Saturday, November 21, 2020

On cultured ignorance

Evan Radford's report on the insufficient public response to soaring COVID-19 case loads in rural Saskatchewan surely reflects the polling (PDF) showing a higher proportion of social irresponsibility than in any other province. But it's worth noting how that in turn can be traced to years of anti-science propaganda from Scott Moe's Saskatchewan Party and its backers - which is in turn reflected in Moe's choices. 

It's no accident that the fault lines in public responses to COVID are similar to those dealing with climate change. There,  the same unscrupulous corporate actors who have invested massive disinformation campaigns around the world have long held sway over the Saskatchewan Party. And the result has been both rhetoric and policy which disavow any commitment to vital collective action, instead seeking to squeeze every dollar of corporate profit possible out of the province regardless of the harm to its citizens. 

That effort has gone beyond merely trying to cast doubt on climate science to a concerted effort to change the subject to artificial regional grievance. There too, the Saskatchewan Party has quite deliberately stoked the fires of baseless anger. Its former premier has been one of the main talking heads behind a separation project. And in addition to leading his own support to that effort in general, Moe has shown far more consistency and devotion to contrived fights against Justin Trudeau than to the social battle against COVID-19.

Even when it comes to COVID-19 itself, the chosen response of Moe's government has been to do as little as possible generally, and to portray the pandemic as an isolated or big-city problem which isn't actually real for rural areas.

Of course, the U.S.' experience has shown that a deep enough effort at manipulating public opinion can get people to disbelieve the existence of the very disease that's killing them. And we shouldn't be surprised if that phenomenon appears in Saskatchewan as well.

But if it's too late to change how the combination of Moe, his oil backers and the right-wing populist "movement" is endangering people in the fall wave of COVID, it's not a moment too soon to set out to the task of ensuring their message no longer serves as the foundation for public opinion and policymaking alike.

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