I doubt it…

I am not all that trustful, but then again I am. It makes no sense. If I think you like me, or even worse if I like you, I’m more likely to believe you. That non-strategy gets me kicked in the teeth, and lower regions, a lot. I’m a sucker for what appears to be understanding and bonding. I’m more or less a sucker, it would seem.

Somewhere along the line, though, I made a conscious decision to refrain from being embittered and paranoid, so I accept the consequences. It sucks at times, but I remain conscious of the choice I made. That and a couple of dollars will get me a canned drink from vending machine. So be it.

Sometimes my trust is misplaced, and I would rather have a bit more discretion about ferreting out truth, but I hear that I’m not required to be perfect. It’s frustrating, though, to feel as though I’ve been taken for a ride, taken advantage of, made a fool of. It may be life-defining if I’ve been taken advantage of regarding a health care decision.

I do not respond well to being made a fool of, and that’s an entirely different set of circumstances in my opinion. When I feel as though I have been played as a fool, I am definitely bitter and hostile. That implies to me that a perpetrator knew entirely what they were doing, and intended to harm me. All bets are off at that point, particularly when I’ve lost something other than my dignity, like cash or opportunity. That generally is a point of no return for me.

All that aside, I was reflecting on a discussion I had yesterday, with a guy who spoke onn skepticism, and them morality of decisions based on that perspective. Skepticism, by definition, is doubt. Doubting the truth as presented, regardless of evidence and facts. That’s an entirely self-absorbed and subjective posture, so debate is generally useless. Once someone has decided to reject the truth, and the conventional wisdom, there’s really no external persuasion that will change their stance.

The first thing I recall in considering skepticism is my recovery from alcoholism. I consider that a work in progress, but I have journeyed quite a way from the pervasive skepticism I had when starting the journey. I was convinced the suggesting program would not work for me, convinced that nothing would change, convinced that I was beyond hope of ditching misery. The only reason I stayed was that I had nowhere else to be, having alienated everything and everyone that had once been important.

Over time, the fog cleared and I saw a clearing in the distance, an oasis of sorts. The longer I stayed, the more the skepticism and distrust retreated, and I became less distrustful of the process. In reality, the only change was my willingness to believe, my willingness to take the suggestions and try. I continue to believe that willingness is the only transformative power in the journey, bringing an optimism that could not be imagined when there was no willingness to have it.

So, in these days of pandemic response, we are treated to varying levels of skepticism regarding the source of the virus, the remedies to combat it, and the messengers who impart information. Is the information credible? Are the messengers trustworthy? We don’t have to accept any message, any information or instructions whatsoever.

When dealing with commercial advertising, the choice to believe is reasonably inconsequential. Believing that a Mercedes-Benz automobile is of substantially higher quality than a Ford will not result result in loss of life or planetary destruction. The choice may prove to be financially inexpedient for the decision maker in the long run, but that’s as far as consequence will extend. Believing that COVID-19 is a hoax, and that recommended strategies for mitigation are unnecessary may have significantly more impactful results.

People make the decision to mistrust sources of information based on several factors, some more credible than others. Deciding to withhold trust in certain information may depend on the “sales job” that brings it forward. No matter how dubious the facts, a good sales person may prevail as much as not. In the final analysis, the same rules of betrayal hold true if the carney proves to be a liar.

The how and why of faith is entirely irrational. Believing that one sales pitch is more credible than another is entirely subjective and personal. In the presence of empirical data, a person is free to simply not believe if they suspect the information source is not credible. It’s as much a matter of faith as any religious tenet. When it comes to things like acceptance of empirical evidence regarding something like organic processes, there’s little room for argument. It’s entirely and simply a choice to be skeptical or not.

When confronted with something like COVID-19, the consequence of skepticism feel more significant than choosing the Mercedes over the Ford. To decide whether I’m going to align with the conventional wisdom regarding whether to believe what I’m hearing is not all that simple a process for me. I listen to a wide range of critique and rationale, then do my own research about what I’ve heard. I read everything I can find, and rely on my own limited knowledge of the subject. I’ve take a couple of courses that involve biology and epidemiology, and know the basics of how viruses function. When I volunteered for the AIDS hotline years ago, I became very well acquainted with viral progression, mutation, and herd immunity. The virus that causes AIDS was not identified immediately, and the morbidity was entirely misunderstood until the disease was framed as the result of viral infection. The CDC came to believe that symptomology and impact was best explained by viral response, and that eventually led to more sound treatment and prevention methodology, which impacted the morbidity rate.

In the case of COVID-19, scientists arrived at reasonable conclusions regarding the nature of the illness and the most effective manner of treatment and mitigation of propagation. What has complicated the public response to those conclusions, however, is nothing short of incredible. The public response has been affected not by evidence, not by experience, but the intentional manifestation of skepticism for a prescribed outcome. That outcome was designed to be a systemic mistrust of the conventional wisdom and denial of objective evidence, a.k.a. truth.

Most people agree that a cloudless sky on a sunny day is generally blue in color. When there are clouds, we agree the color is more grey, and much darker. There is more nuance, however, in the perception of either condition as pleasurable. That’s entirely subjective – some of us like sunny days, others like cloudy days. No harm in either case.

The nuance may have some consequence, however, if things like ultraviolet radiation content on a sunny day is denied. There is evidence that UV light causes sunburn, and potentially melanoma. Sunshine fuels photosynthesis in plants, which in turn completes a necessary cycle of returning oxygen to the air and soil. Human life cannot persist without that, and the validity of that explanation has been proven in science. There’s not a huge wealth of skepticism about that.

There is, however, a great deal of skepticism about other scientific explanations, like evolution and adaptive radiation. Religious faith has invaded the realm of science for things like the Darwinian theory of evolution, as well as the conventional scientific widsom of calculating the origin of the universe and this planet. Science calculates the physical and geologic evidence of the planet to estimate its age as billions of years, while some religious faiths believe the world was created at the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. That puts existence at slightly more than 2,000 years. What’s believed is what is chosen, and the empirical data is irrelevant at that point.

I believe – or I choose to believe – that I can handle people making different choices with the data the choose to take in. What I’m struggling with, however, is where their right to believe differently – and contrary to established evidence – intersects with my rights. If a person does not believe in the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and does not believe that masking mitigates any chance of illness that may or may not exist, I don’t know how to navigate that intersection. If the best evidence at my disposal indicates that COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-2 coronavirus, and if groups of people who refuse to mask en masse demonstrate higher than average infection and morbidity rates from that virus, where do their rights to be skeptical of that data override my rights to believe seemingly good evidence?

This is but one of many such intersection points. We’ve been having them repeatedly for hundreds of years, possibly since the beginning of recorded history. When city states battled for what they assumed to be limited and finite resources, they went to war. There were resources, they were needed for survival, one group possessed them and the other group needed them, so may the best group win. Or die trying. I suppose we believed we’d progressed a bit farther than throwing boiling oil on each other from the parapets of stone castles, but perhaps not.

Do we simply think too much of ourselves? Have we not learned to live in actual community, where the value of “we” is more than the value of “I”? Sometimes I believe it’s that simple, and that seems to be a philosophical stance, a core value that elevates individuality above all else, even at peril of collective demise. If we venture to some other planet or galaxy, we’ll bring that with us. I’m not seeing that as a particularly attractive prospect.

We are often bridled by our wants, and sometimes ignore our needs. If I want to drink alcoholically, I am free to do that, but it actually does nothing to quench my thirst or satisfy the needs of my body. Only water will do that, but water has never provided the mood changing sensation that copious amounts of alcohol did. Drinkers have been known to become severely dehydrated while imbibing on hot days, no matter how many bottles of cold beer they drank. But water was not what they wanted, only what their bodies needed.

Perhaps it’s merely emotional immaturity that compels adult humans to continually strive to satisfy their wants, rather than needs. In times of true scarcity, the community must survive on a collective level; elevating the needs of select individuals will not guarantee survival of the species. I believe it may be nothing but hubris that drives us past the more practical solutions, believing that our wants or deserved or somehow of higher stature than needs. Sometimes I believe we simply have too many choices, but that’s just my opinion.

When I lose sight of my needs, and become distracted by wants, I’m likely to be in an endless cycle of unmet expectations and disappointments. That makes me very cranky, as though I can never “win”. If I have no humility and no gratitude for what I have, I’m doomed to seeing no value in what I accomplish, and life becomes drudgery. That’s where a lot of us find ourselves – life is drudgery, and we attempt to combat that by convincing ourselves that we deserve the new car, the bling, the vacation, the latest fashions. From my experience, providing what I believe I “deserve” is building a house of cards – easy come, easy go. As I was taught in recovery, if I truly got what I deserved, I would probably not be sitting here typing on a laptop and eating cupcakes in bed.

People who stormed the Capitol on January 6th wanted a specific outcome, because they chose to believe that a grievous wrong had been perpetrated upon them. There was no tangible evidence of the alleged crime they continue to espouse, that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen from their preferred candidate. There’s still no such evidence, and not for lack of trying. Votes have been counted and recounted and recounted again, and there’s no evidence of significant voter fraud. Their narrative remains the same, and despite many of them having been arrested and incarcerated for their roles in the insurrection, they are staying that course. It’s a choice, and they have the right to make it, but I can’t believe it makes them happy.

Perhaps that’s the biggest decision point in our ability to choose. We have free will, but is the litmus test of correct and moral choice whether or not it makes us happy? Pursuit of happiness, that’s part of our agreement for our lives in this country. There’s a problem with that, however – the definition of happiness. I would contend that happiness in the collective sense is not what makes each of us individually giddy with pleasure and an endless smile. It would seem that on the grand scheme of things, involving millions of people, happiness is far more complicated. It has to do with norms and laws and our collective ability to rise above the dregs of simple necessity.

Political conservatives rail against anything that hints at what they deem to be socialism, but there are elements of socialism in every fiber of this nation. Socialism has become simply a pejorative for the argument that pits “big government” against “personal responsibility”. I’ve lost patience with debating that issue, because no matter which side of it one supports, we all have to admit that what’s happening is simply not working. I believe we need something new, born of creative compromise and humility. We’re not there, however, and I think we’re going to have to lose a great deal more before we’re willing to be there.

Recovery involves admitting there’s a problem, and that we can’t solve it. It also involves becoming willing to go to any lengths to get better. We’re not willing to got to any lengths – we still choose to believe that our existing solutions are valid, if only everyone else would straighten up and fly right. That’s not working for us, but still…we try. Still, we hold on to the notion that we’re the smartest people in the room, we’re the best nation on the planet, we have the right answers (in some cases, because we’ve talked to a supernatural deity who has given only us the correct answer). Truth be told, it’s simply not working. We’re angry, depressed, and tired. I’m thinking that’s not the goal of anybody’s life, no matter how much money you have.

So, I’ll keep looking for a job, if for nothing else to not have to move under a bridge and steal wi-fi from a public building, living in my truck with the $1800 worth of remanufactured air compressor and new valve cover gasket. Perhaps I can park in the lot of the sno-ball place, and walk to the sidewalk with a distressed look on my face and a hand-made sign that says I will work for sno-balls. I can hang a tin can on the dog’s collar for contributions from passing traffic and wonder how my life has come to this. I will write bad poetry and nonsensical essays (like this one) to be published upon my death. What price glory? It is merely the price of a sno-ball.

It’s merely a flesh wound!

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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