Matthew Claxton

Painful Truth: Deniers are martyrs to foolishness

Denialism is now a way of life for millions of people

There have been intermittent reports coming out of the United States now of people having literal death-bed conversions on the COVID-19 vaccine issue.

How many there are is difficult to determine, but certainly there are going to be thousands of people who refused to get vaccinated who then find themselves in hospital, miserably sick, and in some cases, dying.

We only have anecdotal evidence of how these patients react to finding out that COVID isn’t just “the flu,” or that it exists at all.

But I’m sure some of them are dying utterly convinced they were right. It’s very human, to be stubborn well past the point of no return.

When it comes to the other slow-moving catastrophe we’re dealing with, I’m still getting email from climate change deniers. Sure, temperatures recently got up to the high 40s in B.C. for the first time ever, killing hundreds of people outright, causing chaos with our ambulance response, drying out our forests and laying the groundwork for the destruction of Lytton.

But is that any reason to abandon a belief that climate change is either A) not real or B) caused by sunspots or something?

If you aren’t going to accept years of scientific consensus and thousands of studies, why would you accept the evidence of your own eyes?

Perhaps nine to 11 per cent of the population are firm anti-vaccine zealots, and while climate change denial is more widespread, I suspect a Venn diagram of the two groups would overlap significantly.

Scratch a global warming denialist and you’re chances are higher than normal of finding someone who also denies that Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, that Joe Biden won the last U.S. presidential election, or that the Earth is round.

The problem, which the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp relief, is that denialism has costs for everyone else.

If we could get 10 or 15 per cent more of our society vaccinated, we could crush the spread of the Delta variant and slash hospitalizations even further, taking a huge burden off both our health care system and our economy.

But we can’t because there are thousands of people in this country who are dedicated to spreading nonsense ideas and lies, and tens or hundreds of thousands who have absorbed those lies and trust them more than they do their doctors, religious leaders, politicians, health authorities, or even their families.

COVID has shown us that we can’t deal with denialists gently and gingerly. Pandering to them should be cause for ejection from every mainstream political party in Canada. We can’t change their views, but policy can quash the worst of their impact.

With both COVID and the climate crisis killing people, we have to face denialism head on. We have to see it for what it is – spite directed against reality, by people who would, in many cases, die rather than be wrong. Some are liars and grifters, but many would be martyrs to their foolishness.

Of course, if asked they’ll deny that there’s anything pathological about their way of thinking. They’re very good at denial, after all.

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Matthew Claxton is a reporter with the Langley Advance Times.

Agassiz-Harrison Observer