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"What else might decency do?"

Effectively responding to a Pandemic requires access to good information about its nature, which begins as almost entirely unknown. Speculation replaces authentic fact at first, and probably necessarily so. Later, as initial inquiries yield additional information, our understanding deepens and broadens, and our responses' effectiveness improves. Not all sources of information seem equally dedicated to publishing 'the truth and nothing but the truth,' but the truth might well be initially impossible to come by at any price. Later, as apparent facts accumulate, rough truths might appear. I say "might appear" because not all sources seem equally dedicated to reporting facts. Our well-imbedded Fake News system, for instance, rarely finds a fact worth proliferating, for every event, for them, seems more an opportunity to amplify some pre-existing perspective than to discover or learn anything new or informative. Fake News rattles the same old sword regardless of anything actually happening in the world, and I suppose this underlying (lying) consistency satisfies a certain portion of the population. Even pure bullshit carries a dedicated constituency.

Fake News outlets revel in accusing their more reliable counterparts of proliferating Fake News, echoing an ageless "I know you are, but what am I?" feature of the human condition.
It takes some dedicated discrimination to determine the shit from the Shinola®, especially when the shit sellers employ high quality graphics and slick production to make their poison seem most palatable. Day to day, this dichotomy matters little, but during a Pandemic, it becomes quite literally a matter of life or death. Deliberately misleading a readership might qualify as a form of mass murder, though the courts, citing our revered/reviled first amendment guarantees, usually say otherwise. Beyond Fake News, though, I propose a term for the more fully weaponized bullshit: NeutronNews. It carries certain qualities that transcend truth and fiction, and seems to intend wholly different results than simply disseminating misinformation, however questionably accurate. It seems not only powerfully invulnerable to criticism, but to carry the curious superpower enabling it to essentially irradiate critique into itself, to make even the most thoughtful counter-argument serve its own nefarious purpose.

Our President, such as he is, seems a master not of Fake News, but of NeutronNews. Unlike regular print and broadcast releases, NeutronNews knows no cycle, for its first and most significant purpose seems not to inform, but to disrupt, to interrupt whatever rhythm might be emerging around a story. It serves as a bright shiny object within the dull blacks and whites of authentic reportage. It often features confidently presented, utterly unsupportable speculation, as if to disqualify any reasonable doubt before it can be introduced, thereby immediately taking some imaginary high ground. Every counter must fight uphill and into the sun to throw even a modest-sized stone in its direction. Every assault proves weak, and the stones often seem to fall back upon the opposing force's position, exciting further derision from the despot above. The search for truth easily fades in the dust and smoke and noise of the seemingly gleeful defense. Facts hardly stand a chance.

NeutronNews poisons the truth, and obfuscates every search for it. The People certainly suffer, though a significant percentage seem to over time acquire a cynical skepticism. Not a lively skepticism, but one resigned to receiving deliberate half-truths from every quarter, even those genuinely laboring to uncover what's really going on. Discernment seems most threatened, for beyond learning not to trust anything emanating from The Office of the Presidency, other bad actors harass every flank. The Chinese were reported to have contributed to the initial confusion around the nature of the Corona-19 threat. Of course the Russians never stopped throwing thought bombs, either. The purpose was apparently to poison the well so that few could tell what was really happening, an ultimately self-reinforcing condition. If we're at each others' throats, we're little external threat.

NeutronNews craves attention. It cannot survive without it. Our presently primitive social media seems predicated upon precisely this element. It pays for Unique Views. It elevates those postings attracting the most attention, producing a powerful positive feedback-fueled expansion of the most outrageous. A simple truth, a humble fact hardly stands a chance within this terrible echo chamber. We inform ourselves with disinformation there, and almost inadvertently. We see something that sparks some emotion and we respond in kind. Decent folk start positing death wishes when they witness some fresh stupidity and the NeutronNews wins, and wins every time. The quality of conversation's been successfully lowered to something slightly south of decency. Most of us might not even notice ourselves gleefully contributing to the latest controversy, which was hardly a teapot tempest until the exasperated pushback began. Distraction complete, another bright shiny emerges, and the cycle repeats itself with hardly any reinforcement, a chain reaction.

We're presently sequestered, distancing ourselves from any potentially disastrous encounter with the Covid-19 virus. We cannot confirm its presence. We cannot qualify for testing unless and until we're fairly certain that we've already contracted a case of it. Encouraging information seems scarce, and a raft of reassurers have emerged to downplay the threat. Each day, fresh news of emerging deeper understandings emerge, though that's often released into such noise that many of us never receive the messages. Some of us have even stopped trying, having long ago chosen to discount the reasonably reliably news due to the NeutronNews deriding it. I'm uncertain what defense might preserve us. I feel reasonably confident that the NeutronNews wars will eventually destroy what's good about us. Since NeutronNews thrives on attention, my suggestion stands at paying no attention to that man behind the Neutron curtain. Rob him of his audience. Believe nothing he says. Distrust his minions, too. Trust each other, instead.

Now, in this 'N'th week of this global Pandemic, the churn finally seems inescapable. Some governors say they're opening everything back up over the advice of people who know better, while NeutronNews-bombing any detractor. It seems time to finally stop detracting, for each attempted attack seems to amplify the original message. The best defense—Hell, the best offense—against these unending assaults might be to simply ignore them. Any attention they attract only amplifies their poisonous presence, so, like our best defense against the Corona-19 virus, our best response seems to be simply not responding at all. Shelter in place and ignore that face so desperately grabbing at the microphone. Those clever countering memes, those nuclearly denigrating reposts, those emphatic rants supporting reason again, unfriend all of them. Do not follow anything Our President does live. Kill your Twitter feed. Let a reputable reporter recount what he might have said, and stay far away from his daily rally, for it's radioactive, a Neutron Bomb of dissemination. Nobody but the bad guys need that now.

I'm interested in what else we might not do to preserve some semblance of truth in our discourse. Taking into account the immoral asshole what's supposed to be in charge seems a fruitless effort. Our complaining empowers him. If we need to convince him that he's wrong, we've forfeited any personal authority we might still possess. If you lust after retribution, get over it. In a fistfight against you and the Corona-19 virus, you can only lose. In any bare-knuckled encounter between you and NeutronNews, it's heads it wins, tails you lose. What else might decency do?

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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