Possibly you recall the “Information Superhighway,” a phrase popularized by then-Vice President Al Gore to describe the internet. The expectation was that universal connectivity would lead to widespread enlightenment and social progress. Instead, we got QAnon, TikTok, metastasizing superstition, and the cult of Donald J. Trump — a speedway to delusion and disorder. We got social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc.
Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, the newspaper where you may be reading this probably runs an astrology feature — an ancient belief system based upon a pre-Copernican understanding of the heavens in which stars were believed to orbit the Earth and to influence human events.
To most, astrology’s a harmless diversion. I once had a neighbor, a banker, who cast elaborate horoscopes and offered personal advice based upon the stars. His readings were amazingly complex and detailed. Once, he overheard my wife and me bickering about what she saw as the appalling chaos of my office.
The astrologer chuckled in his deep-voiced way and said, “It’s a sure thing he’s not a Virgo.”
Now, to the question “What’s your sign?” I quote Arkansas humorist Mike Trimble: “Slippery when wet.”
My September birthday, however, definitely makes me a Virgo. With odds 12-to-1 in his favor, the astrologer had gotten it dead wrong.
If you think his views were shaken, you’ve never known a serious practitioner. Evidently, my messy office signified a deeper passion for order. Or something. I forget. And while I haven’t seen the fellow in years, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d become a COVID conspiracy maven and vaccine-denier. I hope it didn’t kill him.
Mere reality isn’t enough for some people. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say it’s too much. For millions, contemporary life far surpasses their ability to assimilate and absorb conflicting information. So they turn to social media, where cranks and charlatans are happy to provide them with magic and circuses: storybook mysteries hidden from ordinary mortals but discoverable by an enlightened few.
Check out Alex Jones’ Infowars website. A contemptible fraud, Jones became a billionaire by popularizing such off-the-wall notions as the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre being a government-sponsored hoax featuring “crisis actors” masquerading as bereaved parents. It’s all a plot to seize your guns, of course. Guns being the magical totem that will protect you against what Scripture calls “the malice and snares of the devil.”
Hillary Clinton, that is. Along with international Jewish conspirator George Soros. Also Dr. Anthony Fauci. But hold that thought.
On his website, Jones also peddles survivalist gear, toxic dietary supplements, and miracle “cures” for COVID-19. It’s not clear if Jones inspired Trump’s nutball advice to inject bleach.
Even after the courts ordered Jones to pay almost $1.5 billion last year in damages to the parents of slain children he has slandered, he retains millions of online followers. Utterly shameless, he was among the invited speakers at Trump’s January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally.
“We will never back down to the satanic pedophile, globalist New World Order and their walking-dead reanimated corpse Joe Biden,” Jones announced at a post-election MAGA rally, “and we will never recognize him.” It sounds like self-parody, but he kept a straight face.
Oddly, he’s since fallen out with QAnon, the political cult holding that a cabal of cannibalistic pedophiles fixed the 2020 election.
Anyway, here’s the thing: From the Black Death of the 14th century to COVID-19, lurid fantasies have always arisen to explain the inexplicable. Human beings crave simple stories with villains and heroes. History has to have a meaning and a moral — the more melodramatic the better.
Social media, meanwhile, allows crackpot imaginings and idle fantasies to develop into full-blown conspiracy theories more quickly and circulate more widely all the time.
The saner among us must be thankful that Dr. Fauci is not Jewish. Otherwise, there’s no telling to what craven depths the conspiracist wing of the House Republican majority might have been willing to take their announced plan to investigate him.
Even the tycoon Elon Musk, who received his own medical education at the prestigious University of Twitter, wants Fauci prosecuted. Not to be outdone, exhibitionist Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia — she of “Jewish space lasers” fame — jumped right on board.
Perhaps the most eminent public health official in American history, Fauci retires this week at age 82 from his job as director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He says he has nothing to hide and no problem testifying.
“What really, really concerns me,” he told The New York Times, “is the politicization of public health principles. How you can have red states under-vaccinated and blue states well-vaccinated and having deaths much more prevalent among people in red states because they’re under-vaccinated — that’s tragic for the population.”
Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of The Hunting of the President.