As the coronavirus continues its grim harvest, mainly among vaccine denialists, we need to examine what keeps so many people on a path that is absurd and deadly.
The mission to understand the deeper reasons for this behavior, so as to be able to deal with it, is not simple – because this denial is not based on a lack of information.
Today, no one can claim to be unaware of the deadly nature of Covid-19 nor of the effectiveness of vaccines. Denial is based on a selective interpretation of reality, a reading determined by the mentality of others around us and by our idiosyncrasy (which are interdependent) and which is encouraged by specific factors.
Behavior which to most of us appears absurd seems logical to those who see only what they wish to see. This mentality may be based on religion, where, again, one can believe either that science is the enemy of faith or that God gave humans a mind for them to use. It may be based, also, on a social environment that encourages denial of reality. In the era of the internet and social media, every opinion, no matter how extreme, can find enough support so that those who express it can believe that they are not alone.
Then, however few they are, they can believe that they are the chosen ones who see the truth while the many have been hoodwinked. Those sinking in absurdity cannot see the absurd.
In this country one does not need to seek out the darkest corners of cyberspace and superstition to find justification for one’s absurd beliefs.
In 2021, denialism and wishful thinking remain basic components of our politics and public discussion. Those who dig at old wounds, who cultivate bigotry and division, gain a large audience, at the expense of those who struggle to alleviate harm, to improve society.
We see this in the ranks of the Church, in politics in the news media. When members of the official opposition (ostensibly “leftist and progressive”) undermine the vaccination campaign and call those in government “murderers,” they encourage self-destructive wishful thinking as much as celebrity denialists or raving bishops do. This behavior kills. That is why Alexis Tsipras’ booting Panagiotis Kouroumplis from SYRIZA’s parliamentary group yesterday (for the “murderers” accusation) is an encouraging sign.