One of the more peculiar and disturbing aspects of our so-called information age is the extent to which, despite having access to data of higher quality and quantity than at any other time in human history, people prefer to dwell in ignorant bliss.
The latest example of a sort of cave-dwelling attitude towards facts, reason and knowledge is evident in the current scare of the new Human Coronavirus, now named Covid-19.
We already live in an era of profound distrust of men of God or the man from the ministry. It would appear that people prefer the comfort of their private prejudices over discomfiting public facts.
We have previously warned that profound civic ignorance is the greatest threat to the stability of this democracy, and we remain concerned.
But we must speak truth to power even when that power resides largely within us, the people.
Social media scares over Covid-19 are wrapped up in a melange of ignorance, prejudice, and yes, anti-Chinese racism. For who would believe that the descendants of enslaved African peoples would be so quick to condemn an entire race and nation of a billion people and assign to them some of the most egregious, odious and discriminatory prejudices?
Yet, as you read this, there is a virus spreading rapidly throughout one of our closest continental neighbours. It is killing the young and the old. It is as relentless as it is widespread. It is called influenza. And it currently afflicts at latest estimate between 16 and 17 million Americans. Thousands will be infected today and thousands more infected tomorrow.
Yet because of blissful ignorance, many will neglect to perform the most basic hygiene by hand-washing, coughing or sneezing into the crook of an arm or even a handkerchief, rather than in someone else’s face on the bus. Many are ready to don masks sooner than avoid touching their faces.
In this region, the merest inkling of individuals being submitted for quarantine has become instant proof to some that this new strain of human coronavirus is already here.
This mindless panic ultimately does no one any good save to stir up strife, to the delight of those who hate peace, joy, and goodwill, who seek to make the lives of their fellow Barbadians as wretched as their own.
Facts, those stubborn, persistent, immovable objects, are what will save our necks, not mass imports of gloves and masks.
The response of large numbers of Caribbean people is hardly different than European people’s during the Middle Ages when the “Black Death” – bubonic plague – spread like wildfire across a continent.
Death and disease were fuelled not by knowledge but by superstition, suspicion and ignorance. But back then, only monks possessed knowledge.
The words “ignorant” and “ignorance” have a peculiar place in the Barbadian nation language.
These really suggest much more than merely not knowing something. There is a willful intent in the Bajan use of the word “ignorance”. It is a disdainful word, a word that suggests that an ignorant person ought to be shunned.
We are not calling for the shunning of people; we’re suggesting that messages that are not verifiable, provable facts or sound medical advice which we sorely need should be shunned.
Compassion for the sick, and sensible and careful and application of preventive measures by the healthy are what will see us through, not just human coronavirus, but any other contagious bug, right down to the common cold.
The information is readily available, sourced from reputable institutions and organisations like the Ministry of Health and Wellness, which is charged with looking after Barbadians every single day.
It cannot suddenly be that in the face of Covid-19, these everyday guardians of our health and wellness and our protectors of life and liberty should somehow become instantly ineffectual, incapable – and ignorable.
It is ironic that these repeated events of lies gone viral, high-octane rumour and destructive innuendo come on the cusp of reforming our formal education system.
What would be the point of abolishing a common entrance exam and introducing subjects geared towards employment, income generation and wealth creation, when fundamental tenets of our civilization – such things as the Scientific Method, reason and logic, and the application of cool, clear common sense – have somehow become suddenly become irrelevant?
Critical thinking, respect for facts, an honest quest for truth, and a sense of balance, proportion and justice should be the hallmarks of an education system that we seek to develop.
Barbadians cannot continue to lurch from one crisis to the other, blissfully unaware of fundamental facts of science, history, geography, and even mathematics.
These are not mere subjects for bookish learning. Knowledge is power. And we continue to disempower and disenfranchise ourselves if we embrace a new culture of a lust for lies.