An epi­demic of du­bi­ous in­for­ma­tion

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 35 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetele­gram.com - Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

OK — this is go­ing to be pes­simistic. And dark.

Right now, sci­en­tists are watch­ing the rise of a par­tic­u­lar bac­ulovirus in cater­pil­lar pop­u­la­tions.

The virus in­ter­rupts the cater­pil­lar’s in­ter­nal clock, so that in­stead of moult­ing, the cater­pil­lar eats, grows freak­ishly in size, then climbs to the high­est point pos­si­ble on its bush or tree. At that point, a virus-made en­zyme liq­ue­fies the zom­bie cater­pil­lar’s en­tire in­sides, and then, what’s essen­tially be­come a virus sack, bursts.

How does it work? Sci­en­tists who have been study­ing the in­fec­tion sug­gest the virus rewires cater­pil­lars to seek light, and jump­starts their metabolism to al­low them to climb hy­per­ac­tively be­fore their in­sides fully liq­uefy.

Re­searchers sug­gest the evo­lu­tion­ary ben­e­fit of gain­ing that height is twofold. First, if the cater­pil­lar ex­plodes high enough in the tree or bush, the vi­ral load it’s car­ry­ing splat­ters over the max­i­mum amount of area, en­abling the in­fec­tion of more cater­pil­lars. If a bird hap­pens to carry the in­fec­tion-satchel away, that’s fine, too: there’s the op­por­tu­nity to spread the in­fec­tion to whole new pop­u­la­tions.

It makes me think of a re­cent ar­ti­cle in The At­lantic, one that should be re­quired reading for any­one won­der­ing, “how did we get to this point?”

The ar­ti­cle’s called “How Amer­ica Lost its Mind,” and you can read it here http://the­atln. tc/2foaFWQ — it was writ­ten by Kurt Anderson.

I won’t write a pré­cis of the ar­ti­cle, but I will point out its main thrust — that the strangely fact-averse world of the United States is the prod­uct of years of its own be­lief in its ex­cep­tion­al­ism.

Anderson writes, “The Amer­i­can ex­per­i­ment, the orig­i­nal em­bod­i­ment of the great En­light­en­ment idea of in­tel­lec­tual free­dom, whereby ev­ery in­di­vid­ual is welcome to be­lieve any­thing she wishes, has metas­ta­sized out of con­trol. From the start, our ul­tra-in­di­vid­u­al­ism was at­tached to epic dreams, some­times epic fan­tasies — ev­ery Amer­i­can one of God’s cho­sen peo­ple build­ing a cus­tom-made utopia, all of us free to rein­vent our­selves by imag­i­na­tion and will.”

That rein­ven­tion now dis­par­ages facts and ac­cu­racy and cre­ates its own re­al­ity, one that needs noth­ing more than to be re­peated of­ten and force­fully enough to be ac­cepted.

And the in­fec­tion is spread­ing well be­yond U.S. bor­ders.

All from some­thing that you think would be a good thing: a be­lief in our own value.

“You can be any­thing you want,” we tell our chil­dren.

Ex­cept, they can’t. Not ev­ery­one is smart enough or ded­i­cated enough to be a neu­ro­sur­geon.

We have op­por­tu­ni­ties, to be sure, and many more op­por­tu­ni­ties than other peo­ple — but it’s not lim­it­less.

We’re not able to reach all our dreams — of­ten, we’re capped by the harsh re­al­ity of our per­sonal lim­i­ta­tions.

Cou­pled with the “you-canbe-any­thing” mantra is the idea that all opin­ions are some­how equal, re­gard­less of the fact some might be based on com­pletely demon­stra­ble false­hoods.

Ev­ery­one’s ideas have value, we’re told. The con­struct is that what­ever you be­lieve is ev­ery bit as valu­able as any­one else’s ideas.

And, as such, ev­ery­one’s opin­ions are worth the same con­sid­er­a­tion, dis­cus­sion and wide-rang­ing dis­sem­i­na­tion on the won­der­ful world wide web.

Even when those ideas that burst like death cater­pil­lars and rain down con­ta­gion on the un­wit­ting, the cred­u­lous and the non-dis­cern­ing, in the process poi­son­ing us all.

We’re build­ing a hellish mess. “We need to adopt new pro­to­cols for in­for­ma­tion-me­dia hy­giene,” Anderson says. “Would you feed your kids a half-eaten casse­role a stranger handed you on the bus, or give them medicine you got from some lady at the gym?”

No.

But you’d feed them half­baked the­o­ries on vac­cines or deep state con­spir­a­cies or cli­mate change de­nial.

Look up.

The con­ta­gion sack has burst. Then we climb, in­fected and mind­less.

Think­ing in the process we’re ex­cep­tional, on a trek as our own pri­vate Ed­mund Hil­larys.

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