A word association game to understand COVID propaganda
Let's start by playing a word association game.
You hear "red," and you say "green," especially if you are a fan of Canadian comedy (and not the Trudeau kind).
"Stop" leads to "go," "on" leads to "off," and "black" leads to "white." (Considering the current circumstances, that may or may not be true anymore, but anyway...)
No, let's put our pre-pandemic minds on and finish this term the same way: "Follow the..."
"Leader" is one likely response.
And that is why, for all of its base falsehood, "follow the science" worked on so many different levels.
For those familiar with the public relations trade, taking a known or common quantity or saying or idea and changing it just a touch to better suit your cause is one of the most effective ways to penetrate your target audience, society as a whole being that audience this time around. The initial meme or trope or cliché has already done the heavy lifting; it's in there, and that makes life much easier.
But it is as just as impossible to "follow the science" as it is to follow a car you are driving; anyone who claimed to "follow the science" moved beyond paradox into a realm of impossible, unimaginable psychosis. One might as well have said "follow me because I'm Napoleon!"
Politicians yelling "follow the science" were terribly wrong and obviously did untold harm to the nation in the short-term. But the degradation and misrepresentation of what pure science does — asks questions, follows data no matter where they lead, emphasizes an openness to possibilities — is, going forward, incalculable.
Science, no matter what is said, is not a person talking to Congress. It is an idea. Questioning data to come to a better understanding of the current — and potentially future — situation is not attacking science; it's doing it.
No single person embodies the core of the scientific endeavor. The moment anyone says an attack on his personal interpretation of data — no matter the field — is an attack on the idea of science itself and is the moment when "science" becomes an unchangeable construct in the service of a state that needs such certainty for its self-preservation.
Aristotle was not perfect. Newton was not perfect. Einstein was not perfect. Omar Khayyam was not perfect. For anyone ever to claim that mantle not only denigrates the process, but shows the inherent personal weakness of the claimant.
Throughout history, there are examples of such certainties leading to unimaginable human catastrophes. Maybe the one good thing from the pandemic that society will learn is that science asks only to be doable, not followable.
It's only the humans who demand to be followed.
Thomas Buckley is the former Mayor of Lake Elsinore and a former newspaper reporter who studied history of physics and philosophy of science in college. He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at email@example.com. You can read more of his work at https://thomas699.substack.com.
Image via Max Pixel.