I was driving home last night, on Canada Day, after enjoying a socially distant celebration with my friends Ryan and Anne-Marie on one of those perfect early summer nights. The 401 stretched on, there was barely another car or truck in sight. The landscape was sun dappled and golden. All of the fields were gorgeous, full and that perfect green that you only get right at the tip of summer. It was magic. I saw another thing on that trip that was also magic: a sign that says “Seat Belts Save Lives”.
It was magic in its simplicity, its forthrightness and its inarguability. Seat belts save lives. Period. I relished in this simplicity, looked down at my own seatbelt in gratitude and continued to drive on. And then I got thinking about, the anti-seat belters. The ones who would argue that seat belts don’t actually save lives, but, other, let’s say, more not-so-scientific things save lives. Things like not being a moron, God, driving a car that is similar to an armoured tank, knowing how to actually drive, being preternaturally lucky and so on. Which then got me thinking about anti-vaxxers, climate deniers, no mask wearers, COVID-isn’t-worse-than-the-flu-people and so on. Which then got me into such a tizzy I had to pull over to the side of the highway where I still find myself and from where I am writing this piece.
I am kidding about that last bit, but, only by a little. I understand that Fox Newsviewers, Breitbart fans and those who jones for Alex Jones feel angry, unheard, ignored and like their point of view is not valued or respected. And I’m sorry they feel that way, but, this is really a sorry/not sorry situation because, you know what, not every voice needs to be heard. And that is something I will never be sorry about saying. They just don’t. When people who deny science, question citizenry, state ‘guns don’t kill people; people kill people’ found themselves without a home, the Murdoch’s built one for them and they called it: Fox News. The second word should really be in air quotes.
Still, they built this home that started out as a shack and now it might as well be Versailles which is in part what makes me laugh when they try and argue that they are not part of the “MSM” (mainstream media). Fox has the highest ratings among all cable news networks so if that’s not mainstream I’m not sure what is. But they are sure and they know they are it. Fox News and the like perform being on the fringes, they perform anger, they perform being ‘men (and women) of the people’ while other media are ‘enemies of the people.’. Tucker and Lou know climate change is real and anyone who thinks they don’t have million dollar bunkers ready to go are out to lunch. It’s almost a guarantee Hannity puts on a hazmat suit whenever he goes to check the mail, but, they give voice to peoples anger and to their ignorance and they monetize it greatly. It’s a shame.
Now, of course, I am not, thankfully, the arbiter of whose voice should be heard and whose shouldn’t. And, much as it pains me to say this, I am glad that Tucker and Lou and Hannity are allowed a platform. I am because censorship is a one way ticket to true dictatorship and fascism. However, this is free speech run amok and I am not glad about that at all. None of us should be because while no one single entity is allowed to arbitrate who gets to have a voice and who doesn’t, there should be one clear arbiter and that is reality.
Reality has to prevail at the end of the day and we only need look at the current state of our world to know that we got off on the wrong highway exit. There are floods, droughts, entire populations disappearing, an actual pandemic which masks could help abate and a debate rages on as to whether or not they should even be worn such an ‘infringement’ on personal freedom they are. It’s insanity and this insanity is the pandemic of misinformation that Obama warned about as exited public office. Thanks Obama. No, literally, thanks Obama. As his term as President ended, Obama warned about the lies, the misinformation and the subsequent polarization that were insidious at the start but were slowly overtaking public life and public discourse. It’s not just ugly it’s damaging and, as we see now with COVID, it is fatal.
When I would read interviews where Obama discussed these things, because (surprise, surprise) I don’t have Obama’s brain, my own little brain started to shut down. I couldn’t grasp the enormity of what he was saying or the solutions he was positing, so I just turned back to my Twitter or my Insta and I, as I am sure many others did, carried on. And now, here we are. Stopped cold by a pandemic and wholly unable to carry on. Unless of course you are in Florida, Texas, etc. and were told it was fine to do so. Maskless.
It’s dawning on me, after a crazy long time, that the pandemic of misinformation has to be stopped the way an actual pandemic is stopped, by closing the borders to nonsense, to misinformation, and, to complete and utter oblivion to, and denial of, reality. Carlson, Dobbs, Hannity and their ilk deserve to be able to continue to speak; it is the cost of a free society. A high and unfortunate cost but one that must be paid. What they don’t deserve is to be heard. What they don’t deserve is to be amplified. What they don’t deserve is to even be acknowledged, because, even if their ideas are acknowledged in outrage, it is still fuelling that fire.
The only thing that fire needs is nothing, zero attention. It just needs to flame out and to go away. That fire needs to be met with a fireproof border. A wall of sane, rational people not willing to amplify, indulge or even discuss nonsense. This is an oversimplification as there are millions of people who resonate with these voices and an entire political party who aid and abet them for their own gain. It will take time, strategy and an army of anti-insaners.
Canada has had the right ideas on many things in this pandemic, chief among them, closing the border with the United States. Canada also had the right idea when it came to misinformation: there was none. Everyone, no matter the political party, media affiliation or locality differed on what the expectations were in managing this pandemic. There was a basic set of facts that were agreed upon. There were guidelines that were, by and large (I’m looking at you Quebec), put forth and followed. Everyone may have had their opinions but they were not entitled to their own facts. This unwillingness to deny facts: saved us. This facing up to reality: saved us. We have a long way to go in this fight, like the 401 it stretches on endlessly, but, at least in this regard, we know whose voices deserve to be heard and whose don’t. We know to keep our borders, physical and metaphorical, closed and we know that by adhering to facts we are the truest north; truly strong and truly free. Happy belated Birthday Canada. It would be impossible to be prouder of you.