Critical thought and common sense must prevail

Karen Kotze

There is one significant difference between opinion and fact: everyone has an opinion. Not everybody has the facts.

Yes, you are entitled to your opinion; no, your opinion does not supersede fact. In figuring out how to survive a global pandemic, I am doing all I can to avoid the oceans of empty opinion out there.

When I was a teen (an unexpected trait of a global pandemic is, apparently, time travel), I had a friend who, when he wanted to convince one of his point of view, would raise his voice each time he said the same thing. Debate wasn’t big in a small town setting.

Back then, I laughed most ungraciously at my friend when my brother told him, “Yelling doesn’t make you more right. It just makes you louder.”

Here and now, I find myself chortling at the exact same scenario, except those doing the yelling are now, distressingly, called adults. And they are caught up in the irate, fevered hysteria that has overtaken the social nicety lanes – the caps locks are hit and the personal insults are slung with a ferocity befitting mad kings.

For clarity (on anything), just ask any one of the plethora of experts who suddenly live among us. What do we need medical scientists for when we have hundreds of The Fully Informed, completely free of confirmation bias, yelling their “extra, extra: read all about it” views?

Okay, here is my salve. Humour this momentary flash-back to childhood, since we are already time travelling. My mom bought me a jewellery box, complete with twirling ballerina and music which played magically when the box opened. I was enchanted. I was four. And at the very first opportunity I got, I took it apart. My poor mom. But when I took it to her later, I had put it back together, perfectly. I understood it better. And, no doubt, my mom had her first glimpse of how I approached things. What makes it work? Or not work?

So what is making us crazy? Apparently, our brain chemistry is. Dr Amy Arnsten is a professor of neuroscience and a professor of psychology at Yale University.

In a nutshell, she says stress causes our prefrontal cortex to shut down. This piece of brain behind your forehead processes higher functions such as critical thinking, impulse inhibition and the ability to focus. The loss of function in our prefrontal cortex also can lead to lack of motivation. It is the “freeze”part of the fight, flight or freeze response to stress.

Stress chemicals actually strengthen the primitive brain systems. Great in Neanderthal times when you were traversing the great tundra, saw a beast, and knew you were its most delicious delicacy.

Not so great in 2020 during a global pandemic when you have no more access to your favourite substances but free-for-all access to social media.

Ben Nimmo’s life’s work is researching, studying and outing fake news.

In an online interview, he said: “It’s much easier to tell a story when you are not bound by the facts. Rather, the narratives pushed by bots and trolls are the more dangerous weapons. They try to make you so angry and so scared that you stop thinking.”

So am I advocating that we believe every word uttered in the name of science? No. Bent science exists, yes (follow the money), but there is also plenty of good science, which is saving lives.

Viruses mutate. Our understanding of the Covid-19 situation should be changing alongside the new and developing information.

In the same arena are some who are simply hell bent on attention, claiming some form of spiritual all-knowingness, replete with virtue signalling about what the general population should be doing (usually it boils down to their decree).

There are no oracles among us, folks. To get through this together, let’s walk the middle line of critical thought, common sense and watchful curiosity. Take a breath, step away, remind yourself we are all struggling in one way or another. But if nothing else – don’t forget to laugh. It’s not like you don’t have plenty of material to work with.