Tom Durkin: Sense and non-sense |

Tom Durkin: Sense and non-sense

When I was a reporter at the state Capitol in Sacramento, I occasionally had brief conversations with state legislators in the hallways. One day, I was walking out of a raucous committee hearing with a state senator.

Before I could conjure up a quick interview question, he turned to me and asked, “Do you understand what just happened in there?”

“No,” I admitted.

“Then you understand the situation perfectly,” he said.

I was OK with that. The senator had simply confirmed what I suspected. Much of what happens — and doesn’t happen — in government doesn’t make sense.

For that matter, most of life doesn’t make sense. I don’t necessarily like it that life doesn’t make any sense, but after 74 years, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. And I’m OK with that.

Some people, however, are not OK with life not making sense.


“People need big explanations for big problems, for big world events,” said John Cook, an Australian conspiracy theory expert at Monash University. David Klepper quoted Cook in his April 6 Associated Press story, “Viral thoughts: Why COVID-19 conspiracy theories persist.”

The pandemic is a big problem, so it’s spawned a myriad of conspiracy theories, including even the insidious claim that it doesn’t exist.

According to Klepper, “conspiracy theories persist by providing a false sense of empowerment. By offering hidden or secretive explanations, they give the believer a feeling of control in a situation that otherwise seems random or frightening.”

Conspiracy theories thrive on rejection of science, government agencies, educational institutions and traditional news sources.

Conspiracy theorists have vehemently excoriated the Nevada County Board of Supervisors and the local media as if being loud and obnoxious somehow validates what they’re saying.


Claiming COVID-19 is a hoax is a hoax. People who believe this hoax have died, are dying and will die of COVID-19.

That’s the problem with conspiracy theories. They cause people to do things that hurt them and sometimes kill them.

The COVID-19 hoax convinces people not to get shots or wear masks. As a consequence, we hear tragic stories of people begging for a vaccine shot just before they’re put on a ventilator. Sometimes their expressions of regret for believing the hoax are their last words.

Other conspiracy theories result in fatal mistakes, like the Arizona couple who believed Trump and ingested chloroquine phosphate found in aquarium cleaner. The husband died.

Quacks are suggesting everything from homeopathy to blasting hot air from a hair dryer up your nose. Some preventive measures, like eating organic foods and exercising, are actually good for you, but a healthy lifestyle won’t prevent you from getting infected.

Some younger people think they can tough it out. They believe only old and people with pre-existing conditions die from the disease. That was before the Delta variant. Medical authorities are now reporting patients who are “younger, sicker, quicker.”


Already with the second-highest infection rate in the state, Nevada County is poised to surge into the lead with the unmasked ball that was the Nevada County Fair.

Even though several county public health officials privately stated the fair would be a super spreader mistake, they signed off on a press release advising people to wear masks and keep their distance at the fair.

If any fair organizers, public officials or media outlets had dared to recommend shutting down the fair, they would have been subject to massive criticism, retaliation and maybe even death threats.

Photos clearly show unmasked people, and their children, crowded together at the fair.

I can only hope, for the fairgoers’ sake, there are enough hospital beds — and coffins.

But I also hope patients with non-COVID health emergences will not be denied treatment in favor of unvaccinated COVID-19 sufferers who should have known better.

Some people believe conspiracy adherents deserve what they get. No, I don’t agree with that. Those gullible people are victims of the political hacks, snake-oil charlatans and misguided “true believers” who influenced them into making bad decisions.

The reality is, like it or not, that masks lower the risk of infection and vaccines protect the vast majority of people.

I got my shots as soon as I was eligible, I will get a booster if that is advised, and I will continue to wear a mask in crowded public spaces. I don’t know what the vaccine might do to me, but I know for certain what COVID-19 will do.

It makes no sense to me why otherwise intelligent people are falling victim to dangerous and ridiculous conspiracy theories when the best minds in the nation are working night and day to save us from the ravages of COVID-19.

If you, like me, don’t understand why people buy into conspiracy theories, then you understand the situation perfectly.

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer, editor, photographer and member of The Union Editorial Board. He may be contacted at

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