(For a more in-depth look into Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories, the New York Times wrote a wonderful explainer on why they spread and why stopping their spread matters.)
The late Miriam Defensor Santiago of the Philippines once quipped in response to allegations of death threats being sent to her that she “ate them for breakfast”. The line later landed on her Twitter bio and was just one of the many memorable quotes of the Iron Lady of Asia whose rhetoric served her both in matters of law and love. Even as a child who only vaguely remembers seeing her up close at my school in Saudi Arabia where she was visiting OFWs, her trademark swagger and unmistakably regal voice were unforgettable. In addition to death threats, she had a voracious appetite for matters of the mind and during the 2016 presidential elections, noted that she preferred speaking to students, arguably the intellectual – albeit not financial – elite of the country. If one had to compare her mental diet to a meal, it would be a tasting menu from the likes of Momofuku Ko, Alinea, or El Bulli; multi-layered, complex, requiring multiple tries to fully understand, ultimately rewarding but sadly accessible only to those of a certain privilege. If we too compared our mental meals to food, what would our dishes look like?
I had left a family Facebook Group chat last night after seeing one too many links pointing to COVID-19 conspiracy theories and fake news, the likes of which do not deserve the dignity of reposting in full here. Suffice it to say it involved an amuse-bouche of 5G networks, an appetizer of Bill Gates, several rounds of subdermal microchips, entremets of depopulation plots, and generous helpings of Bible verses shaved over everything like black truffles in a restaurant doing it for the ‘gram. This claim of insider knowledge that somehow always made it back to the Book of Revelations is not new and we’ve seen its unfortunate effects across the globe even as thousands continue to flood hospitals. But what is fake news but the junk food equivalent of our intellectual repasts? Cheap, easily accessed, disgustingly rich, quite often sensational, and shared by those who stand to profit from a population who doesn’t bother to read the ingredients label but will swear by its life-changing properties. Seeing them being served by family filled me with stress and I knew I had to clean up my diet by leaving if I were to ride this crisis out.
Back in 2014, then Senator Santiago published a book titled “Stupid is Forever”. While I share the honorable Miriam’s predilection for lethality of the linguistic rather than pugilistic variety, I disagree with her title. Stupidity, like a shitty diet, is fixable. First, stop eating junk food.