Viewpoint: Distortions of reality 

This is a response to Dick Atlee’s March 25 commentary, “Understanding the Risks. 

True to his many prior strident anti-vaccination letters to the editor, Mr. Atlee argues that the nation is being hypnotized by our best virologists, epidemiologists and public health officials to roll up our sleeves and receive the COVID vaccine. If you follow one of his many links, you will learn Mr. Atlee would have you believe COVID is largely an avoidable danger, but the CDC won’t provide us with the same kind of “preventative” elixirs that people like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, the sociopathic president of Brazil, harp on about. Those products have been shown to be of no meaningful value in preventing COVID. 

Nearly 20 years ago Dick Atlee handed me a DVD. He urged me to watch it. In so doing Mr. Atlee revealed himself to be a “9/11 truther, someone who argued that the Twin Towers in New York were destroyed not by terrorists we all watched flying two jetliners full of passengers into the buildings, but rather by an inside job, a controlled explosive demolition. It was and is a conspiracy theory. 

We now have a conspiracy theory for every public challenge. The murder of children in a school at Newtown, Conn., was a hoax. Climate damage is a hoax. Donald Trump really did win the election. Nurses have watched people in this nation die of COVID, refusing to the end to believe the illness is real. 

The thing about conspiracy theorists is that they always carry a briefcase crammed full of “evidence. They will earnestly talk your ear off with citations galore to “prove” their seriously misguided beliefs, as Mr. Atlee has done in this case. Sometimes it can be hard to discern truth from fiction. After all, few of us, including Mr. Atlee, are eyewitnesses or experts on these topics.  

This is not a matter of being prudent and appropriately skeptical. As these distortions of reality happen over and over, we become increasingly vulnerable to lies, paranoia and fantasy. We are told our eyes are lying to us and begin to believe it. We become more susceptible to manipulation and less able to engage wisely in the fundamental tasks of self-governance.  

Democracy cannot exist when too many citizens believe they are in on the secret truth that everyone else is acting in bad faith. Paradoxically, this environment allows some people to act in actual bad faith, obscuring it with “alternative facts” that those primed to believe eagerly gobble up. We are now so far down that rabbit hole that democracy may be more in danger of collapsing under this mountain of disputation than the Twin Towers were of an inside explosives job.  

There is one data point absent from Mr. Atlee’s letter. That’s the COVID death toll in the United States, currently at about 550,000 souls, not that far from half the population of the entire state of Maine. He should pause for a moment of humility before such devastation, a significant percentage of which may have been preventable if only we’d had leaders last year who did not pedal the kind of snake oil Mr. Atlee hawks. 

If Mr. Atlee wishes to remain unvaccinated, he should do so. He should stop trying to entice others to believe his nonsense.  


Gail Marshall resides in Mount Desert  

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