The cynicism driving the modern counter-revolution against science

Brandon Paykamian • Feb 15, 2019 at 10:57 PM

In many ways, I was a typical “hippie-dippie” college kid years ago, one who was steeped in anti-establishmentarianism and skeptical of many aspects of our sociopolitical power structure. Admittedly, I am still pretty much the same in most ways.

But it was in those days that I began to notice something I found disturbing among peers similar to me. I couldn’t help but notice the dogmatic cynicism they adopted as they began to think everything was some kind of conspiracy meticulously crafted by the “elite.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with anti-establishmentarianism in a broad sense – it’s what drives history forward and advances the position of marginalized people. The idea of a republic itself was born out of that feeling and a growing urge to question the conventional wisdom of the time that monarchs had a divine right to rule.

But for some, vague anti-establishment sentiment can lead many down a rabbit hole, especially when bringing the mindset into the world of modern science. It’s not a revolution moving us forward; it’s a counter-revolution against science.

Two good examples of this counter-revolution against science are the flat earth movement and the anti-vaccine movement. As much as many of us hate admitting it, both communities have gained quite a bit of traction on the internet in recent years, and both believe they are fighting the good fight against the intelligentsia of “the establishment.” 

These communities generally transcend the left-right political paradigm. While many who subscribe to these conspiracy theories can’t seem to agree on what “the establishment” actually is, they all seem guided by some vague sense that they are opposing it and refusing to believe its lies.

The flat earthers take this to a new level, believing NASA, scientists, airliners and even opposing world governments who have been hostile for decades are all colluding to fool all of us that the Earth is flat.

Experts who patiently attempt to debate them are often met with the accusation that they, too, are “in” on the conspiracy to fool the rest of us. You just can’t win. 

You will see a similar theme with the first-world phenomenon that is the movement against vaccines – the idea that even the medical experts are part of some conspiracy to harm all of us and that they can’t be trusted.

Again, we see the idea that we are all being lied to all the time by the “elite” and its collaborators when it comes to the science behind vaccines.

I imagine when you get to this point, you’ll find yourself in a dark, lonely world. A world where almost nobody can be trusted – no doctors, no scientists, nobody who could be possibly colluding with “the elite.” This is the frightening and dogmatic way the counter-revolutionaries against science see the world.

What’s most bothersome about this is that they usually start with a rational and admirable impulse to question everything. Skepticism is healthy; it should be encouraged.

But between the folks who take everything at face value and the people who believe everything is a lie, there is a healthy middle ground. 

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