Ignorance is strength. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. George Orwell, publishing his novel “1984” in 1948, foretold the future because he was living it. He had witnessed Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany. In Stalin’s time, hundreds of thousands of dedicated loyalists gave their hearts, minds and toil to the state. These patriots then discovered their revolutionary nation was declaring them “spies” of Britain and France.
Almost all had never met Britons or French, let alone secret agents. Nevertheless, they were condemned to execution or laboring deaths in the Gulag for their “treason.” Next, they were expected to perjure themselves and confess to purely fabricated deeds they never had performed or imagined.
Why confess? For the good of the state. They had given their lives to the state. Now they would give their deaths. Many confessed to their imaginary crimes.
Orwell recognized that people could be taught to believe anything. Which brings us to today.
Science Doesn’t Know
As he flew to California where more than three million acres of land had combusted, the president declared “science doesn’t know” why the West was burning.
The first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change convened in 1990. Their prognostications proved accurate with one modification: things have turned worse than predicted. The world is hotter. Climate change is so rapid we now live in the Anthropocene, a new planetary age where a single species, us, potently changes the weather and environment. The World Wildlife Federation last week published data showing global wildlife populations down two-thirds since 1970. The bees and insects are disappearing at similar rates. We need these fellows to pollinate our crops.
That’s your food supply, people.
Californians were told their burning land, fiery skies, choking breaths, and fears that their lives and livelihoods might be immediately lost were all unforced errors of “forest management.” Let’s forget that most California’s “forest management” is under the jurisdiction of the Federal government, which the president heads. Would that have changed the fact that since the 1990s via climate change the burnable lands in California have doubled? That people love to live in the western wilderness and have moved there out of the costly cities, just as Chinese moved into the habitats whose animals brought us SARS, MERS, and Sars-Cov-2?
If the issue is “forest management,” will mobilizing millions of Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to rake the forests solve the problem? Will China and Mexico be willing to pay for our youngsters’ physical efforts? Will “Raking America Great Again” interfere too much with their remote learning classes in smoke-filled bedrooms? And what does it do to the psyche of a kid to know they can’t trust the air or the sky?
The Cities Are Burning
Frequently patients and others in my little town tell me they’re personally terrified of “the protesters and burning cities.” They assure me New York, Seattle, Portland are all “burning.” I spoke of this to a friend in Manhattan, who immediately sent me photos of folks cavorting in disrobed happiness in the deceptively green looking fields of Central Park.
Some of the folks who tell me how frightened they are of the protesters themselves live in care homes where they are not allowed outside their residences for fear of COVID infection. This limitation they readily accept.
So I asked them: how many died in the burning cities nationwide? How many of COVID? I pointed out perhaps ten or less had “officially” died in the protests. None of these protests were anywhere near where they lived. Over 200,000 had officially died of COVID. That was twenty thousand times the number of those dead in the protests.
They had spent weeks or months in lockdown. Were they still more frightened of the protests than COVID? Several agreed they were.
The Nature of Risk
Orwell is right. Ignorance is strength. It can keep regimes in power for decades or longer, even when they actively kill their own people. Stalin starved millions of Ukrainians to death in the 1930s, enforcing bars on the windows of local trains so no food could be thrown out. He remained unassailable until his sudden death in 1953.
Ignorance represents strength for regimes that tell their citizens their response to COVID has been “great” or “fantastic,” even when a comparable regime like Australia has 94% fewer deaths than the U.S., or our next-door neighbor Canada has days of two or zero deaths while we watch a thousand daily coffins.
Yet while there is still time, people should realize they need not keep in power folks who help get them killed. Those deaths can occur from lies that epidemics will never happen or will suddenly disappear; from learning climate change is a hoax and the forests are burning solely from inadequate “forest management”; that the five cyclones recently nearing the U.S. were a result of happenstance; that hurricanes and rising seas will never threaten their shoreline homes; that crops will pollinate themselves.
These days reality is often inverted. People can ignore science. But if scientists are such liars, perhaps they should give up their cell phones and computers, which operate on principles of quantum mechanics that make the research behind climate studies appear child’s play.
It’s still preferable to not elect people who help get you killed. Survival is much more fun.