Goldman and Gervais
or, how to deal with Morons.
April 25th, 2020
William Rivers Pitt on his Facebook page drew my attention to an extraordinary closing line in a column printed today in the New York Times. Ms. Michelle Goldberg wrote, “Chernobyl is now widely seen as a signal event on the road to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Coronavirus may someday be seen as a similar inflection point in the story of American decline. A country that could be brought to its knees this quickly was sick well before the virus arrived.”
As jarring as that paragraph is, Goldberg may have understated the comparison a bit. While noting that the government of the USSR did take responsibility for handling the crisis in the Ukraine, there was a greater element feeding the incompetence.
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, chairman, party leader and political center of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was largely kept in the dark about the severity of the accident at the Pripyat reactor for the first five days or so, as terrified underlings did what terrified underlings in all authoritarian regimes do when the shit hits the fan, and told their bosses what they thought the bosses wanted to hear, rather than what they needed to hear.
Gorbachev was neither a fool nor a narcissist, and once he was made aware of the gravity of the situation, acted swiftly and decisively to try to prevent the damage from further spreading.
We’ll never know within three orders of magnitude how many deaths resulted from the meltdown. Officially, 31 died. Unofficially, the toll may have been in the tens of thousands. There’s little doubt that between unheeded warnings (a nearby nuclear plant of the same design very nearly suffered the exact same catastrophe months earlier) and bureaucratic foot-dragging, the disaster could have been largely averted.
At the time (1986) the accident revealed that the USSR was a deeply dysfunctional state, putting self-preservation ahead of the body public. At the time, I opined that the USSR would be gone by the end of the century. It was considered a radical opinion at that time. The USSR collapsed just four years later, ten years ahead of my own estimate.
The USSR had a couple of advantages over Trump America. It was easier to conceal their mistakes. Gorbachev was not a fool, nor a sociopath. And the area directly affected by the meltdown was far smaller than the parts of America affected by the pandemic.
Gorbachev would have been gone within a week if he had ever appeared on state television to inform the Soviet public that he had heard that scientists were looking at treating radiation poisoning with aspirin, washed down with a litre of motor oil. Even in 1986, Soviet children got a better education than their American counterparts, and would have instantly deduced that the Premier was a) a fool and b) a liar and c) both. Even Izvestia and Pravda would have had trouble defending such a show, or even trying to excuse it.
In the US, subservience to the leader is a bit more pronounced in some quarters. It’s not surprising that GOP organs such as Fox and OANN didn’t try to challenge the remarks, and Brietbart, named for a dead right wing lunatic, tried to deny that Trump had said the insane things he said Thursday about treating the virus with disinfectant, bleach, and UV light. But the NY Times – yes, the same paper Goldberg writes for – wrote in a tweet, “At a White House briefing, President Trump theorized — dangerously, in the view of some experts — about the powers of sunlight, ultraviolet light and household disinfectants to kill the coronavirus.”
SOME experts? I defy the NYT to find a single expert that thinks injecting yourself with Lysol, drinking bleach, and/or sticking a UV light up your ass would be anything other than dangerous. This is the “balanced journalism” that the fascist right have used for years to convince Americans that economic absurdities are exactly equal to economic realities. Nearly half of Americans believe trickle-down economics is a good idea even to this day. It made a ridiculous moron like Trump possible, pretending his voice was the equal of any expert in any field.
Douglas Adams once wrote of a character who was so intellectually disgusted by the low-grade intelligence of the Western World that his character sealed himself off from it. Wonko the Sane resigned from humanity when he bought a box of toothpicks and found instructions for their use printed on the box.
Ricky Gervais, another English comic, came to a similar, if more immediate conclusion in March 2016, when he said, “Think about it: We live a world where there are warnings on bottles of bleach — we have to tell people not to drink bleach. In that world, Trump can be president,”
A quick glance at the John Hopkins university tracking page for the Covid-19 pandemic show that the US, with 3.2% of the world’s population, has 32.9% of the world’s known cases, and 26.7% of the world’s deaths. This is a country where, until very recently, 40% of the population believes that it was the best educated in the world, and had the best medical system.
The fact of the matter is far too many Americans wouldn’t know how to pour piss out of their boots if you printed instructions on the heel. Ignorance is actually considered a virtue, accompanied by loud sneers at experts and intellectual elites.
I wonder if the New York Times thinks some experts agree that ignorance is dangerous? I’m sure that they can find someone at the Times to write that opinion, although I can pretty much assure everyone that it won’t be Goldberg writing that.
Trump’s utter stupidity and the furtive efforts of his lackeys to hide the extent of the disaster is only a part of the problem. Encouraging stupidity, ignorance and disdain for science is another part of the unfolding disaster that may indeed presage the rapid demise of the US as a functioning country.
You aren’t going to eliminate the influence of idiocy by treating it as being one of several possible ways of dealing with the world and its problems.