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..


14 thoughts on “A New Virus….

  1. One group heavily infected by agnotology is the self-styled traditionalists in the Church. They refuse to distinguish between traditions of practice and traditions of though and ideas. The first class is simply a matter of preference: language, dress, music, rites and rituals. No one can take exception to such preferences. Ideas and thinking, however, are a Different matter.

    George Weigel, whom I think of as the Donald Trump of Catholic journalism, said in one of his columns, tweets he gets paid to write, that “the Catholic Church does not do paradigm change.” In other words, we are stuck with the original sin myth, fallen nature, redemption through God needing to suffer on the cross etc. instead of the contemporary paradigm of creation, evolution, incarnation and resurrection.

    Weigel’s traditionalism is shallow, misdirected, perpetuates ignorance and despises the contemporary understanding of the universe and all that is in it, including us. Big decisions are not made and don’t need to be made. Just buy into all the decisions of the past. This is the best way to spread ignorance, confusion and deceit. Although many could not articulate it, this is a reason so many are voting with their feet and leaving the Church; the disconnect with the real world as we all experience it.

  2. Jack, you have perfectly described the conditions in the United States is right now. Many of us refuse to accept the directives and info coming from our national “leaders.” We are leaderless and frustrated. Fortunately; we can do something in November. And before then we can and are speaking the truth to power and to our acquaintances who have succumbed to disinformation. Thank you from abroad. Of course similar problems are worldwide. Life is changing and we don’t know yet what the future will be. Hopefully, we are positive and focused on matters that have been brought to our attention, e.g. health care for all, compensation, food for all, educational alternatives, universal day care,,,so much more. Thank you , Jack.

  3. Thanks so much for your expertise and scholarship in naming and thoroughly describing the “enemy,” We cannot resist and overcome until we can identify the problem and all its manifestations. Excellent and well done!!

  4. Thanks, Jack, for this new word to describe what’s going on in the U.S. and in many other places, too. Not long ago I read a quote from Steven Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist (I’ve searched but can’t find the source). He said the Republicans need to continually repeat their lies, memes, and slogans to convince the people. He came right out and admitted it. This is the strategy I see going on. All Trump’s loyalists are doing just that. As commentators say, it’s unprecedented in our history. In my opinion, the Republicans are worse than Trump himself because they refuse to stand up against him. They’ve abdicated their responsibilities as representatives of the people. Trump gets a pass to the extent that he is mentally unbalanced. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a breakdown before this is all over.

  5. Again, Jack, you have shed light on an essential truth. Isn’t it alarming that this pandemic, a truly human issue that affects all humanity and should unify us, has become as political as it is medical? Sadly, the ego driven “leader” of arguably the most powerful country on earth has made decisions that affect us all physically as well as psychologically and which have, literally, cost lives. The term “agnotology” succinctly captures the real dilemma in this crisis: people knowingly and deliberately choose ignorance by disbelieving science and facts in favor of ideology. Granted, both camps, liberal and conservative, can be blamed. But at this time, conservatives are killing others and themselves by their irresponsible and antagonistic behaviors. Mary captures the essence of the problem–idealogues who choose to follow a clearly deranged demagogue who listens to the voices in his head as the source of truth. I used to wonder at the German people blindly following Hitler but realize it is, to a lesser degree, happening here in the U.S. It is the Jack Dicks of the world who speak the truth and those of us who see the impending storm to act and prevent it from overwhelming us. It is scary but we can stop this from happening.

  6. Agnotology is the methodology of the pervert. Perverts are deeply flawed. We have to learn to recognize them. Sadly, we cannot label a person as such, but such people do exist.

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