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The Tyranny of Ignorance

It must be hard to be a Libertarian in the age of Trump. Imagine watching all your best ideas consistently co-opted and / or intersectional with folks that can unapologetically fly a confederate or nazi flag with no hesitation in public in the age of ubiquitous cell phone cameras and social media. In my more generous moments, I want to believe that there is a quaint, stoned college freshman innocence to libertarianism. One blissfully unaware of the darkness of greed, selfishness, and racism that seems so endemic to the hordes of folks otherwise well-intentioned libertarians have to spend so much energy distancing themselves from. At some point, you have to wonder why whenever your ideas get trotted out in the public square, how come all these garbage people show up?

Such has been the case again. In state capitols for the last few days, small but vociferous bands of doughy half-wits with misspelled signs have gathered to make it clear they will never sway under the oppressive, tyrannical yoke of basic science or its pointy egg-headed practitioners, even if done in the service of saving their own lives.

Goosed on by a tiny cabal of ammosexual activist groups, and a know-nothing president locked into a recursive feedback loop of appalling stupidity with his favorite television channel, the streets surrounding several state capitol buildings have filled with the honking cars and swollen foot soldiers of the tattered fringe of the American right. People who lack the intellectual discipline to differentiate between the notion of how basic virology works and whatever hairball the Q Anon fan fiction chat board retched out performatively onto the kitchen floor on any given day.

Beneath a smattering of Trump banners, Gadsen, Confederate, and even Nazi flags; groups of pasty white, late middle-aged goons have decided that this whole COVID-19 pandemic is not, in fact, a highly infectious novel virus with no known cure or treatment that has killed over 700,000 human beings — but instead a total hoax meant to keep them from either the giving or taking of an Applebee’s dessert order. It’s clear from the degree of red-faced screaming in close quarters that many of these folks have either ignored or simply don’t believe most of the warnings surrounding the known methods of human transmission. To be fair, not all of these people see this as a hoax, Some of them are well aware of how dangerous this disease is, but are okay with the notion of killing off mamaw and papaw if it gets the local Cracker Barrel back open for dine-in service again. If you want to see this dipshit social Darwinist drivel made manifest — simply google any recent interview with Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman and spare a thought for the life-threatening levels of incredulity she elicits in otherwise staid, disciplined journalists.

Possibly the most alarming ingredient in this shit sundae are images of pre-diabetic pretend army men lining state capitol steps in mail-order tactical cosplay gear, brandishing what one imagines are most likely fully loaded semi-automatic long guns.

It is unclear what purpose the firearms serve. You would think that these folks would be at least tangentially aware that a virus is immune to gunfire, and certainly most community discussions surrounding public health best practices are seldom settled with tactical urban assault warfare. Suffice to say; they came prepared for either contingency.

Getty Images

It does seem at least odd that so many of these folks that have spent a great deal of time and money amassing food, ammunition and god only knows what else as part of “prepper” culture, and yet have revealed themselves to be the least prepared emotionally for an extended lockdown. For all their chest-pounding, fist-pumping and red-faced screaming about tyranny, one thing was plainly evident: there is likely no greater oppression than the absolute tyranny of one’s own fucking stupidity.

We live in an age where for a host of reasons, it has become astonishingly in vogue to shit on the idea of professional expertise. The notion that somehow the plausibility of any given idea is inversely proportionate to the academic bona fides of the source. The right-wing media has spent the last 30 years or so cultivating its base into believing that science, education, media, and government are all aligned in some dark conspiracy to pull the wool over the eyes of true patriots. Patriots, as defined by one’s residential proximity to rural areas and whose jobs require little more than a couple years of high school to get. To be clear, neither of those things are liabilities in and of themselves — however — willful ignorance shouldn’t be a badge of honor.

Will McPhail for The New Yorker

In the space generally occupied with sober awareness gained from disciplined study or the practice of craft, these people have chosen to fill their heads with garbage information they trade like baseball cards often culled from the last places on the internet that will have them. The intellectual swamps of Gab, Parler, and whatever number Chan we are now on are filled to overflowing with a Las Vegas-style all-you-can-eat for $3 buffet of roughly hewn fantastical bullshit rather than easily verifiable, knowable fruits of reality cut clean by Occam’s Razor.

This is the legacy of Donald J. Trump, and in retrospect — it’s hard to imagine that the (hopefully) final season of the world’s worst elimination reality TV show would play out any other way. Trump is the patron saint of conspiracy theorists everywhere. A lazy, paranoid mind barely hanging on to a rabid bucking horse of fevered narcissism and ego. He is the final boss level of white privilege — the ability to redefine observable reality in real-time from the podium of the most powerful office on the planet.

Watching Trump’s daily 5 o’clock public bitch session has now become a horrific trip into the fevered mind of history’s most potent idiot. There’s nothing edgier than hearing what should be life-saving information dictated in the halting, arrhythmic cadence of a remedial 3rd-grade reader, with the occasional dumbass quip crowbarred in to make it feel loose and unscripted. What follows then is an immediate display of embarrassing obsequiousness and bootlicking from the Vice President along with a couple of cameos from actual doctors at the same time Trump tries to arrange his body into a shape that he thinks people assume when they are actually listening attentively to someone else talk.

Then the real fun begins. The next hour is a fireworks display of weapons-grade stupidity from Trump as he answers serious life or death questions like a kid making up a book report on something they never read in front of the whole class, or worse — some insane pseudoscience miracle cure pulled directly out of his ass . Instead of actual useful information — what we instead get is Trump belching out his laundry list of imagined political grievance at the White House press corps — occasionally pausing to be the biggest dick imaginable to any member of the press who is doing anything other than passionately washing his balls, effusively praising him in the form of non-germane questions (see: One America News Network), or at least setting him up for his next non-sequitur policy fart joke.

These performances aren’t for us — the American people desperately trying to navigate the most terrifying public health disaster of the last 100 years as we all watch our money go up in flames. These shit shows are for those ding dongs with the Gadsen flags. A weird loop where none of this is actually happening and all of us experiencing it as anything different are a bunch of shitty know-it-alls trying to make America not great.

It’s impossible to quantify how many people have died as a direct result of what will be remembered as the most significant failure of American government since the Vietnam War, but the willful ignorance of Trump and his hardcore base is running up a body count.

We’ve actually seen this before. When the Spanish Flu similarly ravaged the world in 1918, the same public health practices meant to mitigate the spread were undercut by impatient dummies who’d instead get themselves or others killed rather than be pushed around by some egghead doctor. The Anti-Mask League of San Francisco was a single-issue interest group dedicated to the repeal of the city’s ordinance surrounding the wearing of masks to slow the spread of the disease. The Spanish flu pandemic ended up consisting of two waves. After flattening the curve of the first one — the second, much more deadly one swept the world as people became cavalier in mistaking their mitigation as a completed cure. This is what will happen to us if these folks get their way and we rush to cut the parachute loose while we are still falling to the ground.

Who knows where this ends? Our uneven, piecemeal 50 state policy is essentially the same as thinking that having a peeing section in the pool is a perfectly acceptable way of keeping the rest of the water clean. Better managed countries throughout history (including ours) have found ways to band together against shared existential threats. We instead are occupying two separate realities at the same time, and in both of them, we are at the mercy of a death cult acting out its final suicide pact.

We have squandered the inheritance of our freedom on the poor impulse control of dangerous idiots with poor quantitative data analysis skills, and we are all in danger as a result.

This is the real tyranny: The tyranny of ignorance.


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