Baloney is not free

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY LEONARD PITTS JR. Miami Her­ald Leonard Pitts is a colum­nist for The Miami Her­ald. E-mail: [email protected]­ami­her­

Baloney is not free. That’s im­por­tant to keep in mind in an era that finds Amer­ica wad­ing hip deep in a cas­cad­ing tide of bovine ef­flu­vium. This non­sense is not harm­less, not triv­ial, not ab­stract. And it al­ways ex­acts a cost.

If some of us ever knew that, they have ap­par­ently for­got­ten. As a re­sult, we have be­come a na­tion awash in public lies – con­spir­acy the­o­ries with­out ba­sis, crack­pot pro­nounce­ments from fig­ures of author­ity, mis­lead­ing, men­da­cious mis­state­ments false as a four-dol­lar bill, de­liv­ered ev­ery minute of ev­ery day to our tele­vi­sion, com­puter and smart­phone screens.

Baloney is not free. Still, the price thus far has been borne by a rel­a­tive few.

It has cost “only” the parent who paid in heartache when some wild-eyed con­spir­acist claimed that a beloved child killed in a mass shoot­ing never ex­isted and the shoot­ing it­self did not hap­pen.

“Only” the African Amer­i­cans who paid in deep­en­ing es­trange­ment as the first black pres­i­dent was pres­sured into pro­duc­ing his birth cer­tifi­cate to an­swer base­less claims that he was not born in this coun­try.

“Only” the pizza restau­rant patrons who paid in terror as a man with a mil­i­tary-style as­sault ri­fle opened fire in hopes of res­cu­ing child sex slaves he had been led to be­lieve were im­pris­oned there.

But if only a few of us have paid for such baloney thus far, it looks as if the whole coun­try might soon have to ante up.

It seems the United States is grap­pling with an out­break of the measles, the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion re­port­ing last week that there have been 465 cases so far this year. That means this is al­ready the sec­ond worst year since the dis­ease was re­ported erad­i­cated in 2000. Measles has shown up in 19 states, in­clud­ing Michi­gan, Mis­souri, Cal­i­for­nia, Texas, Ge­or­gia, New York and Florida. At the present rate, we will eclipse the pre­vi­ous record of 667 cases, set in 2014.

Of­fi­cials say the resurgence of the highly con­ta­gious, some­times-fa­tal dis­ease is driven by the so-called “anti-vax” move­ment — par­ents who refuse to al­low their chil­dren to be vac­ci­nated be­cause they be­lieve the vac­cine causes autism. Which it doesn’t. The sup­posed link be­tween vac­ci­na­tions and autism stems from a 1998 study by a British doc­tor. The study was de­bunked, its find­ings re­tracted, the doc­tor de­frocked.

But the base­less fear he raised lives on.

Now we — ac­tu­ally, our young chil­dren — stand to pay for the baloney he sold. The cur­rency will be fevers, runny noses, coughs, wa­tery eyes and rashes. It could be death.

Is that what it will take to fi­nally bring some of us to their senses? There is, af­ter all, some­thing stark and un­de­ni­able about the link be­tween cause and ef­fect here, be­tween an­ti­vac­ci­na­tion and out­break.

Maybe that will show some of us how fool­ish it is to be­lieve ab­surd un­truths with­out the slight­est ev­i­dence. Maybe it will re­mind them how dan­ger­ous it is to aban­don the obli­ga­tion of think­ing crit­i­cally. Maybe it will teach them how dumb it is to con­sider Face­book more au­thor­i­ta­tive than the CDC or The New York Times.

And maybe it will re­mind them that the truth doesn’t care what you be­lieve, doesn’t care what you want or whom you voted for. The truth just is.

To re­ject that is to re­ject the con­nec­tive tis­sue that makes na­tion­hood pos­si­ble, to re­ject any chance of greater good and com­mon cause, to re­ject the very pos­si­bil­ity of us. So this out­break, trou­bling as it is, of­fers a timely chance for some of us to re­con­sider the choice to live in non­sense.

Be­cause the cost of baloney is high. And it’s get­ting higher all the time.

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