The comfort of Conspiracy theories

As our world falls apart, we have learnt to take comfort from Conspiracy theories.

Dean Koontz did write about Wuhan-400 years ago, didn't he? Have you not watched the South Korean documentary from 2018 which uncannily predicted just this? How could China contain the virus, one that is tearing apart Europe and the United States, so quickly? Maybe this was accidentally released from the laboratory where they were building up this nefarious bio-agent? After all, Trump and Pompeo have said they have seen the evidence!

We live in the age of credulity. We would like to believe what we are fed, without questioning. If something is written in English and published on WhatsApp, it must be true. 

Once this crisis is over - and it will be - we will be scarred more by our indulgences in conspiracy theories than this virus itself. That is indeed my case for resistance - I don't want to get into the habit. I would rather keep my brain slightly active and neurons alive and not give in to this wild comfort of conspiracy theories. And, yes, I would not Trump, an obsessive liar (or Pompeo, his master's voice), to be the arbitrator of truth in my world.

So, how do I know the Chinese did not do it intentionally? Honestly, I don't know, but not knowing they did not do it is not equal to knowing they did it. We are in an area where there are many unknowns and we have to live with it. And, in the absence of hard evidence and definitive knowledge, it's best to accept the simpler explanation than complicated ones. In the case of COVID19, that it is a bat-virus that spread from a wet market is the simpler explanation.

Indeed, most people think just the opposite. The unbelievable disruption appears to them a deliberate and man-made conspiracy, rather than a result of our meddling with nature. But then they were not paying attention. They are still in denial and refuse to accept that changing land-use and human intrusion in the animal world can create such problems. Despite clear warnings from the scientists and even Bill Gates on a public forum such as TED, they refuse to see the dangers lurking in the melting Siberian permafrost and burning Amazonian rainforest. 

A story does not become believable just because it has been forwarded on WhatsApp and repeated on Facebook. Dean Koontz wrote about a virus that can be transmitted from human to human and has a 100% kill-rate - COVID19 it wasn't - and that made some think he 'knew' about the Virus. But, on the same count, Indians flew around in aeroplanes in sixth century BC, Jules Verne witnessed moon landing in the nineteenth century and Mary Shelly experienced the global pandemic in 1826. 

Prescient fiction or imaginative speculations should indeed be appreciated but they don't prove the conspiracy thesis. Besides, one needs to stop and ask why, if South Korean documentary makers knew about the bio-agent, the Western intelligence agencies, whose job it is to track these things, did not know a thing?

The other side of being prescient, of course, is being accused of being mischievous. Poor Bill Gates - his timely warnings about the possibility of Pandemic were only seen as signs of complicity by the American Right. That he was paying attention isn't an acceptable explanation for those who live in an alternative reality.

I also saw many of my Indian friends pointing out the speed, scale and efficacy of China's response as incontrovertible proof that they were ready for the virus. My point is that those surprised by China's response are those who do not know China and haven't been following how they do things for the last thirty years or so. Jim O'Neill was indeed right: We were lucky that this virus originated in China because once the authorities came around to acknowledging it, they were pretty good at dealing with it.

Then there is this final frontier of the Conspiracy theorists: Why did China let the disease spread? That they wanted to wreck the world economy intentionally is as logical as saying that Trump wanted to wreck the American economy on an election year. China has paid an enormous price for this: They stopped a thriving economic zone to a standstill. President Xi's reputation, which looked untouchable only a couple of years earlier, took a serious battering. This is one consideration that pushed some of the intentionalists (bio-agent, intentionally spread) to become accidentalists (bio-agent, accidentally spread) but the simpler explanation - that the virus has an organic origin - still sounded too complex for them.

For all the talk of making China pay for all this shows how dysfunctional our thinking has become. We desperately want to put our blame on an identifiable actor: This is the equivalent of Bush's war on terror. The fact that some threats we face are newly emergent and do not come in convenient shapes, sizes and with identifiable sources are outside our cognitive capabilities. This is not just a naiveté; this is the Achilles heel that our next threat will attack: Our inability to think rationally and scientifically when confronted with new threats. As the wisest man of our age helpfully suggested, we must inject ourselves with disinfectants to live. We wish we could.


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