These days in the big picture, I remain an optimist. However, I am also a realist. Populist, political, and media reactions to the Corona pandemic reveal the presence of yet another deadly virus. Out in the open. Not even hand-washing and face masks offer protection.
Officially this other deadly virus is called “Agnotology” (from Greek roots for ignorance and speech).
Agnotology is the planned and willful human endeavor to spread ignorance, confusion, and deceit.
It is used to sell an ideology or to win support for a socio-political cause. It is very cultic with sinister propaganda banners and symbols. Agnotology is a resuscitated old phenomenon. It has become very much an active contemporary virus. As an historian, I would not say that history repeats itself. Rather, I suggest that people do not always learn from history, until it is often just about too late. Agnotology is a key example.
Institutional leaders and populist agitators often promote ignorance and spread false information as ways to exercise power over people or to protect and promote the power of their authoritarian leaders. They gradually mutate people’s brains, weaponizing them against dissenting voices. Efforts to communicate the truth to modified-brain people, become for them acts of aggression against the one they see as the chosen one. No one can criticize the chosen one. Some, in this cult, even believe their leader was sent by God.
When people abandon or reconfigure facts, Agnotology rules life. As Yale University professor, Timothy Synder, wrote in his little book On Tyranny: “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.”
Down the slippery slope to deadly Agnotology:
(1) People begin to succumb to the disease when they renounce the difference between what they want to hear and what is really the case. “Conservatives” do it; but “liberals and progressives” do it as well. Denigrating people and launching conspiracy theories is a symptom.
(2) We need to be aware of the seductive character of leaders who promote ignorance through an endless repetition of certain phrases that cloud and conceal reality or turn individual people into dangerous stereotypes. Continually repeated executive tweets, and only watching Fox News cloud and disfigure one’s sense of reality. Continual refrains of anti-abortion rhetoric, for example, distort and conceal the reality of anti-abortion politicians who are NOT pro-life in any way.
(3) When people begin to base their big decisions on feelings rather than reason, the disease has begun to metastasize. Feelings can be positive or negative but cannot replace the importance of critical reflection and rational argumentation.
(4) Infected Agnotology people reject all personal responsibility for maintaining the common good. Feeling insecure, they blame social and economic problems on science, homosexuals, blacks, foreigners and (once again) Jews.
(5) Clear signs of Agnotology are: when influential people begin to despise the accepted truths of daily existence; when clever slogans appeal to fearful feelings and resonate in popular rhetoric like a new religion; and when convenient myths replace facts, history, and critical journalism.
(6) Infected people become religious militants who reject traditional religious values and preach racism, misogyny, and xenophobia in their place. Some claim to be exemplary Christians but the spirit of Christ has no presence in their hardened hearts.
And Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)
Truth. Honesty. Critical thinking. Compassion. Mutual respect. We have a lot of work to do….Challenging Agnotology..