Cathy is Interfaith Leader of the Living Interfaith Sanctuary in Vancouver. B.C. She is a Facebook friend, though I have no idea how we connected. I am very glad we did and that she responded so positively to my request that she expand a brief FB post I came upon the other day.

The Trump Administration Is Rushing Deportations of Migrant Children During Coronavirus—ProPublica

Trump says he’s taking hydroxychloroquine, the drug he touted as coronavirus treatment, despite FDA warnings—USA Today

May 18, 2020

Contagion
by Cathy Merchant, Vancouver, B.C.

So many people have been sharing conspiracy theories online recently—and I’ve been getting so apoplectic over them—that I finally needed to check in with myself as to why I find them so infuriating.

Obviously, many of them are dangerous. Very dangerous. But that isn’t the only reason I hate them.

My problem is that they actually go against everything I stand for. Because I stand for the radical idea that we can all come together and share our views and experiences with each other and then learn from them collectively and come out wiser and with more love and respect for each other.

But conspiracy theories literally do the exact opposite of all that.

They convince people that there is no reason to come together with others or to listen to anything others have to say or to try to work with them, because the person holding the conspiracy theory becomes convinced that they already have all the “answers.” The longer they spend researching their theory, the more convinced of it they become, until eventually they think anyone who doesn’t agree with them is just an idiot who has nothing to offer. And no amount of logic or inquiry or empathy shakes them from this. Because they love having this secret knowledge (which makes them separate from the rest of us) and feeling superior.

For some reason (she said sarcastically), I find every part of this unhelpful and rage-inducing.

I’ve tried with conspiracy theorists. I really have. I’ve read blog posts and essays and books about several popular theories and have spent hours of my life—that I’ll never get back—listening to various friends and colleagues and family members tell me all about their pet theories, ranging from 9/11 plots to pharmaceutical takeovers. And every time, it hasn’t felt like I’ve been involved in any kind of two-way discussion. The interaction has consisted of them doling out pieces of their “special knowledge” and then waiting to see how I responded—if I was receptive and “special like them,” or if I was just a lost cause whom they should give up on. There was no real back and forth, no open exchange of ideas, no respect. And no connection.

And that truly does not work for me. I thrive on connection.

So consequently, I’m having a really hard time in this current political climate, where everything’s made up and relationships don’t matter. Because this whole way of viewing the world—with distrust, distain, and disconnection—is antithetical to everything I believe in.

Sometimes I feel like I frantically want to sew the fabric of our society back together again—along with the masks—to reconnect us before the whole thing blows apart. But even if I had the right thread, I don’t think I could work fast enough. These theories are their own kind of disease—carried along and inflamed by the first—and I fear it has already spread too far.

Like a contagion.

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