In certain communities the COVID-19 pandemic is characterized by disbelief, protest, and outright denial. This is true even as millions of people contract the coronavirus and hundreds of thousands perish from it. In the proposed paper I analyze this phenomenon as part of a culture of denial that is not limited to COVID-19 but intricately tied to other social problems. In particular, I argue skepticism around COVID-19 reinvents and even reinforces climate change denial by drawing on the same kinds of fear, logic, and paranoia that pit certain peoples and ways of knowing against others. Deep-seated distrust of leftists, scientists, and academics • fortified by political leadership that benefits from such distrust • reaches critical mass in moments such as the current pandemic and triggers defensive assertions of a status quo many are anxious to maintain no matter the cost. I draw on ethnographic fieldwork from rural Florida to examine how and why COVID-19 skepticism bleeds into climate change skepticism. As part of this I analyze the idea of the “conspiracy,” which is widespread in conservative communities but remains under-examined by anthropologists and other scholars who have a tendency to disregard such conspiracies as nonsense. I ask, what lessons can dismissive responses to COVID-19 teach us about a political climate that fosters other kinds of denial, including climate change denial? And how can scholars begin to bridge the gaps between belief and skepticism • and contempt and distrust • that hogtie collective action during an era that demands global collaboration?
Next from AAA Annual Meeting 2021
Conspiracy, COVID, and climate change: Toward an understanding of disbelief
AAA Annual Meeting 2021
18 November 2021