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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: When you’re flying blind

Sometimes, pilots just don’t trust their instruments. — 123RF Stock photo
Sometimes, Russell Wangersky writes, pilots "trust their instruments too much, and those instruments turn out to be wrong." —

It’s more of a problem when you’re a pilot, lost up there in the sky somewhere over the unforgiving Earth.

It’s a regular feature of crash reports put together by aviation safety agencies worldwide: especially after dark or caught in cloud, pilots can lose spatial awareness about where they are in the sky — and where they are, relative to the ground.

Sometimes, they trust their instruments too much, and those instruments turn out to be wrong. And sometimes, they don’t trust their instruments.

It’s nowhere near as big a deal for a journalist, no immediate risk of life and limb.

But I no longer trust my instruments.

But the monster hasn’t come out from under the bed yet, even though we might be terrified by the idea of it every single night.

And that’s a big thing for me. I’ve spent my whole life in journalism — and as an author — doing the one single thing that I think I’m good at, and that’s explaining things. Explaining complex stories, explaining how things happen, and often, what it seems likely will happen next. Researching huge amounts of data, right back to original studies, condensing it, converting it to easily accessible language. Translating things, as my father used to say, from science to English.

I’ve never really questioned the value of doing that. I’ve always believed that people want to make decisions — and anchor their beliefs — on the best information possible, rather than simply seeking out random information to justify their pre-existing beliefs.

I’ve also thought of what I do as a valuable and necessary job.

That’s not always the case now.

Part of it might just be a result of where I fit in life right now: my age, the stage I’m at with my career. Another part, I think, is because of the strange world we live in.

We’re surrounded by a global pandemic that is without a doubt killing hundreds of thousands of people. Yet, at the same time, it’s only just slightly beginning to touch the very edges of people close to me.

Like most people, even inside the Atlantic bubble, there are now people I know personally who have been directly affected by COVID-19.

But it’s been a slow-motion crisis here. This is the ninth consecutive month of impending crisis — a crisis where no crisis has yet arrived, to any great extent, on Atlantic shores, but almost certainly will. (Until it does, of course, we’ll go on patting ourselves on the back in a way that other COVID-free jurisdictions have, too — until COVID arrived at their address. We may be lucky — vaccines may arrive here before COVID truly does. But that truly is luck, not skill.)

There’s something uniquely dislocating about a global crisis that’s all around us, but where the non-economic effects that we actually feel are, right now, pretty much the requirement to wear a mask in indoor public spaces. (Don’t get me wrong here: the economic effects, from lost jobs to lost businesses to the long-term implications of huge governmental debt loads, are not trivial matters.)

But the monster hasn’t come out from under the bed yet, even though we might be terrified by the idea of it every single night.

At the same time, there’s another pandemic that’s equally — and perhaps more — dangerous.

That’s the fact that it seems more and more like we’ve moved into a post-evidential era. Given the ability of everyone to post what they like, when they like, even if what they are posting is the equivalent of someone’s personal idealistic fever-dream (I’d call it a fervour-dream), means that everything can be true, while at the same time, nothing is true. COVID is a pandemic crisis — COVID is a biological weapon unleashed to topple Donald Trump — COVID doesn’t even exist — COVID is the flu and we should all just catch it and get it over with. You can find all of that and more, posted by people who truly believe it. This is truly a nightmare time.

I am sure I’m far from alone in this, far from being the only person who wakes up frequently in the morning wondering, “What’s the point?” “What matters?”

Most times, I do push on with the day, driven by the simple routine: coffee, exercise, shower, work. But while that works well for the day-to-day, it doesn’t fix the bigger problem.

I no longer trust my instruments.

And I wonder how many people out there also feel like they are flying blind.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire newspapers and websites across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at [email protected] — Twitter: @wangersky.


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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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