But Reality Is So Complicated…

Paul Krugman devoted a recent column to the conspiracy theories that have emerged to “explain” the coronavirus. My only quibble with the column was its narrow focus; I’ve come to the conclusion that a substantial percentage of Americans find reality so intimidating, messy and/or incomprehensible, the only way they can make sense of it is to assume that someone or some group must be intentionally responsible for the aspects of that reality they most fear.

It can’t be random–“those people” must be engaged in a purposeful effort to harm or mislead them.

We really haven’t come very far from colonial days, when clerics opposed the newfangled smallpox vaccine because smallpox was undoubtedly sent by God, and inoculating people against it would constitute interference with God’s plan. Just substitute “those people”–the Deep State, the bankers, the Jews, the DNC, whoever–for God.

It’s just really hard for some people to accept randomness, and the fact that–as the undignified saying goes–shit happens.

As Krugman writes

We still don’t know how much damage Covid-19 — the coronavirus disease — will do, but it’s reasonable to be very concerned. After all, it appears to be highly transmissible, and it is probably a lot more lethal than ordinary flu.

But not to worry, say right-wing pundits and news organizations: It’s all a hoax, a conspiracy by the liberal media to make Donald Trump look bad. Administration officials and Trump himself have echoed their claims.

These claims are, of course, crazy. Among other things, Covid-19 is a global phenomenon, with major outbreaks ranging from South Korea to Italy. Are the South Korean and Italian media also part of a conspiracy to get Trump?

I agree with Krugman that this particular reaction was predictable to anyone who  follows the right-wings long-running war on facts, especially when facts prove  inconvenient or conflict with the right’s preferred version of reality.

And as Krugman also reminds us, much of their insistence on attributing unwanted outcomes to nefarious evil-doers rests on projection.

In the case of Covid-19 the usual suspects were, in part, engaged in projection. After all, they themselves engaged in a concerted effort to politically weaponize the 2014 Ebola outbreak against Barack Obama, whose response was in reality smart and effective. By the way, in the aftermath of that outbreak the Obama administration put in place measures to deal with future pandemics — all of which Trump scrapped.

Denial, as my grandfather used to say, isn’t just a river in Egypt.

Climate change? As recently as the 2018 midterms, a survey found 73 percent of Republican senators denying that man-made climate change is happening. The success of Obama’s economic measures?  Right-wing politicians and pundits insisted that the numbers were being cooked. (Those evil “deep state” folks, no doubt…) Etc.

But fair is fair: this sort of nonsense is hardly confined to the crazy people on the right, although clearly, the right has a majority of the crazies.

For example, a troubling percentage of his supporters are absolutely convinced that if Bernie isn’t the nominee, it will be due to a plot by “the establishment” to rig the process. Despite the results of Super Tuesday, it is evidently inconceivable to them that a majority of Democratic voters might prefer Biden or someone else–that large numbers of voters might honestly believe that Bernie would be less likely to beat Trump and more likely to doom Democrats’ down-ticket prospects.

As a column from Talking Points Memo put it,

To hear many Sanders surrogates describe it, the establishment and power brokers closed ranks and pushed Biden into the lead. But again, this just pretends like millions of voters don’t exist, or function as pawns of party elites. So you have one theory of political agency for Sanders supporters and another for everyone else. This stands no kind of political scrutiny.

Party workers making anti-Bernie arguments are engaging in typical (small-d) democratic campaigning, not “rigging” an election. Similarly, doctors aren’t conspiring to hide the “dangers” of vaccinations. Scientists aren’t part of an international cabal engaged in falsifying data on climate change. The government isn’t running a secret program entailing the discharge of dangerous airplane “contrails.”

Elvis’ death wasn’t faked, and there really isn’t a monster hiding under the bed.

In fact, there’s no one here but us flawed human beings trying to make sense of the shit that happens in a complicated world.


  1. That fear of the unknown – or unknowable – created gods and goddesses early in human history. When will Hollywood present an apocalyptic movie where it is human stupidity that wipes out our species.

  2. Copied and pasted from Wikipedia: “Coronaviruses were first discovered in the 1960s.[8] The earliest ones discovered were infectious bronchitis virus in chickens and two viruses from the nasal cavities of human patients with the common cold that were subsequently named human coronavirus 229E and human coronavirus OC43.[9] Other members of this family have since been identified, including SARS-CoV in 2003, HCoV NL63 in 2004, HKU1 in 2005, MERS-CoV in 2012, and SARS-CoV-2 (formerly known as 2019-nCoV) in 2019. Most of these have involved serious respiratory tract infections.”

    Perhaps the conspiracy has been a lack of testing of increasing seriousness of this particular strain of viruses as well as testing for vaccines which has been known for almost 60 years. These viruses are not going to go away when warm weather gets here as Trump suggests but does climate change enter into the current outbreak and spread of another strain which APPEARS to have begun in China. A report this morning on CNN stated that China has recorded their warmest winter in over a century. The climate change has been found to be at least a partial source of the Australian wildfires. Here in Indiana we are into the month of March with little to complain about the past winter weather but flu strains, pneumonia and common cold case numbers have been high and vaccines in short supply.

    A friend suggested the congested high population in China might explain the coronavirus epidemic there. The higher case numbers appear to be widespread in countries but appearing in higher populated areas of those countries. Some medical experts reported the possibility that recent deaths attributed to flu and pneumonia could have been coronavirus prior to the outbreak bringing it to world attention. Preventive recommendations appear to be simple common sense personal cleanliness and not being around people known to be sick; nothing new there. The numbers and areas of diagnosed cases here are increasing and are spreading seemingly from east and west coasts inland.

    The fact is we do not know so we are guessing which is complicating the reality of what we do know.

    “In fact, there’s no one here but us flawed human beings trying to make sense of the shit that happens in a complicated world.”

  3. There are conspiracy theories and then there are real conspiracies.
    The thing to understand is how to distinguish between the two, and in this “anything for attention” media driven society even the smartest among us is having a hard time knowing the difference. Thus the attraction of the most simplistic of answers to the most complicated questions.

  4. Sheila,

    “Party workers making anti-Bernie arguments are engaging in typical (small-d) democratic campaigning, not “rigging” an election.”

    You’re right. But so are the Bernie supporters. It would all be much clearer if we would admit that we are not a (small-d) democracy, but a society controlled by a bigoted oligarchy, that has allowed the likes of a Donald Trump to become President.

  5. Even at our best, we have NEVER been a small-d democracy. Until Rutherford B. Hayes, we functioned more or less like a democracy, but we have always been a republic. Conspiracies are driven by fear mongers, who find us infinitely malleable by fear of the “other”. We just need to identify the other so we know who to vote for or against. God help us!

  6. It is sometimes easy to see where conspiracies rumors start. Last night the Johns Hopkins real time Covid-19 counter went from 90,000+ to over two million. It popped back to its usual over 90,000 number within a few minutes. It’s been running an increase of 500-1000 cases a day before that. Some poor grad student somewhere is probably terrified and hopes no one saw it. I made a screenshot because it was so amazing.

    As to democrats and Bernie, I actually can imagine a bunch of important dems trying to ‘contain’ him. I get your point about the voters – but by making the announcement of who was dropping out immediately before Super Tuesday, it clearly did affect the supporters of the dropouts. As with any election, if you see your candidate doing poorly in early voting, it influences who you will vote for.

  7. the parties want what they want,,if perez had stated the end of the superdelegates,after the hilary debacle, and now hes marching to bring em back,if the dnc doesnt get its way. were seeing biden get a boost,but the people who are hired to push him foreward,are getting their moneys worth,after hilary many went to work for anyone..no party loyalty,just the zeros that follow the agreed payment for thier bother,.the small issues like,start a rumor,and follow it on face or twit and watch it grow, take those numbers and follow the heard,and make your paid for ad reach them..or keep filing out those worthless to us,surveys..paid numbers here,and how its tracked and acted upon,has its rewards. were too friggin lazy to read the issues,and relate to them in a manner that makes the same issues relevant. we go back to work and complain..im no wizard, but it takes 40 years of looking from the inside in the working class and a recognition of the changes,and where its going..i may guess,but all i see after this, is a one lane (one lane,both parties involved)in congress that will,make the change,and its to be ruled by the rich and wall street elites.. this one lane in congress,because they are paid and supported for no other reason.
    the working class has been seen as nothing more than a money machine shoving money at our demise as a dignified society.. capitalism is power,money power,and whoever wins will never see the working class again as a power broker in congress again.Bernies plan will take decades,and a move in other continents to make happen. the rich see us as their bunching bag,with trump as the MC,, we hired a sick degenrate to run this nation,that says were not stable enough to bunch our way out of a wet paper bag..vote blue no matter who? who?
    are we seeing another party takeover by wall streets mafia. the demos are not the working mans party,its a same small little gang insisting on reconition,and be damn if we the working class suports it,we have no real party now perez!! but,if the sacrifice to move to what we need most,change,isnt coming in november,what will? fcuk biden…hes another trump in low key clothes..

  8. Here’s another “theory”: Since Citizens United v. FEC allowed corporations to funnel virtually unlimited money into politics, they are purposefully creating animas, demonization, weaponization, subterfuge and outright lies in order to foment the tribalism that benefits their quarterly reports by having their hand-picked crooks get elected into office, mostly as Republicans.

    To Marv’s plea: Texas Republicans have gone full right-wing since Ann Richards was defeated as governor over – wait for it – gun legislation. The Republican turkey who ended up as governor started a long, slimy, fetid slide toward today’s Abbott/Patrick swamp. That swamp in Texas has been active for a decade in suppressing minority voting opportunities (I worked as a poll judge and saw the “rules” come down from on high first hand), reject free money for public schools and, of course, deny the expansion of Medicaid. These “actions” are responsible for Texas being the most unhealthy state in the country, the most polluted (Bush’s voluntary compliance rules for oil refineries and coal powered electrical plants) and the least insured against health catastrophes. There is a strong movement in Texas for that state to secede from the Union, because of that damned Constitution. Texas also – still – receives more Federal money than it pays to the government.

    The above example is part of the Republican effort to skew politics and governance toward the rich and the corporations. They have even enlisted the churches to violate the spirit and law of the Constitution to promote certain politicians and political agendas. Add to all that the idiotic television programs that most people watch and you have alternate reality, 24/7.

    Maybe that’s part of the plan by Republicans to destroy real democracy for the sake of their short-sighted and greedy donors. Or maybe it’s just mass stupidity and cowardice such that reality becomes the fantasy and “Two and a Half Men” becomes the truth.

  9. Jack,

    “i may guess,but all i see after this, is a one lane (one lane,both parties involved)in congress that will,make the change,and its to be ruled by the rich and wall street elites..”

    I’m not dumb enough to play a game of DARTS with you.

  10. Theresa – excellent point. The “conspiracy” to destroy the “deep state” AKA the professionals who do the work of running the Federal Government is real and in action every day “behind the curtains” of The Duck’s tweets.

  11. Vernon,

    This started years ago (think red scare). Citizens United only increased the speed and hubris of it all.

  12. At the epidemic’s peak, China was discovering 3,000 cases of coronavirus each month. Now that number is down to 800 new cases discovered in China per month.

  13. Not complicated per The Trumpet – It’s Obama’s Fault.

    Donald Trump sought to shift blame on to the Obama administration for a nationwide coronavirus test kit shortage.

    The president on Wednesday blamed a federal agency decision during Barack Obama’s presidency, which Trump said made it harder to quickly roll out testing for the virus.

    experts on lab testing have said they are unaware of an Obama administration rule that would have hindered the use of tests developed at university or private labs in an emergency.

    The responsibility for the coronavirus test kit shortage appears to lie with the CDC’s choice to develop and distribute its own kit rather than use the one recommended by the World Health Organization, according to ProPublica. But the CDC’s tests didn’t work, falsely flagging harmless samples that contained viruses other than Covid-19.

    Moreover, Trump ordered the dissolution of the National Security Council’s global health security unit and reassigned its head. The former national security adviser John Bolton also pressured the team’s counterpart at the Department of Homeland Security to resign.

    When in doubt blame Obama.

  14. I taught intro psychology courses for years and the most difficult concept for students to grasp, bar none–was chance and randomness. It just goes against our sense that all things happen for some reason!!

  15. I recommend watching PBS’s Frontline’s Great Divide. It was aired at the end of January and is available on youtube. It depicts the division between the parties, Obama/Trump administration and background on how this divide came to be.
    There are 2 segments, each 2 hours long. I’ve seen them both twice and have learned more each time I view them.

  16. Show me a conspiracy that actually exists in reality, and I will show you a conspiracy that does not work, gets no results, and is a waste of conspirator’s time.

    Show me a catastrophe for which blame is attributed to a conspiracy, and I will show you a catastrophe that conspiracy has had nothing whatsoever to do with.

    There’s no doubt that conspiracies do exist but lots of doubt that any ever work.

    Here’s what I am reading in today’s blog: Right, Sheila; conspiracies are not causing America’s problems, and the only way one can account for that fact is that such and such conspiracy is at work.

  17. So the sheep quibble among themselves on the way to the slaughterhouse while the ranchers sip their Jim Beam and talk about bottom lines? What else is gnu? It’s the political equivalent of what we call capitalism (or, more appropriately named, socialism for the rich).

    Thus defined, we have an ism that is not the one defined by classical and modern economists but rather by the population to be inordinately served and rewarded, to wit: those who supply capital over those who supply labor, and thus the oft-quoted view that “we have socialism for the rich and brutal capitalism for the rest of us.” The political friction comes when “the rest of us” want to participate in the “socialism for the rich,” as in carried interest v. Medicare for All, favorable tax treatment for investment v. unfavorable tax treatment for wages, all with the result that the wage inequality of today is at historic highs and (other than Trump) our biggest domestic issue awaiting solution.

    To paraphrase the observation of a famous pig > Some pigs are more equal than others.

  18. Marv, i read your words correctly,and im a sharp point in a mine field(with a smile). I have a respect for the people who voice their opinion and views here, i see mainly, senior,well educated,and very atuned to the issues we all need to change.. thanks, i work my ass off and try and keep a happy attitude when visiting here,and with trumpers. like justice, the scale has tipped to the right, and were clinging.. i can only use my wits, nerve and voice to try and at least make a view, and hope it carries. i never made an attempt to see myself as needing something,instead, i push for the working class as a whole,and try and reason as a working person,with the ignorance that has made America what we see today. dont be affraid to call it as you see it,otherwise, we dont understand… best wishes…

  19. Another Trump lie: that Obama enacted some administrative regulation on lab procedures that has hampered getting test kits to hospitals. That didn’t happen because there is no such regulation. The CDC (now under Trump, mind you) enacted some rule on its own that patients had to meet certain criteria to be tested for COVID-19 because they didn’t have enough kits. Some of the people who came down with COVID-19 could have been identified sooner, and therefore, be less likely to infect others, but for this rule. The first few batches of test kits were defective. The CDC has eliminated this provision, so labs can develop their own test kits, but the delay has no doubt caused multiple people to get sick because positive cases didn’t get identified sooner.

    If Trump hadn’t eliminated positions within the CDC for rapid response and disease surveillance, we would have been on top of this infection months ago, and would know more about how the disease is spread, how long the virus lives on surfaces (up to 4 days), and how long people who test positive are contagious. Also we would have had enough testing kits, masks, gloves, etc. on hand, instead of there being shortages. We could have restricted travel to and from places like Wuhan and put cruise ships, schools, subways, trains, airplanes and other public transportation and large public buildings on notice of the need for deep-cleaning. We’d be ready with fully-equipped isolation units, with experienced nurses ready to care for those who get sick. Work in earnest would be done to get a vaccine going. We’re just now doing these things.

    Trump and Pence keep misrepresenting the time it takes to get an effective vaccine–which takes at least 12 to 18 months on the low end. They seem to think it’s like baking a cake: get a cake mix, some eggs, oil and water, mix together and bake: voila! a lovely cake. There are many stages involved in isolating the organism, creating a form suitable for injection without excessive side effects, and testing it for efficacy and safety on human volunteers. It does no good to create a vaccine that is not effective or that isn’t safe. It’s not as simple as it sounds.

    Trump is looking for something, anything, to shift blame to Obama for his stupid decision to dismantle the rapid response team. He keeps trying to downplay this epidemic. Just yesterday, he said that some people weren’t really very sick–they were just laying around, resting, and some even kept going to work. He had to walk back the last statement because it seemed to imply that he approved of sick people going to work.

    Speaking of blame, I read someplace that the word “influenza” came from Italian philosophers centuries ago who believed that some juxtaposition of the cosmos influenced the development of contagious illness here on earth. No doubt the fact that flu is more prevalent in the winter months, when, coincidentally, some stars and constellations are in certain alignment, helped contribute to this theory, which makes more sense than some of the right wingers.

  20. I certainly agree that there is no scientific conspiracy that coerces scientists into supporting the theory than the man is causing dangerous global warming. (Sorry I refuse to use the opportunistic rebranding of the aforementioned theory as “climate change.” The climate on Earth has been changing for 4.5 billion years and no one can seriously dispute that that trend will continue.) But I think it is indisputable that there is tremendous professional, peer and financial pressure for scientists to support the “consensus” regarding anthropogenic global warming. For a scientist to go against the grain, to argue that certain data just doesn’t add up, or focus on data that questions the theory, means that scientist will not get grants to fund research and that scientist will be ridiculed and ostracized among his or her peers. I don’t think anyone can seriously dispute that such a climate exists today in our scientific community. Do we really want our science to be politicized, that conclusions reached by those scientists should never stray from the “consensus”? If so, someone should tell Albert Einstein. If we based science on “consensus” we never would have had Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Einstein, after all, used his new theory to challenge Isaac Newton’s 220 year “consensus” theory about gravity. And Einstein was proved to be correct. We need to keep science out of politics.

  21. Jack,

    The central problem is that both the intelligence and communication capabilities of the PRO-DEMOCRACY FORCES have been seriously COMPROMISED. If this mess can not be cleaned-up PRONTO, no doubt ALL [fairness and justice] will be lost.

  22. I read the other day that people who somehow measure the growth of human knowledge believe that it now doubles roughly annually.

    Most people leave high school at 18 or so and resist learning for the rest of their lives which means that when they reach old they know an almost infinitesimal portion of what is known.

    Dunning and Kruger’s research revealed the real problem though. What each of us does know we tend to believe is the bulk of what is known.

    Of course those two trends spell a different world than the real situation. Reality is that we are ever more dependent on the expertise of others but also ever more likely to think we don’t.

    It’s disaster in the making.

  23. I would like to believe that people are not ignorant enough to believe the extreme right’s claims that Covid 19 was dreamed up just to make 45 look bad.

    However, I unfortunately realize the above statement is naive.

  24. How do you know, what you don’t know?

    A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. ~ Winston Churchill

  25. I have to disagree with my friend Larry Kaiser. The voter suppression conspiracy to deny voting rights to African Americans has been alive, well, and successful ever since blacks were given the right to vote. The white supremacist conspiracy to deny entry and asylum to refugees of color is also thriving, with the President and executive branch as their favorite allies.

    I’m not into conspiracy theories, but some conspiracies ARE real and painfully successful.

  26. Big money marketing influence for Biden affects the uneducated decision…If Warren had thrown in her hat before Tuesday… Different results. Establishment is afraid of Bernie because of the stock market as so many people are invested with their futures in the stock market And think that Bernie plans will tank it… Not necessarily so at all…What might be the better path for the country/globe is unable to be explored thoroughly because peoples individual survival needs get in the way… I’m an independent issues oriented voter And I’m just constantly frustrated by putting ineffective plan after ineffective plan in place with so much more at stake long term for humanity and the whole planet…Corporate money in politics is only going to bring us more corporate destruction….I’m just saying… We should be seeking the truth and truly the best solutions…. No one really knows who can beat trump but I will tell you the independent voters are the key this election… Dems should be looking at who they are planning to vote for. We know Republican swings are going to go to Biden because of the stock market… Independents think differently…

  27. I live in Wisconsin where the economy is great! … for resale shops and food pantries.
    The rich want to rule, and get richer, period.
    I like this guy: Anand Giridharadas, who used to write for NYT, who talks about “Plutocrats”.
    He wrote ” Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World “.
    Here he is in a great recent interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcHlNKLQBIM

  28. What? No conspiracies? Oh you foolish people who do not see the International-Banker-Communist-Jewish-DNC-CIA-FBI-Obama conspiracy! THEY control EVERYTHING!

    Sorry – got caught up there.

    Conspiracy? No. I met a man running for office in Indiana who had been an air traffic controller. He admitted that he, like his union, had strongly supported Reagan – who proceeded to destroy the union. Conspiracy? No. Stupidity? More likely. He even admitted that he had “made a mistake”.

    Another sad way that we deal with confounding details is the “everything is the same – there is only one political party” meme.

    A President is anointed (Bush v. Gore), money in politics, (Citizens United), redefining the Second Amendment after two centuries to now ignore the first half of the words – all 5 to 4 decisions (unlike the evil Brown decision (9-0) and Roe v. Wade (7-2)) – um, did anyone notice that these happened after Nixon (both sides are the same), Reagan (both sides are the same), and both Bush’s (both sides are the same) got to appoint Supreme Court Justices? Who knows what damage Trump’s (both sides are the same) appointments will do.

    I doubt that Wall Street wanted Trump. They see money in diversity and immigration — but they knew to take advantage of a Republican controlled government to get fat tax cuts. Other industries knew to take advantage to get the freedom to pollute and otherwise despoil the planet.

    Back to the current conspiracy

    Thank you, Monotonous L., for a good explanation of the testing problems.

    To add how humans can display bigotry towards animals as well as other humans, the viral outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 (the sort of official designation of the virus that causes COVID-19, although many scientists are calling the virus COVID-19 as well) was initially blamed on bats. Then there was a report that the source was actually pangolins, an endangered ant-eater whose scales are used (illegally) in Chinese medicine. The report was due to a communication snafu, but now some Chinese scientists are worried about a massive attack on pangolins. Civets were killed en masse after being blamed for the SARS outbreak.

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