The ‘Whiplash-Inducing Messaging’ on Social Distancing and Protests
Article from For Liberty by Norm Leahy.
After more than a week of what are now global protests against police brutality, the obvious question is: weren’t we all supposed to avoid big gathers and maintain social distancing at all costs?
The answer appears – now – to be “no.” But only if the reason for the protests fits within an approved list of grievances. The about-face – from politicians, pundits, the health care community – has been so stark and so rapid, even some voices on the left are asking: was all this social distancing stuff just gaslighting? From The Guardian:
…the way the public health narrative around coronavirus has reversed itself overnight seems an awful lot like … politicizing science.
What are we to make of such whiplash-inducing messaging? Merely pointing out the inconsistency in such a polarized landscape feels like an act of heresy. But “‘Your gatherings are a threat, mine aren’t,’ is fundamentally illogical, no matter who says it or for what reason,” as the author of The Death of Expertise, Tom Nichols, put it. “We’ve been told for months to stay as isolated as humanely possible,” Suzy Khimm, an NBC reporter covering Covid-19, noted, but “some of the same public officials and epidemiologists are [now] saying it’s OK to go to mass gatherings – but only certain ones.”
Public health experts – as well as many mainstream commentators, plenty of whom in the beginning of the pandemic were already incoherent about the importance of face masks and stay-at-home orders – have hemorrhaged credibility and authority. This is not merely a short-term problem; it will constitute a crisis of trust going forward, when it may be all the more urgent to convince skeptical masses to submit to an unproven vaccine or to another round of crushing stay-at-home orders. Will anyone still listen?
That’s the big question. While no one wants the coronavirus to roar back to life later this year, there’s a very real possibility it could. And if it does, the other very real possibility is efforts to shut society down once again will be met with mass disobedience.