Our story today starts with an American gentleman who goes by ‘Lenny.’ One evening, he was sitting at a bar on election night, 2016.
“And I turned to the guy to my right, and I said, ‘Did you vote?’ And from there, he went into a long explanation about — just some shadow government ideas, and whether voting makes a difference.”
You would have guessed that this is the sort of individual who would have voted for President Trump. The disaffected lot that believes in a whole host of conspiracy theories.
“And probably 10 minutes into it, he was talking about mass shootings, and then eventually Sandy Hook.”
Sandy Hook is the name of the elementary school in the US where a gruesome mass shooting took place in 2012. A deranged gunman killed 20 first-graders and seven adults. The reader might know that gun control is a hot button topic in the United States. Everytime there is an incident like the above, proponents of gun control (liberal voters of the Democrat party, mostly) espouse their views with greater fervour. Gun rights advocates (conservative voters of the Republican party, mostly) caution against getting caught up in emotions and against taking steps which, in their view, would be counter to the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution (the right to bear arms.)
But in this mass shooting – and the subsequents ones – the tin-foil-hat-wearing subset of the conservatives started saying that the shooting didn’t take place at all! That it was a false flag operation, designed to spur into action tighter gun control. Egged on by rabid conspiracy theorists like one Alex Jones (who has since been ‘deplatformed’ from YouTube and Twitter) this lot started saying that the bereaved were ‘crisis actors’ who were putting on a show.
One of the supposed ‘smoking guns’ that the conspiracy theorists had propped up was a kid named Noah Posner. A picture of his was put up at a vigil in Pakistan after the APS attack in Peshawar in 2014. This, they said, was proof that all of these names were just lies.
They weren’t lies, of course. Some of the volunteers at the aforementioned post-APS vigil in Pakistan had, as a display of solidarity, held up photos of kids throughout the world who were the victims of school shootings. But this was lost out on these conspiracy theorists.
Back to the bar, election night 2016: Lenny’s new friend took up Noah Posner’s name. By this time, Leonard ‘Lenny’ Posner, decided he couldn’t carry this on any further.
“I took out my driver’s license, and I said, ‘Look who you’re talking to. You know, show some respect.’”
Noah was Lenny’s 6-year-old son. Another child of his, Noah’s twin sister, was also in the same school at the time, but she had hid in another classroom.
“He connected it instantly. And he just became more agitated. very angered. Went outside and maybe had a cigarette, came back, yelled at me some more. ‘Oh my god. How much did they pay you? How can you do this?” He was committed to his belief. I was the villain.’”
After this incident, Lenny and his wife decided to go in dogged pursuit of all these conspiracy theorists online. They fought back, posting not just the Posners’ postal addresses but photos of their two surviving daughters. They have changed their address eight times.
Study after study show that the human mind has a seemingly innate inability to change positions despite clear evidence to the contrary. The best thing we can strive for is to have a rational, scientific mindset and check our cognitive bounds. As they say, you don’t have to have a science degree and wear a labcoat to be a scientist. Just a bit of rational thinking.
Such thinking should be specially inculcated in the news media, where biases once cultured, seem impossible to undo. Remember just the hint of a feeling that there was some hanky-panky going on in Reko Diq led to a sequence of events that eventually led to a slap of nearly six billion dollars on Pakistan. All despite the Tehthyan mining company’s executives demonstrating that there was nothing fishy about the contract.