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EDITORIAL

Illogic in the age of COVID-19

Illogical thinking may well serve a useful purpose in ensuring that human beings have avoided becoming a rather boring, robotic race lacking colour, culture and diversity.
Those useful members of society who generate art, satire, comedy, and cultural diversity provide us with a healthy, thought-provoking and stimulating blend of interesting ideas and entertainments.
Flights of illogic and apparent flights into unreality can often provide most of us with healthy doses of laughter and amusement – and we generally welcome such excursions.
But illogic overdone can also be harmful – dangerous, even – to our well-being.
History has shown us how a fearsome global event such as the sudden onset of a pandemic can be accompanied by widespread confusion, panic, misinformation and deliberate mischief-making.
Illogic can become a fundamental component of personal belief systems and political ideology.
It allows new explanations to be promulgated about an alternate version of what really is happening.
The emergence of diverse views over global concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic perhaps provides the best objective illustration of how the wheels can fall off reasoned, fact-based societal information about an existential crisis.
As we will see, it has all happened before. When the Great Plague swept Europe in the 14th century, peaking between 1347 and 1351, it left half the population dead (about 50 million) and set in motion events which ended feudal society and sowed the seeds of the Reformation and sparked many other changes (including a cycle of lethal epidemics).
The indiscriminate nature of the Plague which claimed as victims the high and the low, the pious and the ‘sinners,’ and the young and old alike – perhaps in the space of a day after the onset of illness – led people to wonder about the value of their trust in the Church, its authority and those who worked in its name.
Who and what was responsible for the unrelenting tide of death? Medical science then did not exist to explain the origin and effects of the Plague bacteria – or even how to fight it.
A need for scapegoats led to blame laying.
An apparently practical measure was to search for ‘spreaders.’
This ultimately fed into easily constructed theories of racism, sexism and ageism.
The dire methods of inquisitors established the apparent extent of ‘conspiracies’ of Jews, foreigners, groups of elderly women and more.
And so it was that superstition and explanations gained by torture and gossip gained acceptance as a currency of truth.
The widespread disillusionment with the protective role of the Church was to sow seeds which later led to the Reformation although the later reformers themselves often generated their own witch-hunting extremists.
As the decades passed the ebb and flow of epidemics and huge death tolls continued.
The witch-hunting craze flourished and went on to become its most intense during the period 1550 to 1650.
The improbable, illogical, fearful speculation, and torture-induced confessions of so-called witches eventually give rise to its own powerful institution of ‘experts’, writers and opportunistic fear-mongers who, in turn, laid the learned foundations and procedures for official judicial searches for witches.
The subsequent trials generally had only one horrifying conclusion for hundreds of innocent people.
Let us return to a more rational, enlightened time: 2020.
The views of the origin of the COVID-19 virus, its nature and characteristics, and the appropriate methods (if such are required) to mitigate, limit or eliminate the danger, and consequential impacts on society, the economy and personal well-being, now form a forest of opinions, solutions and suggestions.
Most of these, unfortunately, are fuelled by the whimsies of illogic.
The virus, as recent months have shown; is a “mild version of ‘flu”, has been deliberately created by Chinese/United States scientists, has been generated by a conspiracy by 5G companies, is a conspiracy of the ‘elites’ (including Bill Gates), or should be allowed to roam free and generate “herd immunity” among the population of the planet.
Social media has been the perfect vehicle for ratbags, one-issue barrow-pushers, extremists, and conspiracy theorists to peddle mischief and false information (‘fake news’).
Some individuals have not taken much prodding to join pitchfork and burning brand protests in various countries, including ours.
America, though, is the standout when Second Amendment enthusiasts decided to bring their automatic weapons along to various demonstrations against continuing with protective community lockdowns to limit the spread of the pandemic in the U.S. to allow freedom-loving Americans to return to work unfettered by community health protection requirements.
In essence the beliefs and actions of these AR-15 toting, camo-wearing, bearded patriots represents true illogic. By becoming anti-anti COVID-19 isolationists these earnest people were, in effect, representing a pro-COVID-19 movement.
Of course, they may have been misled into thinking that these nasty virus particles, which often have appeared in television backdrops as large as beach balls, may be susceptible to a few rounds of automatic rifle fire.
The problem, of course, is that the novel coronavirus virions are about 125 nanometers in size and one nanometre is one-billionth of a metre! Tricky, that, trying to take a nest of COVIDs even with the firepower of an entire milita unit.
The other area of medieval witch-hunting which has become manifest during the course of the pandemic is the view of stridently-voiced and fervent protesters who claim that it is 5G technology that is to blame for emergence and spread of the virus.
According to a rash of media reports something like one-in-eight Australians believe that radiation from 5G technology is responsible.
The same number of people are sure that Bill Gates is somehow involved.
The more that authoritative and expert voices seek to counter or end such claims the greater is the encouragement felt by conspiracy theorists.
They all pile in.
It seems the anti-Vaxxers are fully on board the anti-5G campaign.
Understanding, describing, and developing effective treatments and/or vaccines is a mind-numbing and difficult challenge for the world’s best and brightest medical scientists.
The potentially lethal nature of the virus requires the huge imposition of social constraints and disciplines along with a massive mobilisation of money and resources by governments.
There is nothing simple about the factual realities of COVID-19 but the application of social media-dispersed speculative, malicious and fraudulent assertions, rooted in most cases in a extreme political ideological view, is a fairly simple and easy thing to do.
It shows that illogic can trump logic.
Which brings us to a master of illogic, one Donald Trump.
The fact that Mr Trump is president of the United States is seen by many around the globe as a matter of illogic in itself.
However, Mr Trump, now nearing the end of his first term as president, has become famous for displaying the finer points of illogical thinking during his tenure of the White House.
The views of Mr Trump on the so-called COVID-19 crisis have demonstrated week after week, a rare facility for viewing reality in a way different to the perceptions and understanding of most ordinary people.
Despite the reservations of his senior health officials Mr Trump has actively supported the use of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a preventive medication against COVID-19.
Americans learned that he had acually been taking the pills for two weeks. He has since said that he has completed the course – whatever that may mean.
Only recently, the President railed against the practice of testing populations to determine the spread and extent of COVID-19 in the United States.
He asserted that less testing would result in fewer reported deaths. Interesting.
Despite the inconvenience of some close White House aides becoming infected with the virus Mr Trump has chosen not to wear a mask in his recent public appearances.
And so it goes.
The World Health Organisation is so concerned about the spread of misinformation and disinformation about the current pandemic that it has labelled the rapid spread of false and misleading information via social media as an ‘infodemic’.
Modern ordinary, rational people who still believe in placing their greatest trust in expert scientific advice and actual facts could be forgiven for thinking that the forces of illogic which almost triumphed during the 14th century are still with us to this very day and trying very hard to convince us to believe in nonsense.

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