Since the beginning of the global COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a divide in our country over the proper management and response to this new medical challenge.
The left has criticized anyone who decries wearing a mask, while the right has called the vaccine an attempt to control the populace.
This leaves very little room in the middle for people trying to go about their day and raise families.
In a recent public hearing held in Louisiana, the state’s top public health official, Dr. Joe Kanter, was booed and jeered during his expert testimony before state lawmakers on the efficacy of masks and vaccines.
This is in one of the states with the highest instances of hospitalizations due to the recent Delta variant. With such intense emotional divides, how are we supposed to get clear input from the general public?
The Fallacy of Leadership
Let’s park some bias at the door for a moment. Forget the movements of either side of the aisle and consider a bigger issue.
Can a representative government function properly without public input?
By definition, our elected officials are in their positions to represent the beliefs and ethics of the majority that came out to vote.
Louisiana has a current vaccination rate of 48% of the population receiving at least one dose. Considering that 14% of the total population are under the appropriate age to receive a vaccine, that leaves the majority of the state, albeit a small majority, getting the shot.
That means most voting-age adults in the state believe the vaccine to be worth their time and effort. So why aren’t the seats in a public meeting full of people who are vaccinated?
Leadership around our country is, simply put, bumfuzzled. The reliability of a solid leader to speak truth to the masses is no longer possible without those same masses choosing to vote.
The people have decided not to remember how good of a job a leader does, but rather, how they were made to feel during their time in office.
More than 70% of the US adult population is vaccinated with at least one dose, and that is an overwhelming majority.
Yet the voices heard the most through social media are of those opposed to mask mandates, vaccines, and in some cases, the validity of a deadly global pandemic. Leadership in this regard is failing.
When We Need Input
Governing bodies need public involvement in their decision-making. This function to allow participation, gives everyone an opportunity to be heard, a consensus to be reached, and a unified mission to be deployed.
Having a mechanism that allows public comment is essential to our government.
This participation becomes harmful only if the represented masses are disproportionality advocated.
While many among us have the expertise and background to speak with influence on a wide array of topics, not every single member of our community is so well informed.
Coronavirus is no exception to the rule. A recent news story spread like wildfire around the internet about the so-called “Disinformation Dozen.”
This is the research that only 12 major social media accounts are responsible for 65% of the amount of anti-vaccine misinformation. Powerful statements made by these 12 are repeated, screamed, and trumpeted all over town halls, school board meetings, and bars across the US.
How can we expect our public participation standards to be equal if so many of the loudest voices being heard do not come from reputable sources?
A study of more than 1,000 demographically representative participants found that about 22% of Americans self-identify as anti-vaxxers, and tend to embrace the label as a form of social identity.
When Theory Becomes Identity
We have changed from a society trusting experts to a society trusting the internet. Think about all the times you have heard a statement of fact from friends and quickly whipped out your phone to double-check if they were correct.
If the internet is our source for reliable information, then our arguments are only as strong as our sources.
We have blurred the lines between credible, reliable, and independent research with the popularity of talking heads and social media starlets.
There is a lack of common discourse in our country because the issues we associate with being important to our daily lives have moved past conceptual ideas and into the realm of personal identity.
To be a Republican now requires a test of pro-life, religious fervor, and individualistic freedoms.
The left is no better.
To be a Democrat, you must sacrifice the ideals of the individual for the good of the many, all while sipping your chai tea latte and wearing Birkenstocks.
Our world has been whittled down to a society of stereotypical political branding that has moved well beyond the comical. It must be the easiest job in the world to be a news commentator right now.
Moving Forward: A Culture of Engaged Citizens
What is next? How do we heal these great divides and welcome public input from those among us that care? How can we create a well-informed society of active participants during both the good times and the bad?
You can have all the bake sales and 50/50 raffles you want to try and bring a community together, but until we fix the issue of source credibility, the loudest among us will be heard the most.
We need to take a hard look at our willingness to allow lies to be spread and considered truth.
The function of the general population should be to elect officials and speak truth to power from those on the ground floor doing the hard work.
We must inspire those quiet leaders among us to step forward and say “no more.” No to the endless vitriol online being spread by attention seekers.
No to the leaders that refuse to acknowledge factual information. No to those among us that attempt to censor speech.
We must allow everyone to have a voice and be willing to fight back against those false statements that have become wrapped into their identities with common-sense arguments.
The only way to change the minds of the populace is to incentivize new ideas with examples that have meaning.
This is not a pipe dream. We must shift our country’s culture into one willing to view information as reliable only from where it is born.
Our identities should be the collection of experience and habits of our groups, not the dictations of false leadership or screaming Meemies during a town hall because we care for one another.
Written by: Emmanuel J. Osemota