Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Is It All Downhill From Here? Why Flat Earthers, Moon Landing Deniers, and Anti-Vaxxers Represent a Societal Apocalypse in the Making

"I believe..."

Two words that have arguably more power than any other pair in modern parlance. Eight letters that belie an inherent subjectivity that has been subjugated in favor of misplaced, obstinate objectivity. People confuse opinion for fact with an utter lack of appreciation for factual information and undermining the very foundation of knowledge.

As for what I believe--I am of the mind that we are standing at a crossroads--an apocalyptic precipice that threatens to derail literally thousands of years of human societal evolution. We live in an era now where source is irrelevant and where mental laziness has reached its apex; people simply cannot be bothered to expend the effort necessary to find the right answer and will instead accept, unquestioningly, the one that is nearest to them.

I am, by nature, a cautious, curious, cynical person. I enjoy the pursuit of knowledge and view the exploration itself as a journey that's equally as worthy as the end destination. I would rather know the exact, factual reason for something than settle for subjective conjecture. I do not crowdsource my knowledge nor do I derive my data from questionable resources. I do not engage in group think or ply my perspectives and purviews from the masses.

I am also, therefore, in the distinct minority--not just of my generation but in American (and possibly global) society, at large. Modern people (not just teenagers and the much-maligned Millennials, mind you) behave like water, following the past of least resistance through their lives. If you observe what is most popular in terms of entertainment, you'll see that the vast majority of it is superficial and evanescent--not meant to provide anything long-lasting but rather an instantaneous, momentary bump in serotonin that is gone before they even realize it was there at all.

A quick glance at the most popular YouTube channels reveals the types of things that people favor today, none of which requires much, if any thought. To expend undue mental effort means to waste actual physical energy and, given how stressed and exhausted everyone is from everyday life, that's something that few people are willing to engage in; this, in turn, has warped the way people approach issues of learning and understanding.

I value factual objectivity above all else in my pursuit of knowledge and understanding. I want to know how and why something is the way that it is and I go with the conclusion that is elegant, requiring the least amount of assumption and providing the greatest quantity of indisputable data; this mindset is what makes science so attractive to me and both organized religion and modern societal thought patterns so repulsive.

The reason that I prefer science for explaining the natural world to me (and, consequently, the historical trajectory of the universe) is because if I question something, there is a definable path that I can follow that leads me, logically, to a conclusion that can often be tested ad infinitum and will perpetually provide the same result. With organized religion, there is an inherent solipsistic tilt that gives me pause: religious folk believe that their religion is the one right/correct/actual one, while completely ignoring the fact that all of the others claim the same thing, with no basis beyond their faith, which is, in and of itself, purely an opinion.

I don't know how many modern people take the Bible as a literal interpretation of the history of existence but I would hope that that population is comparatively smaller than the one that uses the book purely as a spiritual guide. The problem for me with using religious texts to explain scientific facts is that there is an undeniable (meaning that it is true whether you believe it or not, as a matter of fact not of opinion) veracity that can be found in science by way of observation and study that religion simply cannot duplicate. Everything comes back to an opinion: you say that the earth is 6,000 years old, that there were people who were 900 years old, and that all of these things never happened because it doesn't fit with the story; with science, there are verifiable means that prove the earth is far, far older than that, that there is a limit to human lifespan based purely on biology, and that damn near everything from the existence of dinosaurs to whatever else is denied actually happened with direct threads linking them both forward to the present and back to the presumed beginning of life on earth.

Now, with that said, I respect spirituality, which, though being purely opinion/faith-based as well, is something that doesn't need to be debated. Whether or not you believe in a guiding force and how you choose to interact with said deity is none of my business. If it makes you happy to pray or engage in whatever rituals you do--if doing so fills you with spiritual serenity--then that makes me happy. The problem for me stems from people using modern monotheistic religion (opinion) to explain things that are clearly delineated by science (fact).

(Ironically, it's the ancient polytheistic people who put the effort into using their religion to explain the natural world, with each deity corresponding with something they observed and wanted a reason for.)

Organized religion, then, is merely microcosmic of the issues we face with society, in general. There is irrefutable scientific proof backed by thousands of years of science that prove that the earth is round, and yet, in spite of this, you have an alarming number of people who claim otherwise. Most are too lazy to offer any explanation that goes beyond something conspiratorial, but the few who do tend to rely on hackneyed, half-assed pseudo-scientific information that either a) is blatantly erroneous or b) is manipulated in such a way to suit their specific purpose thereby voiding the very underpinnings of the theories and facts that they are employing.

As for moon landing deniers, I can understand their position a little bit more. Though I don't personally question the history of space exploration, I do admit that I could see the government staging something like that purely in the name of American exceptionalism (as Pablo Torre put it on High Noon yesterday). Again, though, my aforementioned adherence to the likeliest, most logical solution to a problem leads me to the preponderance of evidence that speaks to the contrary.

I don't understand the degree of the position that these people take. Do they believe only that we never stepped foot on the moon but do not question any other space-related activity? Do they believe the entirety of space exploration is a sham and that we've never left our atmosphere? I'm not sure which is the case for the majority of the moon landing deniers, but regardless, there is incontrovertible evidence that says that we have entered space (the existence of GPS satellites and the International Space Station to name but two). If, then, they will admit to those facts (especially something like the success of the Voyager program, which has reached interstellar space), then how can it possibly be such a leap that if we have humans living in space right now, that they traveled another few hundred thousand miles to the moon?

The thing that terrifies me about people who willingly ignore objective evidence contrary to their position is that they are growing in number. It's not necessarily the subject matter of their denials but more their mindsets that trouble me. It might not seem like a big deal right now but I'm extrapolating to a point in the not-so-distant future where my potential progeny might be dealing with this issue on a much larger scale.

I'm scared of a situation where my grandchildren are in a classroom where the majority of students come from families who say that the earth is flat, that the moon landing (or, worse, Holocaust) never happened. Hell, maybe by that point, even the teachers are of a generation that adheres to those perspectives. Then what?

Look at how modern people react to things now. The umbrage that people take so nobly at every minor issue leads so many to complain and to protest until they get the change that they want. Is it so farfetched to envision a future where such facts as the aforementioned are removed from textbooks? Banned from the curriculum because enough people in the right positions are able to take action to alter history?

Think that sounds crazy? Look at what the Anti-Vaxxer movement has been able to engender--the unsettling number of kids who are entering the school system unprotected. And what's happening as a result? An alarming resurgence in the very diseases these inoculations are meant to eradicate.

Again, though, what upsets me isn't just the nature of these circumstances but more the mindset that has led to them. In steadily growing numbers, people are choosing to take action based upon the dissemination of misinformation--factually inaccurate data--rather than defer to those in a better position to make those decisions (like their pediatricians). Instead, they choose to follow the advice of any number of mom blogs--to cite incredulous sources, many of which have been debunked and yet still persist like a canker sore--because they're inclined to follow the path of least mental resistance.

I cringe as I picture what the future is going to be like for my kids and their kids--a world where an opinion goes viral and becomes cemented as fact. There was a time in the not-so-distant past where reading and writing were skills that were valued for separating the learned from the unlearned--the knowledgeable from the masses; now, we live in a present where those same skills are serving the undermine the very fabric of society...

and I can't believe it.