Three years ago, at about this time, recognition was dawning that no one was immune from the global pandemic of coronavirus. We thirsted for clarity, just to navigate everyday life. Anxiety and melancholy abounded, with many people glued to television and other media in hopes some action would stop the spread of the virus.
We figured out lockdowns, social distancing, work and study from home, contact tracing, hospitalization rates, and how to deal with an unfathomable loss of loved ones. And no pathways for remedy appeared for a long while. It was a time we all acquired stories we'd rather not recall.
Meanwhile, anti-vaxers, anti-mask advocates, and other pseudo-populists exploited the opportunity, with ruthless disregard for human life, truth, and freedoms. Some got access to public megaphones to play on fears, parroting weird remedies to the virus, along with other false hopes or diversions.
Coming just two days after the Centers for Disease Control in the US recommended no gatherings of 50 or more people, St. Patrick's Day celebrations were muted. Regrettably, the tale about St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland remained just a legend. Instead, the local purveyors of snake-oil gained greater media airtime than most, with the nonsense-chatter and personal attacks from these pseudo-populists continuing to grow. And each silly season of electioneering just further intensifies screeches for the camera.
We know that pseudo-populists are also adept using computer networks and social media powerfully against freedoms of thought, speech, and association. More so than with the coronavirus pandemic though, efforts from each of us can seriously help to counter this virus. We can all do our bit to
- Hold public figures and the media accountable.
- Stand up to the verbal abuse that George Orwell predicted.
- Reassert truth and other core values in daily life.
Democracies tend to move slowly to hold bad actors accountable. Prosecutions for defamation, perjury, mail or wire fraud in political fundraising, or other schemes and artifices proceed, if at all, at slower than snails-pace. Legal processes are generally failing to deter much less hold any of the lead bad actors accountable.
Speaking out remains one of the few viable ways to dismantle the distracting, distorting, or destructive disinformation and misinformation of pseudo-populists.
Perhaps one of the best ways to do this is to join a political party and find ways to advocate for what you believe in. Otherwise, the hot-air of pseudo-populists will keep filling the gap. A lesson from my brushes with politics is that just a few strong and organized voices can make a real difference relatively quickly to the tenor and direction of these groups, locally, nationally, or beyond.
Whether by joining in these efforts or with support in other ways, any of us can help democracy thrive. What might you do to:
1. Be first to speak up about the concerns that matter to people's daily life, especially speaking out to elected representatives and local media.
2. Expect and demand accountability of elected leaders, regulators, judiciary, administrators, mainstream and social media platform gatekeepers, or any others whose failure to take prompt action enables pseudo-populists.
3. Support thoughtful family, friends, and neighbors to be involved in school boards or other community organizations and groups.
3. Detect and refuse to repeat propaganda or the constantly parroted names of propagandists.
4. Challenge and reframe nonsense talk to address what will benefit people–like access to food, a roof overhead, healthcare, jobs, safety, freedoms, and peace of mind.
5. Save energy for push-back that matters.
Failures to do so surrender the control of one's life to others, a process that Orwell describes so well in Animal Farm. During the takeover of the farm, the autocratic pigs use the other animals' inaction, fuzzy memory, and limited reasoning ability to confuse collective memories and impose weird rules. The pigs secure obedience largely because their fellow animals ponder ambiguities, without taking any action.
When pseudo-populists already have a head-start in noise, skills, and resources, especially computing resources, it's time to reduce the uncertainties, to catch up, and to scale activities that will outwit these propagandists.