For me there is no greater sense of home than on the drive into Mullumbimby. I face the mountain, she shows herself to me, and then on my approach she slips away, and then she’s back – like mother earth playing peek-a-boo. This hide and reveal is a portent of the magic of a community that can’t be easily articulated. A community of diverse opinions that manages to live harmoniously together. Or did. COVID-19 has ripped our rainbow flag in two. Our beliefs have been polarised to such an extent that there no longer is a middle ground. Our tolerance of each other has faded. Our mountain of goodwill has gone.
I realised, while walking the beach this morning, how deeply this has affected me. I feel this overwhelming grief – like something I loved has broken. There is a disharmony in my community I have never felt before. I see it when a man in his seventies screams at a 16-year-old retail assistant about his sovereign rights not to wear a mask or to QR code check-in. When a mask-wearing midwife is yelled at for being a sheeple outside the IGA. And when I can no longer go to the cafe I have frequented for the past 15 years because the staff aren’t wearing masks and are playing know-your-rights anti-mask material rather than music. When did we start trying to indoctrinate each other?
A chasm has opened up and we stand on two sides; those who believe we are in a worldwide pandemic, and those who believe it is a conspiracy. I have seen the videos, watched the links, sat in on chat groups in silent disbelief. I sit in horror and I wonder about the most frightening conspiracy of all. Thanks to the social media we can now create cults without compounds.
Who makes these videos that expound conspiracies? Whose interests do these narratives serve? Do those who consume these videos know it’s the far right’s play to exploit the pandemic, and fear of vaccination, as an attempt to promote extremist ideology? It’s blooding ordinary people into extremist discourse. It’s leading them to Capitol Hill.
There has been a disturbing evangelism amongst those who feel they have found ‘the truth’ i.e – that Bill Gates is the architect of a 5G microchipping depopulating future of artificial intelligence, where martial law will ensure we are all vaccinated (chipped), otherwise they’ll come door knocking to take our kids… or something along those lines.
It sounds like the script for a florid psychosis. Except this psychosis is socially activated. It is spread with the same degree of contagion as the virus, but with social media as the vector. Like covid, it also affects the vulnerable, and it can be fatal. I am left wondering; do we still care about the same things? How can this breathless conspiracy theory eclipse climate justice, or black deaths in custody, or the rape and murder of women? I don’t understand the outrage against masks, when there is so little outrage about true loss of life and liberty. Wearing a mask is not the same as dying in custody.
How do we find middle ground where there is none? Extremist ideology offers no space for challenge, no space for conversation. Science becomes the enemy. Any suggestion that popular information has been discredited is dismissed as all part of the corruption of the ‘truth’ by ‘the mainstream’. It is a circular logic with no way out.
The people who subscribe to this narrative are not strangers to me. Some are friends. People I love. I receive their links and YouTube clips and open them in sadness. I can’t respond. I feel despair. Forget the YouTube forecasts of world domination, the worst is already happening. The far right have already taken so many hostage to their paranoid hysteria, and we can’t do a fucking thing.
In writing this I’ll be called a sheep or accused of not being ‘a critical thinker’. It’s what cult’s do. They stay inside a circular logic that disallows actual questioning.
It makes me sad that so many are living in true fear. That this far-fetched dystopian nightmare is what some see as their reality now. It is the end-of-world doomsday ideology that comes knocking on your social media door to raise the alarm.
When I walk the streets of my town I feel this. I feel the divide. I watch the masked mingle with the ‘medically exempt’. There’s an unspoken agitation. A sense of ‘them’ and ‘us’. My town is no longer a place of love and acceptance. It is not a place of compassion and kindness. There is an undercurrent of distrust, suspicion and potential violence.
We are being taken.
I find myself nostalgic for the sense of community we had during the bushfires; When we didn’t need to have our house on fire to know that others were at risk. When we acted in the interests of keeping each other safe. When we worked together, when, as a community, we showed who we were. There was no conspiracy that divided us. We stood together, here, at the base of our mountain.
I’m hoping our mountain returns.