Regular readers will know how interested I’ve become over the years in the way that our society gets to adopt general assumptions that are plain wrong, and how these are inculcated by propaganda of one sort or another.
My first interest in this was during my involvement in science-faith issues, when I marveled at the survival ability of scientific myths such as the mediaeval flat-earth and, par excellence, the idea that Galileo was persecuted by a hide-bound church for his empirical science. Both myths have been comprehensively dismantled by science historians over 50 years or more, and the Galileo story was dealt with in great detail by Ted Davis in a series at BioLogos.
Yet somehow, anyone not actively researching the subject treats these tales as gospel truth. Over the COVID period, good guys (for example Bret Weinstein) lamenting the unprecedented silencing and censorship of scientists and doctors questioning the mainstream narrative invariably compare it to the Galileo-persecution myth.
I guess this enables them to point out the superstitious reliance on authority being demonstrated in our times, even within the science community. But it blinds them to the fact that even the Roman Catholic Church, let alone the scientific enterprise the church sponsored, was never so censorious as society is now. What we are seeing now is an interference in individual thought about the physical world unprecedented in western civilization, apart from within odd totalitarian regimes under Hitler or the Bolsheviks. It would be churlish to point this out, though, when these people’s basic argument is true.
Before COVID, I had realised that this moulding of public truth was occurring at an ever increasing scale in the question of morality (gay marriage, compulsory transgenderism and so on) and in the climate change apocalyptic. I pulled this all together, and correctly predicted it would get worse, in my e-book Seeing through Smoke.
One thing I’ve noticed along the way is how my own assumptions, based on keeping more-or-less abreast of stuff in the news, have been repeatedly proven wrong despite my caution about being fooled. The reason for this is basically simple: things that make a big splash in the media for long enough to become taken for granted never make the same splash when the true experts in the field, or rigorous investigation, prove them to be nonsense. Unless one is following a specific topic in the specialist (or dissident!) literature, one builds ones worldview on facts that are simply untrue.
This, I’m sure, explains much of the support amongst professionals for the climate armageddon narrative, for example. It’s not just a question of constant propaganda, but that old propaganda, insufficiently refuted in public, becomes our own private propaganda forever. We see the starving polar bears in the National Geographic (maybe because it became headline news rather than because we subscribe) but we never got to see the retraction they had to print. Galileo faced the rack in our school project, and did its work on our mind as a science-foundation myth, and we never had time to question it. The polar bear example is more crucial, because it affects the whole world’s economic agenda.
“General truths” I’ve used to make points even in my books have turned out to be long-disproved falsehoods. For example, in God’s Good Earth I describe how the world population crisis was not natural, but actually a humanly-caused result of artificially boosting population by the invention of nitrate fertilizers by the Haber-Bosch process. At the time I had not learned how it is actually the population crisis itself that is the myth: I had absorbed the message of Ehrlich’s Population Bomb unconsciously decades before, and never had reason to discover that he had been soundly refuted until 2019.
Well, now there’s another example. I’ve written stuff denying that we are in the middle of a mass extinction, and questioning the modelling suggesting that 40% of our insects, in particular, are under imminent threat. I concluded that the observed decline in insect populations across Europe, and especially the collapse in bee populations, was unlikely to be severe enough to cause the predicted plant-kingdom extinction and was likely, in time, to reverse itself.
You see my error? I believed without checking the “facts” I’d osmoted over the years that insect numbers are, indeed, in significant decline. But this overview in Quillette examines how the original doomsday claims were from the first based on biased and poor-quality science. Local US problems with Colony Collapse Disorder in honey bees (themselves seen even in the nineteenth century from time to time) were extrapolated to the world, then to all wild bees, then to the whole insect population. Before long almost half the world’s insect species had gone, but invisibly and far away (as usual) so that we had to take it on trust.
In fact, the article suggests that since the year 2000 the honey-bee population worldwide has increased by 30%. I’m pretty sure I only heard about its imminent collapse after that year. Other insect species decline or prosper and more or less balance out to stability (despite climate change!). This is normal in nature, which is a dynamic system, as even my observations from year to year in my wild-flower meadow show.
But you can bet your life that for years to come your friends will be remarking how there are far fewer insects squashed on the car windscreen than there used to be (though it’s scarcely an accurate survey method and, let’s face it, who ever counted them before it became a thing in the news?).
Some of the imbibed myths, like Columbus defying the church to prove the world round, are relatively harmless – though how much of the ingrained hostility to the truth of the Gospel is based on such stories failing to die however many sword blows they receive? Just think, though, how many of the lies surrounding COVID will remain in the public psyche however much scientific work overturns them. When people say “Lessons will be learned from COVID” they never mention that the teacher is incompetent. Who knows what folk-responses to the next big flu outbreak in a decade or so will remain ingrained, once the propaganda machine is focusing all its attention on a climate tipping-point approaching by 2040?
Vaccine passports, lockdowns and endless power outages so we can’t cook our insect-burgers. Now there’s a pretty combination to look forward to in 2030 … oh, I forgot, it’s coming next year as The Great Reset!