Four years ago, ahead of the inauguration of a certain US president, I warned of the dangers of a post-truth world. After the November 2020 election that voted him out I wondered what we have to do to get some sense of truth back, after the world has become used to being flooded with toxic lies. Conspiracy theories not only disturb political process, they may also jeopardise the response to the Covid crisis.
I wrote a feature about this in the first week of December, writing about the strange beliefs of Republicans in the past tense, half hoping they might get bored of crazy conspiracies by the time the article comes out. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened and they decided it might be a good idea to storm the Capitol and try to prevent the completion of the official election process. A very good analysis of what happened, with just the right amount of references to Weimar Germany, is in this essay by Yale historian Timothy Snyder - from which I borrowed the title of this blogpost. Snyder makes the point that, on top of all the small and medium sized lies, the big lie that Trump won the 2020 election and had the presidency stolen from him could continue to bind his fanbase in their perceived victimhood and serve a future fascist coup like the Dolchstoss-Legende about the end of worldwar I served the Nazis. Trump might be too incompetent to lead that coup himself, but somebody else now patiently waiting in the wings could take over his devoted fanbase and use it for a successful putsch.
Now I'm somewhat less optimistic that the problem can still be fixed in the US, and if it can't the fallout will be catastrophic for the rest of the world as well, if only because raving lunatics around the world will feel encouraged to try the same. But to feed the small hopes we still have here are some thoughts on how to bring back a bit of reason.
Recovering a sense of reality
Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 1, 11 January 2021, Pages R1-R3
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The denialists in the photos we had available in December looked comparatively sane compared to the photos from last week! Demonstration of denialists protesting against Covid restrictions in Leipzig, Germany. (Photo: Roy Zuo/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).)