Covid-19 and the Concept of Truth

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Covid-19 and the Concept of Truth

The threat of the cloud-like coronavirus-19, here and now in Singapore, offers a unique opportunity for studying truth itself.

Therefore, the angle of this post is on truth—the lack of clarity in pursuing it, the need for doubt, even suspicion, when seeking it.

Peppered among this morning’s headlines, the Chinese government’s failed propaganda effort features prominently. More than since the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989, the efforts to silence the voices of citizens calling for greater transparency are failing. Many Chinese people believe the government has lied to them. An apparent propaganda in exchange for safety is not working—to say the least.

Truth seekers vary from the post-Enlightenment religious-like believers in science-as-truth to the extreme post-modernist (POMO) viewpoint which holds all truth as relative.

Truth, POMO enthusiasts believe, emanates from power.

POMO loses credibility when health, even staying alive, is at stake.

In these cases, truth obviously matters.

It matters much more than which car offers the best ride, how the stock market will do in coming months, or which outfit to choose for today’s weather.

Sitting here in Singapore, poised for a trip to Thailand tomorrow, how does the search for truth play out?

On the one hand, two extremes of the information regarding covid-19 are emerging in real time. Countries fearful of its health and economic impacts lean towards distorting the “facts” about covid-19.

They may lie about the number of cases, minimizing them to improve their public relations image or to reduce the consumerism on which their economies rely.

It’s easy to single out authoritarian governments, like China, North Korea, or Iran, for such biased reporting of information. But even our own dear leader, Trump, yesterday proclaimed the US as “very, very ready” for the virus.

Trump based this on no information whatsoever, his guts, perhaps, or his own self-proclaimed status as a germaphobe.

In today’s NY Times, Trump is quoted as saying:

We’re very, very ready for this, for anything, whether it’s going to be a breakout of larger proportions or whether or not we’re, you know, we’re at the very low level.

(When considering information from any source, be aware of the word, “vary.” It tells you absolutely nothing except that the speaker either likes the word, is prone to exaggerate, or wants to emphasize the word next to it).

Trump placed his human doll, VP Pence, in charge of monitoring the crisis.

(Would anyone even make a doll of Mike Pence? It wouldn’t make sense. The fictional idea of a “doll” would vanish because Pence already exists in living human form).

Wouldn’t even a 6th grader put a medical professional, preferably an infectious disease specialist, in a position to advise and protect the American public?

This exemplifies how propaganda is alive and well in the US.

Besides public relations (our country is great) and economic concerns (keep manufacturing and purchasing), minimization of the covid-19 situation may also be motivated to reduce fear, to contain possible panic.

Some might consider this fair.

However, it treats the global consumers of information like children. Minimizing a potential danger prevents consenting adults from properly evaluating information.

In truth, we global citizens deserve access to the best information so that we can make the best informed choices.

On the other hand, international media outlets, with few exceptions, are profit-based institutions. They make money selling ads. Fear sells.

You’ve heard the cliche:

If it bleeds, it leads.

Even empirical research has shown that people buy more when they are frightened.

Think of the many television commercials with themes of fear-reduction:

Try this specific anti-depressant to reduce your sadness, shop at this grocery store for the freshest fruits, or use this moisturizer to reduce your skin’s aging.

Today, anticipating this long-planned lecturing and vacationing trip to SE Asia, understanding biases affecting the reporting of truth may be literally a matter of life-or-death.

As of this hour, the CDC, and the US State Department, consider Singapore and Thailand as having confirmed cases. (BTW, so does the US and Canada). Neither agency considers these countries:

a. travel but be careful.

b. at-risk groups avoid, or;

c. avoid all non-essential travel.

But this can change in an instant, like happened in South Korea and Iran in just the past few days.

The situation is rather anxiety-provoking.

The Singapore Airlines nonstop from Los Angeles was nearly half-empty.

An allegedly famous Chinese restaurant, here in Singapore, was about 25 percent full. They took our temperatures at the door, placing little stickers with the degrees, in Centigrade, on our sleeves.

(Given that it’s Singapore, I imagine being detained and transported to some secure facility if one had a temperature).

Is anywhere totally safe?

Obviously not.

A 10 point Richter scale earthquake could kill most residents of Los Angeles.

The ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation lingers. One serious nuclear exchange would likely eliminate the human species altogether.

Ergo, we always live with risks.

Hopefully, we evaluate information to reduce them. We wear seatbelts when driving, take anti-hypertensives when our blood pressure elevates, and avoid hours of sunbathing.

These are no-brainers.

This current covid-19 situation tests all of our capabilities of assessing truth.

As I have repeatedly argued in prior posts, greet all sources of information—even governmental ones—with suspicion. Rely on multiple sources of information. Understand the omnipresence of deliberate efforts towards bias, even propaganda.

And, then, with tremulousness, decide how to proceed.

Hey—it’s all any of us talking monkeys can do.

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