While we previously believed that experts knew more than us, COVID-19 has enabled a sharp recession in the value of informed thought.
I’ve collected a few truisms in my time. One, as noted in Wag the Dog, is that you can never tell the difference between good flan, and bad flan. The other is there are people in this world who are way smarter and more qualified than me, to whom I (and everyone) should listen.
Case in point, there are people whose chosen field of expertise is virology, and/or epidemiology. Expertise in said field takes many years of university study and professional practice. These people have been advising the leaders of our nation – as well as the respective states and territories – and said leaders have, by and large, been listening to them. As they should.
As much as it pains me to say it, Scott Morrison has been doing well in this crisis, if for no other reason than just stepping to one side while the experts speak. He’s showed deference towards they who know more about one thing or another than he does. For once.
So too the Premiers of Victoria and NSW, who get given expert advice, heed it, and pass it on to us, the grateful public.
Action is taken in the form of us staying at home, not going to the pub, not going to the football, or the movies, not sending our kids to school, and generally exercising caution. For that, we have as a nation generally been somewhat sanguine about it; complained amongst ourselves but knowing that doing as much will have as much impact as complaining to an apple that it isn’t chocolatey enough.
Then there are those who have taken the opportunity as just that: an opportunity. Like Tim Smith, a member of the Victorian opposition in Parliament. He’s decided that now, during a pandemic, (one which has been managed with all-but-universally regarded expertise, class and finesse by Premier Daniel Andrews) he’ll start hurling insults at him via social media; take an online poll as to whether to call the Premier ‘Dictator Dan’ or ‘Chairman Dan’, because of course he did, that’s exactly what mature adult leaders do. Makes himself out as a complete goose; an entitled private school ninny; pus-filled boil on the buttock on the body politic. Of course, Janet Albrechtsen fawns over him, but whatevs.
As much as it pains me to say it, Scott Morrison has been doing well in this crisis, if for no other reason than just stepping to one side while the experts speak.
Now, Tim Smith looks like the guy who cuts himself shaving and bleeds gravy. He looks like the guy whose medical records would have repeated entries of the word ‘ooze’. He looks like the guy who came ‘this’ close to running a motel with his mother’s skeleton. But more to the point, he looks like the guy who sees what got Trump elected, thinks that by singling himself out as ‘the insult guy’, the one whose attacks are less political than they are just name-calling and nuance-free insults, basically thinks that yes, we’ll alienate all of these people, but we’ll guarantee the votes of this large, growing, sweaty mass of alt-right arseholes. He figures “I can do that” and somehow slither his way into some measure of power.
Despite the fact that he has all the charm of the guy who would always smell of slightly burnt cheese, and Daniel Andrews’ job approval rating is as high as Tim Smith’s worth is low (in the spirit of fairness and balance, Dan Andrews looks like if Shrek had a cousin who was an accountant; be sure to tip your waitress).
These people seem to crop up everywhere. In NSW, the disparity between what the experts in epidemiology and virology have said, the kids are being sent back to school, and people are being urged to open up business again. Because despite our relative success/luck in tackling this disease (if we ignore the passengers aboard the Ruby Princess, which Peter Dutton certainly would have us do). The eagerness and willingness to get things ‘back to normal’ (again, a concept the experts have said is not guaranteed, like, ever), the kids head back to school. And, of course, by recess, there had been a closure at St Ignatius’ College Riverview when a kid there brought something highly contagious to show ‘n’ tell.
Because of course, it was going to happen, because those in the know said it would.
Meanwhile, we have celebrity chefs getting more than their fair share of sunlight, going on popular radio programs and essentially saying “What do doctors know?” and “Virology isn’t really a thing,” and “Vaccines cause autism”, which is all bollocks, and a shiny, cynical, opportunistic way to say “Buy my merchandise.”
I’ll admit, this whole screed is more shouting into the void on my part, because trying to explain to someone who doesn’t believe in science or government agencies that you really should listen to the experts has as much impact as trying to explain to members of the Manson Family that maybe Charlie ain’t such a swell guy.
There are those on the political right who think Dan Andrews is a power-mad dictator – not that the decisions he’s made are wholly popular (closing pubs? c’mon, man…). He knows a thing about how to play populist politics: the man got elected in part by promising those of us in Melbourne the day off before the AFL Grand Final; a comically unnecessary thing if there ever was one. At the same time, these same people will cry “Sweden!” which didn’t lock down anything, and suffered ten times our COVID-19 deaths despite having half our population.
So, if you spend years diminishing the value of education, science, expertise, eventually you’ll gain more and more authority from those for whom all of those concepts are foreign. Eventually, you’ll rule and empire of ignorance and you can do what you want because your populace will be too intellectually malnourished to know any better.
Will people ever learn? I doubt it.