World of disbelief

World of disbelief

In today’s divisive political climate, some true believers can’t distinguish fact from opinion and some politicians manipulate their constituencies by claiming opinion as fact

BRATTLEBORO — What do climate-change deniers, election deniers, anti-vaxxers, and COVID-19 deniers have in common besides an unexplainable attraction to a world of disbelief?

What personal benefit is gained from staring directly at the facts in front of you and yet acting as if the facts were false?

A fact is something either known or proven to be true. Furthermore, a scientific fact is an objective and verifiable observation.

On the other hand, an opinion is defined as a view or judgment about something not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. One example: a political position.

In today's divisive political climate, it seems difficult for some true believers to distinguish fact from opinion, and some politicians are adept at manipulating their constituencies by claiming opinion as fact.

”Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in 1983.

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A world-renowned expert on climate science once told me that the big mistake that climate scientists made was in allowing the term “global warming” to become synonymous with “climate change” in its use by popular media. He believes they should have insisted on “climate disruption” as the more appropriate descriptor.

One can argue with the cause of the temperature change outside your window, but it is much harder to deny the melting of polar ice and its connection to rising tides, the frequency of destructive hurricanes and typhoons, or the disruption of agricultural production.

Rising seas, melting ice, and growing deserts are all observable and verifiable phenomena. It really doesn't matter whether or not you believe they are a result of man-made ecological ineptitude or a naturally occurring cycle of nature. It only matters how you choose to respond to the facts.

Denying climate disruption and not responding is the only option that will lead to a certain result: the torturous annihilation of life as we know it from the face of the planet.

Our other options may not lead to as certain a result as doing nothing, but what possible alternative future action would you take to protect yourself or your children from certain disaster?

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That people are dying at rates unheard of from normal seasonal flu viruses is an observable and verifiable fact. In 2019, 49 people died from the seasonal flu in South Dakota. On Nov. 22 of this year, 49 people in South Dakota were reported to have died from COVID-19 on that one day.

Yet some people still hold that COVID-19 is no more dangerous than the yearly flu. Do masks work to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus? Our best scientists and doctors say so based on observable and verifiable data. Yet some governors think not.

Which governor will you consult with the next time you get sick? It may be hard to get an appointment!

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That votes can be counted and recounted with the same or substantially similar answers is a verifiable fact. So far, every audit or recount in the 2020 presidential election has come up with consistent results.

In fact, more than 230,000 polling places were used in the 2018 general election, according to the 2018 Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) report released by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). A comparable number were used in 2020, although by some estimates the number was reduced by 10 percent.

Yet, more than a few people continue to believe that the 2020 election was rigged.

Can you imagine the number of people required to fix a presidential election? Where would you hide them? How sophisticated a cheating operation would be required to rig the election so that only the president would be denied re-election?

What about the fact that most other incumbent Republican candidates did better than expected in this election?

Could the election have been rigged by disenchanted Republicans who couldn't publicly confront the leader of their party? That makes more sense to me, but it is only my opinion. I have no more verifiable facts to back up my theory than does the current White House resident for his. However, the lack of fraudulent ballots is a verifiable fact in that it is impossible to count what is not there.

What drives this resistance to accept the world as it is and to see it only as the deniers would like it to be? It must feel safer somehow to deny reality rather than embrace the possibly fearful existential facts of the world as it is.

Is there a sense of tribal community that provides a virtual cocoon to allay fears despite the obvious observable and verifiable consequences?

Do deniers wear seatbelts? Do they watch satellite TV, and play games on the internet? Do they text and email? Do they use GPS to find their way home? Do they take any medicine when they or their children become ill?

Do you accept gravity when you step on a plane? If not, maybe you should walk, but carefully so. In words attributed to the much-celebrated libertarian and author Ayn Rand, “You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.”

It seems to me if you are going to be a true denier (perhaps an oxymoron?), you should deny all science - climate, medical, or otherwise.

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There seems to be an inherent problem of inconsistency with this cafeteria approach to belief in observable and verifiable fact - that is, to accept only agreeable facts and reject disagreeable ones.

There are too many historical examples of the potentially catastrophic consequences of denying discomforting facts.

Take the Holocaust. I am not talking about those who still deny it happened, but of those who did so as it was ongoing, when there was still a chance to stop it.

Will the same be true of the current cohort of deniers?

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