Our most dangerous enemy

I have inveighed against the dangers of conspiracy theories from the beginning of my (thus far) three and a half year tenure writing for Palmer Report. Never did I imagine when I first began how bad those dangers could get.

We have since been held in the implacable grip of a lethal pandemic that has taken more than eight hundred thousand American lives. I don’t know how many of those dead Americans owe their deaths to the conspiracy theories that emboldened others to avoid masks, avoid social distancing, avoid hand washing and refuse the Covid vaccines when they came along, but I have no doubt the number is large. Possibly most of them.

That such reckless narratives could be supported, encouraged and sometimes even started by the president of the United States is surreal beyond my imagination. In his laziness and arrogance Donald Trump chose to make the pandemic political and, like virtually everything, all about him.

It required no imagination whatsoever to realize that the pandemic might have actually saved his presidency, and Trump was just the man with just the right absence of imagination to see that it never happened. It is the great paradox of narcissism that it’s often its own worst enemy. The pandemic was Trump’s one big chance. He could have used it as an excuse to unite the country and instead he chose to divide it.

It is also a testament to the toxicity of conspiracy theories. Their carriers are frequently destroyed by them. Conspiracy theories can be as deadly to the infected as anyone with Covid and as dangerous as the hot zone in any Level-4 biosafety lab. Just ask Alex Jones, Roger Stone or Steve Bannon, to name three people whose lives have been virtually destroyed by their embracing conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories take no prisoners and anyone can fall prey to their all-devouring calamities.

Just ask the 727 people who have been charged in the Capitol insurrection thus far. I have no doubt that they believed that the election was stolen. They came to that conclusion through the same apparatus many human beings come by their most cherished but false beliefs, through the sad mechanisms of wishful thinking, naïveté and lack of evidence, an essential breeding ground for all conspiracy theories.

Indeed the whole Republican Party has become a conspiracy theory factory. There is no topic too small or too silly or too obtuse for them to fashion a conspiracy theory out of it, from Dr. Seuss to Mr. Potato Head to birtherism to QAnon to Pizzagate and Jewish space lasers, anything to avoid having to construct some boring old platform or manifesto.

But like Covid, or any malign organism for that matter, conspiracy theories exist to replicate themselves and they don’t always kill their hosts. And since they all confirm their hosts in the habit of ignorance there is no such thing as a harmless conspiracy theory.

As much as I detest the so-called Moon Hoax Conspiracy Theory, as far as I know it never killed anyone or destroyed anyone’s life. But it does make its believer more susceptible to belief in other conspiracy theories that can be deadly, such as those that cause vaccine hesitancy or the belief that global warming is a hoax. Unlike Covid, conspiracy theories do not create a natural immunity, they make their carrier more susceptible to other conspiracy theories, not less.

You might be tempted to say therefore that since they harm or even kill their believers, maybe conspiracy theories aren’t such a bad thing, maybe they are just evolution’s way of culling the herd of its weakest members. It’s not that simple. Conspiracy theories also kill and destroy the innocent and they contribute to the general climate of human superstition and anti-science ignorance, which is never good for any of us.

It’s one of the great ironies today that many among us use a device to transmit trillions of bits of information through the air and via satellites to convey to others that they “don’t trust science.” Yet now more than ever, it’s science that can save us. Science could end both the pandemic and global warming in a stroke, if only we would heed its advice and believe its warnings. Failure to follow science is the single most cogent reason why the worldwide pandemic will be starting its third year tomorrow.

Our greatest enemy is ignorance. Ignorance is being continuously promoted by Fox News and the Republican Party. One of the most effective ways we can combat ignorance is to resist it in ourselves. Insist on evidence before you believe something. Think — and think critically — before you automatically accept something as true.


In matters too complex to form an opinion sometimes the smartest thing you can do is to accept the opinions of the majority of scientists. Individually scientists can be flawed like the rest of us, but collectively they are usually right, and the light of science always gets brighter over time. The light of science is the best light to illuminate our path to safety in these deadly times. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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