Civil rights against conspiracy theories

For the last three consecutive weekends in some Swiss cities, people took to the streets and showed their displeasure with the ban on political demonstrations. Protests are also planned for the coming weekend. The author analyzes who is involved in them and what theories of conspiracy have to do with it.

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Switzerland is in the second phase of a three-step quarantine weakening process announced by the government in mid-March in connection with the coronavirus pandemic. One of the measures to completely block social and economic activity in the country was a ban on rallies, marches, pickets and mass meetings with more than five participants.

Now, two months later, these measures no longer prevent citizens from actively protesting government measures to combat the virus. For the last three weeks in a row, over the weekend, citizens in some Swiss cities took to the streets and showed their frank dissatisfaction with the ban on political demonstrations – and yet it is part of the general ban on mass events. Gathering in small groups, they loudly protested against restrictions on their civil liberties.

What are the demonstrators advocating?

Activists are alarmed, albeit temporarily, by curtailing and restricting their civil and political rights, even though in an emergency pandemic and in order to combat coronavirus, the government was objectively forced to resort to such measures.

“This is not a demonstration, but rather a picket,” Alex Gagneux, one of the organizers of the protests in Bern, said in an interview with swissinfo.ch last week. For him, such a “picket” in front of the Federal Palace was necessary because “the constitution is currently not actually in force because of disproportionate and inadequate government actions.”

On the posters of the events, there were such inscriptions as “Rest in Peace, Swiss Democracy, 1291-2020” (1291 – according to legend, the year of the founding of Switzerland, approx. Ed.) Or für Freiheit und Selbstbestimmung).

We are talking, from the point of view of the demonstrators, about freedom in the broadest sense of the word and about the fear that the political rights of the people, cut off due to the spread of covid-19, will not return quickly enough and in full. How justified are such concerns in Switzerland?

Freedom or fantasy?

However, “freedom” is a too big and streamlined concept even for such actions. In addition, in addition to the debate within the framework of the interpretation of the very concept of “the right to demonstrate,” which the authorities made clear this week, in the case of street protests involving less than five people, the activists put up a number other, less fundamental, but no less relevant issues.

We are talking about conspiracy theories and other fantasies that, in the last three weeks, once in the wake of “viral protests”, have experienced a real renaissance. Therefore, in the hands of the demonstrators one could see other posters and slogans, for example, such:

“Don’t give [Bill] Gates a chance” (in the style of an AIDS / HIV campaign)

“No vaccination required!”

“No coronavirus hysteria!”

In other European countries, opponents of the 5G generation Internet connection have also intensified in the shadow of the pandemic: many people believed the fake news that such an Internet contributes to the spread of the virus. Until recently, hardly anyone would have believed that in the 21st century this is even possible.

In Switzerland, these protests, nevertheless, have one positive side: the expression “conspiracy theory” that is increasingly heard in the media has led, in particular, to attempts to shed light on some facts and finally get to the truth.

Who and how plows the nervous ground on which conspiracy theories grow?

In 2018, Sebastian Dieguez, a Swiss neuroscientist from Friborg, studying the biological foundations of the functioning of the nervous system, published a monograph under the completely unscientific title, “Complete Bullshit, or How to Get to the Basis of a Post-Truth Phenomenon”.

In it, he argues that at the heart of many contemporary problems, including various kinds of conspiracy theories, is the concept of “total bullshit” (bullshit). The author of the monograph does not identify this concept with a lie, but postulates it as a set of social and mental practices of rejecting the very possibility of the existence of “somewhere out there” objective truth.

“A social environment full of misinformation and skepticism is an ideal medium for the dissemination of such practices and ideas,” said the scholarly Swiss-based news portal SWI swissinfo.ch. Very often such ideas are formulated “intentionally vague”, and so much so that it is very difficult, if at all possible, to refute them.

“They completely correlate with the problem of functional asymmetry of the brain, which is familiar to psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. In the end, it’s much easier to come up with these ideas and theories than to refute them,” says S. Dige. Often such theories are not invented “from above” with the aim of lowering them “down” for political purposes – they are promoted by people who, having gone beyond the framework of healthy skepticism, are simply not ready to believe the facts provided to them.

“Some people proceed from the thesis that“ how can this be untrue, because I think the same way, ”says the scientist. According to him, communicating with such individuals personally, “one must always gently but persistently ask them to explain their position and back it up with rational arguments. But more broadly, to counter “conspiracy theories” there is a method and format of “fact checking”, an algorithm for checking facts and separating “grains from the chaff.” Fake news also exists on the basis of certain laws and laws. But it’s not easier to resist this understanding,” Summarizes S. Dige.

“Not just any nuts”

It is equally difficult to distinguish between legitimate political protests, destructive actions motivated by conspiracy theories, and legitimate public concern about health problems. Do people have the right to stand for any belief, whatever they choose for themselves? S. Dige says that this is not about banning demonstrations (which are becoming more numerous in Switzerland). However, such theories become especially dangerous, appearing precisely in times of crisis.

“Demonstrators are a manifestation of a tendency towards partial disintegration of habitual social agreements, conventions and structures, a tendency that is hostile to science and to the elites (in the best sense of the word), and also bears a populist character. No matter what the government says or does, they will always be against it, such people do not intend to change their minds. ” However, last week the Swiss newspaper Berner Zeitung decided to take a conciliatory tone.

“The Federal Council, the government, perhaps, did not sufficiently clearly explain the motives for its restrictive interference in the political and economic freedoms of citizens,” the commentary published in the newspaper under the heading “Dissenters – these are not just any nuts” (says “Andersdenkende sind nicht einfach nur Spinner”). With all these issues, the chief coronavirus manager of the country, Daniel Koch, also encountered.

On Monday, May 18, at a regular press conference, he was asked a series of direct questions about past demonstrations and how dangerous they are for the health of the rest of the population. He replied that “this is a political issue. And since the government is likely to discuss this issue itself by the end of May and make a decision, its answer would also be involuntarily political, therefore, they say, I will not get ahead of myself.” Meanwhile, a new series of protests is planned in Switzerland next weekend.

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