The human factor

I apologise in advance for wearing my ‘serious hat’ today, but some things just need to be said. October has finally arrived and, with it, we hope, effectively the end of the Coronavirus epidemic in Portugal and the Algarve.

The unprecedented 18-month rollercoaster ride fighting the disease, which saw the country held up as an example of good practice during the latter half of 2020 – before being plunged into the depths of social depravation following politically-motivated premature Christmas ‘freedoms’ compounded by the rapid spread of the Delta variant – finally ended in international acclaim as vaccination rates here topped the global league table.

I like to think I contributed to this success by finally having my ‘shot’ in August following a period of healthy scepticism, but that is another matter.

Speaking of vaccines, I was pumped full of various antidotes ranging from cholera to yellow fever from a very young age as my father’s work took us to West Africa. My sister and I, despite developing a phobia towards needles and injections – they actually had to strap us to a chair at one time – not only avoided catching any of those potentially deadly diseases (bar Malaria, there were only tablets, mosquito nets and gin & tonic for that!), but we also thrived during our subsequent London teenage years making up for lost time feasting on anything from Big Macs, Quarter Pounders with Cheese, Burger King specials, Kentucky Fried Chicken mega boxes to Pizza Hut deep pan extravaganzas, none of which can be called exactly healthy. And yet grow up we did, fit and strong, with no signs of either having come to any unknowingly self-inflicted harm or slow ‘poisoning’ by unscrupulous fast-food chains.

One of the many things I have learned as a close observer of human behaviour over this most recent period of hardship is that ignorance can be bliss – but can also lead to incredible stupidity.

The exponential growth of social media has given everyone a voice, a platform to propagate the kind of rubbish you would turn away from in disgust if overheard in a pub or any other face-to-face environment socialising.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, the silent majority, able to discern between fact and fiction, did mostly exactly that, remain silent, as the vocal minority climbed on their virtual soapboxes.

A perfect example of this phenomenon – we should really take the lessons taught by history more seriously – was the rise of national socialism in Germany during the 1930s and its disastrous consequences for mankind, something which surely would not have been allowed to happen had the gross of ordinary citizens not stood back and watched the horror unfold in morbid fascination.

The more-than-well-documented events of Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror bely any contradictory views of that period, and yet there are still plenty of people today, both in Germany and many other countries in the world, who insist that the holocaust – concentration camps and the systematic extermination of millions of Jews – simply did not happen.

The all-too-recent pandemic brought about a global revival of such so-called conspiracy theories, the fanatical few becoming increasingly vocal and militant in their claims of government scheming to control the populous via tracking devices disguised as vaccines or pharmaceutical industry-generated viruses designed to boost capitalist profit margins, concluding that the rapid spread of the Covid-19 virus was nothing more than a common flu blown out of proportion, a hoax perpetrated by those in power – while hundreds of thousands, mostly our most vulnerable loved ones, died in plain view long before their allotted time.

The belief, the actual conviction, that a consensus of the world’s scientific experts missed something they’ve spent their lives researching – which you were able to uncover in 17 minutes sitting on the toilet using your superior Google skills – or that decades of medical research, carried out by people committed to caring for humanity, are secretly and irredeemably evil, and have been exposed as frauds by unheard-of, random people backing up incredible claims with highly selective ‘evidence’, just flies in the face of any reasonable amount of common sense, something which I find nauseating when confronted with.

Did you know Elvis is still alive, the earth is flat and that the moon landing was just a US government propaganda exercise? These same people, sometimes highly educated, also claim that several mass shootings in recent years were staged as was 9/11, Barack Obama should never have been President as he was born in Kenya and that a secret cabal of reptilian humanoids is running the world – I rest my case.

The definition of a conspiracy theory is an idea that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators, asserting that a secret of great importance is being kept from the public. Theorists observe an event and ask “who benefits?”, jumping to the conclusion that a well-positioned beneficiary is responsible for covertly influencing events.

Others begin with a hunch, and then seek out selected evidence, confirming the initial paranoia with chosen facts. To me, this is all bunkum, perhaps stemming from a deeply disturbed personality looking to lay the blame for their own failings in life, socially or economically, at the door of some greater, subversive evil responsible for the perceived, disadvantaged condition of their own making they find themselves in.

Enough of that, let us get back ‘down to earth’ and the beautiful autumn we are currently enjoying in the Algarve. The masks are off (please explain that to the people still driving around in their own cars appearing to be bank robbers on the run), we are free to socialise where, when and as long as we like, dine out and check into a hotel without restrictions; in short, emerge from enforced hibernation and make the most of our short and precious lives.

Freedom is a strange creature, a very relative term. We do not appreciate it until it is taken away – as our two new kittens will confirm, who only start crying once the living room door is shut – let us keep it open and cherish it.

By Skip Bandele
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Skip Bandele escaped to the Algarve almost 25 years ago and has been with the Algarve Resident since 2003. His writing reflects views and opinions formed while living in Africa, Germany and England as well as Portugal.