The question arose in the middle of a conversation with a friend about ... vaccines.
These discussions follow a predictable pattern: after a negative answer to the question: are you vaccinated?, follows another one: are you an anti-vaxxer?, then the conversation invariable reach the point where I am — directly or indirectly — accused of being a conspiracy theorist.
Reasonably, touching upon the virus (and the vaccines that allegedly will save us from it) almost certainly guarantee some controversy—and rightly so, we're all worried about it, some even scared to death. When dealing with these topics, I usually ask: What is an “anti-vaxxer” for you? (“anti-covid19-jab”, replied my friend this time). What a conspiracy theory exactly means for you? Usually, they mean lies or misinformation.
It is worth noticing how overused the term “conspiracy theory” is. Many argue that this term (and many others) has been purposefully implanted in our common vocabulary by sophisticated propaganda machinery—nowadays, I tend to agree. Even more interesting, people who claim to possess a strong “scientific thinking” are the same ones who abused this term. Grossly simplifying the scientific method (which any scientific thinker should follow), we have:
- Build a hypothesis
- Test the hypothesis
- Analyse test results
- Make a conclusion
Discarding an idea upfront arguing it is a conspiracy theory is an easy solution to the problem of being faced with a hypothesis that does not match our preconceived conclusions, conclusions that more often than not we did not reach, but just consumed. It is difficult (or I should say impossible) to exercise our scientific thinking in a world that made us consumers, where we conveniently choose to consume conclusions rather than build our own.
If we look back at many important scientific discoveries, the people behind them must embrace a profound counterintuitive thought. If Copernicus, then Kepler and later Galileo would have discarded the idea of a heliocentric universe (which now we know it is not accurate either) as a conspiracy theory simply because it sounded absurd at the time, we probably would still believe that our planet is the centre of the universe.
A dissenter, someone resisting the temptation of quickly accepting what other people say as the ultimate truth, even if those people seem to be the majority or are THE experts, is not a conspiracy thinker — it does not make him right either. Majorities may also be wrong; experts can be corrupted. We must not delegate our critical thinking to either the masses or the experts.
Let's not forget either that while we are hyper-focused on the pandemic and its terrible consequences, the world is still facing more challenges, and changes are taking place while nobody is paying attention. One example of this is everything going on around central bank digital currencies (CBDC), which would have far-reaching implications for the world if it becomes a reality.
Of course, I don't think the world conspires against me. But I'm simply a sceptic, a critic, and even a pessimist. I've made, to the best of my capability, an informed decision about (not) getting the jab. Right away, I must accept the possibility of being completely wrong, that my concerns might turn out to be unfounded. But pretending to cancel my perspective with terms such as antivaxxer or conspiracy theory does not help anyone.
In the end, we (my friend and I) had to drop the conversation and agree to disagree. His question got me thinking of a slightly different one:
How does it help the world the way we think about the challenges we now face?