The Witches of Eastwick and Other Essays
Updated: Apr 25
This blog may be controversial. Although I genuinely attempt to stay in the middle lane when there is one, I have managed to offend members of my own family who have only recently begun talking to me again. I also pledge to proofread before publishing as a BAL of 0.8 is death on arrival while .08 is too intoxicated to drive in most jurisdictions.
The title references the movie which was a parody of sorts of the famed witches of Salem, Massachusetts. I use it because the "witches" were punished and even executed out of a mass hysteria replete with eye witness evidence. As a psychologist, I know well that we see what we believe and literally do not see what we don't. Yesterday, I was forwarded an email citing an Australian geologist, Ian Rutherford Plimer, who was commenting on the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland. Professor Plimer asserted that the volcanic ash spewed into the atmosphere in four days negated all of the efforts to reduce CO2 emissions over the past five years. WHAT?!! And that the volcanic eruptions in the Philippines in 1991 produced more greenhouse gases than the entire human race had emitted since the beginning of time. I was, am shocked but remembered that the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in the western US in, I think, circa 1980, was still raining down ash thirty years later. Today, I learned that President Biden is pledging a 50% reduction in US greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Is this the Twilight Zone or what?
Professor Plimer is no graduate student bent on challenging authority. He is an accomplished geologist with six books, 130 articles and a slew of awards. How do what Professor Plimer asserts and what President Biden is pledging coexist? At first glance, they do not and perhaps they never will but where is the discussion, the dialogue, that examines the two conflicting beliefs about the role of man in climate change. In my life, I cannot recall a single television news program that looked at climate change with representatives of both sides. Instead, there is usually an unchallenged assertion. And even search engines, like Google, which most us assume are neutral, are said to give us the information we already believe rather than the whole story. Social media platforms censor information that don't match their corporate philosophy, thus depriving the reader of contrary opinions.
There are other examples of difficult issues which are treated in the same way. The two that come to mind are the coronavirus and abortion. With the coronavirus, we are told that the "science" is clear-- wear a mask and stand six feet apart. There is other "science" that refutes the efficacy of mask-wearing and social distancing. What is the correct science? We don't know because there is a lack of dialogue and a very religious-like condemnation of those who do not agree with us. It has not yet reached the point of stake-burning but imprisonment has been on the table in some places. When the most locked-down, most mask-wearing compliant states experience surges in new cases, doesn't it call into question the efficacy of those strategies? And if there are increases in suicide, domestic violence, substance abuse and depression/anxiety, shouldn't we consider those costs when developing a strategy for the pandemic? What is the likelihood of a vaccinated person transmitting the virus? Is it one in a thousand or one in a million? Does it not matter?
The issue of abortion may be the best or worst example of hysteria carrying the day on both sides. The only "dialogue" that ever exists between the opposing sides seems to be a shouting match from one side of the street to the other. Earlier in my carrier, I was hired by a very enlightened director of Planned Parenthood as a consultant to deal with her staff about the emotional toll their work with pregnant women was taking on their emotional health and their ability to do their work effectively. By way of disclosure, I am pro-choice. What I learned in my years at Planned Parenthood was that you have no idea how you feel about abortion until you, your wife, your daughter or someone else you care about is pregnant. It is always a heart-wrenching decision and there is no right answer, only two wrong ones. I never saw the carefree flight attendant breeze into the operatory, have a cup of coffee and waltz out to catch her next flight. I saw women, parents and families in anguish trying to decide which wrong answer to choose. The advent of the ultrasound with clear images of the developing fetus explodes the myth of a bunch of undifferentiated cells occupying the uterus. When a pregnant woman is murdered, I believe that the killer is charged with two counts of murder, one for the woman and the other for the unborn. Can it really be true that the unborn is a "person" until the woman bearing it decides to abort?
It seems to me that we must have a true dialogue to resolve these issues and others like them so that we can all move forward as one. The attitudes expressed by both sides in these issues borders on religious belief. And religious belief is dangerous as it is steeped in right and wrong, good and evil. It is said that more people have died in the name of religion than any other reason. Easy enough to believe, not just in antiquity but today as well. Social psychologists tell us that facts do not change attitudes. Attitudes bend and distort the facts to fit the belief underlying the attitude. In my past blogs on our shared future, I tried to make a similar point. The founders tried to keep religion and government separate. We should as well so that we don't end up burning witches in the name of saving the planet from climate change, coronavirus or unwanted pregnancy.
Addendum: There are refutations of Professor Plimer's assertions on the internet. That's great but they are opinions as well. What we need is dialogue.