Post-Truth COVID-19 “Facts”

While researching a different topic, I began to think a great deal about truth, especially the phenomenon known as “post-truth.”  Minted as the Oxford Dictionary’s 2016 word of the year, post-truth denotes an environment where people judge the facts based upon how the facts measure up to their ideological point of view, a point of view that they believe to be true.  From an epistemological perspective, this is just the opposite of the way it should be.  Epistemologically, facts should shape our point of view so that when the facts do not line up, we are forced to change our point of view, adjusting it to the facts.  Shaping our thoughts of reality to the facts no matter how inconvenient they may be is the way of science.  Allowing our beliefs to shape the facts is the way of religion at best, demagoguery at worse.  When religious, political or philosophical ideology becomes the standard of measurement for the legitimacy of facts, then as Lee McIntyre in his book, Post-Truth warns, political domination is not far behind.

When post-truth becomes the accepted standard, then truth suffers and when truth suffers, people will suffer as well.  It would be nice if we could just wish bad things away or live in the world as we would like it to be, but we cannot.  What I call COVID-19 exhaustion has opened people’s minds to the claims of post-truth ideology, an ideology that claims the worse is over even while new cases of COVID-19 skyrocket.  It is an ideology that claims that exposure to the disease is necessary to boost the immune system, even though such notions have been debunked by science.  It is the desire that those who say that the disease will just go away are right, but it won’t and isn’t going away as recent statistics have demonstrated.  We are exhausted by the idea of social isolation; we are tired of social distancing;  we do not like wearing masks—they make it impossible to breath although if one contracts the disease, they may discover what it means to not be able to breath; we grow weary of the loss of jobs and the uncertainty of our economic security; we worry that we or our loved ones will catch the disease and may die or be permanently affected by it; we wish that a vaccination would be discovered and believe that such a discovery will happen soon.  All of this and more leads to exhaustion and exhaustion leads to the belief that the worse is over even though the facts tell us otherwise. We are anxious, we are depressed, we are lonely, and we turn to belief as a way of understanding the facts rather than allowing the facts to shape our beliefs.  We embrace the world of post-truth.

When post-truth becomes the accepted standard, then truth suffers and when truth suffers, people suffer as well.  It would be nice if we could just wish bad things away or live in the world as we would like it to be, but we cannot.  What I call COVID-19 exhaustion has opened people’s minds to the claims of post-truth ideology, an ideology that claims the worse is over even while new cases of COVID-19 skyrocket.  It is an ideology that claims that exposure to the disease is necessary to boost immunity to the disease, a claim that science has not been able to corroborate defying the best advice of scientists not to do so .  It is the desire that those who say that the disease will just go away are right, but it won’t and isn’t going away as recent statistics have demonstrated.  We are exhausted by the idea of social isolation; we are tired of social distancing;  we do not like wearing masks—they make it impossible to breath although if one contracts the disease, they may discover what it means to not be able to breath; we grow weary of the loss of jobs and the uncertainty of our economic security; we worry that we or our loved ones will catch the disease and may die or be permanently affected by the disease; we wish that a vaccination would be discovered and believe that such a discovery will happen soon.  All of this and more leads to exhaustion and exhaustion leads us to believe that the worse is over even though the facts tell us otherwise. We are anxious, we are depressed, we are lonely and we turn to belief as a way of understanding the facts rather than allowing the facts to shape our beliefs.  We embrace the world of post-truth.

Denial, which is what post-truth ideology is all about, is never a pathway to mental health.

A post-truth world is extremely frustrating for medical personnel and scientists for it is basically a denial of their hard work and their willingness to put their lives on the line that others may have a chance to live.  The fight against a pandemic such as COVID-19 cannot be fought based upon feelings and beliefs.  It can only be fought by drawing upon the hard, cold and inconvenient facts brought to light by scientific research.  We do not slow this disease down while we await the slow and arduous development of a vaccine by ignoring the warnings of scientists and medical professionals who base their treatment upon science.  The inconvenient truth brought by the facts of science is this thing is not over and is once again speeding up especially in the United States.  The inconvenient truth is that hundreds of thousands of people are dying from this disease—still—and shows little signs of letting up.  The inconvenient truth is that wearing a mask in public will greatly reduce the spread of the disease.  The inconvenient truth is that developing the vaccine is a slow process that could take years.  So, if we listen to the facts of science, we will wear a mask at the very least, and if we are reasonable (basing our behaviors upon the facts rather than feelings and beliefs) we will continue the practice of social distancing and when exposed, social isolation. 

This, however, leads us back to COVID-19 exhaustion.  How do we cope with the anxiety and depression created by this exhaustion?  Feelings are a big part of our life and play an undeniable role in our beliefs about society, but they also have a significant impact upon our beliefs about ourselves and our loved ones.  But when our emotions get out of balance, we have problems.  COVID-19 exhaustion is a sure sign that our emotions are out of balance and are beginning to control us rather than us controlling them.  Much of this imbalance grows out our feeling of being controlled by others rather than being able to control our own destiny.  This is as true of economic worries as it is our relationships with friends and loved ones.  Human beings are communal animals and when the inconvenient facts of science tell us we cannot be with each other, we don’t like it and we rebel if only in our minds. The energy required by our rebellion leads to exhaustion, anxiety and depression.

When post-truth becomes the accepted standard, then truth suffers and when truth suffers, people will suffer as well. 

Denial, which is what post-truth ideology is all about, is never a pathway to mental health.  Mental health becomes a possibility when we can move from denial to acceptance, when we can turn from delusional desires to facing reality.  We are communal animals.  That is a fact, which means that we do not thrive in social isolation.  However, there is a lot of difference between social isolation and social distancing.  We live in communities based upon our desire to work together to build a better life.  That is a fact.  However, communities are not lost by wearing a mask and taking the precaution to social distance to slow the spread of COVID-19.  My point is that our exhaustion comes from refusing to accept the changes brought to our world by COVID-19.  As we begin to understand the transmission of the disease, we also begin to understand how to reconfigure our way of being with others.  We must think outside the box about the norms as we once knew them and begin to examine new ways of being together that minimize the dangers of contracting COVID-19.  To stand behind someone separated by 6 feet in the grocery store is a new way.  Standards of cleanliness must change.  Making sure that our environment is clean and as sterile as possible is a way of being together while slowing the spread of the disease.  Wearing a mask in public is a new way of being together and it will slow the spread of the disease.  Accepting this new reality rather than rebelling against it, accepting new standards of being together rather than trying to live with old standards, is one of the best guards against COVID-19 exhaustion.  We call this ACT Therapy, which I may explain in a different post,, but suffice it to say that if we learn to accept the inconvenient facts of science and the new way of being together they imply, then we will do a great deal in not only slowing the spread of the disease, but we will learn to protect ourselves from the exhaustion that often goes with it.

Published by Harold W. Anderson

I am a retired United Methodist Minister working in private practice as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). I also work in addiction issues and am a Certified Addiction Counselor, level III (CAC III). I also supervise graduate students working on their Master Degrees and supervise Candidates in Training who are working towards licensure. My desire to provide a window of hope to those with whom I work that they live in a world of opportunity.

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