeling new and rushed, logic would predict two paths leading to vaccination: A person could either take the time to read the peer-reviewed scientific papers and studies that have been published regarding the vaccine and its risks, and compare those to the risks of getting COVID-19 and being left with a long-term health issue. They would see that, from a mathematical perspective, getting the vaccine has a far lower risk of harm. (Some say, “But we don’t know the long-term effects of the vaccine”; except, we DO know some of the long-term effects of COVID-19. They’re extremely unpleasant.)
Or, if they don’t have time to read the peer-reviewed scientific studies, or if that is not a subject in which they are able to understand at the level necessary to draw their own conclusion, they could base their decision on the consensus of the majority of experts — that the vaccine is a safer bet than COVID-19.
But it’s the second set of concerns that really scare me — the conspiracy theories. People have convinced themselves that our government deliberately created COVID-19 in a lab just so it could microchip us. This was all some big plan. Here’s where the critical thinking piece has totally jumped ship. In order to believe in a conspiracy of this magnitude, you have to first buy in to several other foundational beliefs:
You have to believe that, on a planet where world leaders can’t agree on how to address global warming or which religion is the right one, a massive community of government officials and scientists conspired harmoniously with one another for years in order to bring about this scenario.
You have to believe that, knowing the virus would be uncontainable, that it might kill their own friends and family members — that it might kill them — that scientists and government officials were still like “Yep, we’re all a go for launch! No problems here!”
You have to believe that despite those years of planning, somehow there is no paper or digital trail, no recorded phone calls, no physical evidence of planning whatsoever anywhere. You have to believe that every single co-conspirator kept the secret perfectly.
You have to believe that there was a point to all of this. I’ve asked, but so far no one has been able to elucidate what, exactly, they think the point is in releasing a virus that would have zero targeting capabilities and could kill at random — for a whole year — only to then introduce a vaccine that would either track people or make them infertile. To what ends? What would be the point in doing that? I’ve seen some claim the virus was created to make Trump look bad. I just … really? A worldwide virus that kills millions, to make one idiot with a bad tan who has at most eight years to be president … look bad? We didn’t need help with that. He was making himself look bad enough on his own.
If there is a New World Order trying to gain control of, like, everyone (??), how would it help to kill a bunch of them off and then “track” a whole bunch of others? (Are all vaccines microchipped, or just some?) What is the evil mastermind endgame here? Killing off the labor force makes no sense. Making them sick makes no sense. Making them infertile makes no sense. If you’re a greedy capitalist supervillain looking to take over the world, you need a labor force. Tracking people makes sense from the greedy capitalist supervillain perspective, but we’re already excelling at that with laser precision via our cell phones. We don’t need fucking microchips to track people.
And if people think vaccine developers and manufacturers (“Big Pharma”) are making astronomical profits from working on a “tracker” vaccine, why is the stock price on my Pfizer shares barely rising at all? Come on Pfizer, gimme a piece of that tracker money. I want to retire someday.
And if vaccines are being developed for a nefarious purpose, how do conspiracy theorists explain that dozens of pharmaceutical companies are separately racing to develop their own vaccines? (And some are not doing so great and are losing loads of money.) How do they explain the unprecedented sharing of information across the worldwide scientific community? Anyone can find this info. It’s available for anyone to see. There’s no cloak and dagger routine happening here.
So many Americans have been swept up in this strange parallel reality where up is down and down is up and experts are out to get us and conspiracies are everywhere. In this parallel reality, the messages that are blasted on repeat are that institutions of higher education and those who attend them are not to be trusted. I’ve heard people use the phrase “college-educated” as an insult, with the same tone in which you’d call someone an idiot. They believe education is an indoctrination into liberalism (the horror!). They seem not to want to question whether it could be that the more you learn, the more progressive your views become.
In this alternate reality, science and scientists are viewed with suspicion. “Science has been wrong before!”, I’ve heard people say, or “Science doesn’t know everything!” Of course, these people don’t want to hear that scientists are largely willing to admit when they’re wrong. That in science, experimental results must be replicable. It’s literally the whole point of the scientific method. Do these people not know this? Or are they so brainwashed they don’t care?
Of course, there are bad actors in any large group, in any organization, in any industry. But an intricate worldwide plot to create a deadly virus and then wait a year to produce a tracker vaccine? Is this really where we’re at, America? I don’t know where we go from here. How do you even begin to have a conversation with people who have been conditioned to believe that education is brainwashing and the experts we would normally trust to advise us are “in on it”? Where do we go from here? Because America, you’re fucking scaring me.