MY telephone conversations with Relative A during lockdown probably run pretty similar to those you have with your own relations … up to a point. We speak once a week and begin by sharing news about our family, we talk about how we’re passing time, and chat about the mundanities of work and weather, our health and happiness.

But then we come to the part of the conversation I dread – when one of us brings up coronavirus. Relative A will say something like, ‘Well, of course, I don’t believe anything they say.’

We’ve been having these conversations since lockdown began. The first time it happened, I asked, ‘What do you mean? Who don’t you believe?’

Then they told me. They didn’t believe the virus was real – and if it was real, then the Government (all governments apparently) was letting it spin out of control in order to cull the population and reorder society. Perhaps it was cooked up in some military lab and released on purpose. Perhaps any vaccine will be microchipped to monitor us. Perhaps it’s all a step towards dictatorship, a ruse to lock us in our homes, controlled, regimented, our freedoms taken away.

‘They’re trying to kill us. They’re turning this country into 1984,’ Relative A said. My relation even believed ‘crisis actors’ were used to pose as the dead.

At first I argued rationally. I’d quote news reports or scientific studies. But mainstream media and science are apparently in on it too. I haven’t yet hazarded the question whether I’m part of the global conspiracy given I’m a journalist.

Rationality failed, so next came gentle mockery. ‘C’mon, you’d have to be nuts to believe this,’ I’d say. ‘Only crackpots on the internet think like this.’

Then I got another shock. ‘Well,’ said Relative A. ‘Relative B thinks like me too.’

So I don’t just have one coronavirus conspiracy theorist among my loved ones. I have two. I’m getting worried about family genes.

Relative B is even worse than Relative A. While Relative A just lives in some paranoid fantasy land, Relative B has gone full-blown tinfoil hat. According to Relative B (and I can’t actually believe I’m writing this) coronavirus is a plot by the Illuminati – that’s the cabal of lizard people, who disguise themselves as humans, and run the world for their own evil purposes. The Queen is one, in case you didn’t know. So’s Tom Hanks.

Let me tell you a little about these relatives. They’re good people. I love them – they’re family. I’m more in contact with Relative A than Relative B. Relative A is a woman in her late 60s. Hard-working, intelligent, good-hearted, takes no nonsense. She’s been politically switched on her whole life. Relative B is in his late 20s, a bit of a slacker, a bit of a lad and no bookworm. He couldn’t give a damn about politics. Two more different people you’re unlikely to meet. When I’ve seen them together at family events, Relative A and Relative B have tended not to agree on much … until now.

What my relatives believe is absurd, ridiculous, embarrassing – but if you’ve people like this in your family (and I’ve friends who also have coronavirus conspiracy theorists as relations) you’ll know it’s not funny at all. I fear for my relatives. If they don’t believe what’s happening is truly happening, if they doubt science and fact, then they’ll put themselves at risk. And both of them are putting themselves at risk.

Relative A isn’t keeping to social distancing. ‘No-one will take my rights away,’ she says. Nor is Relative B. He’s already been stopped and questioned by police. Both of them have physical contact with other relatives – who I also love – and I fear their behaviour could be deadly to themselves or others.

Last week, I just stopped the conversation in its tracks when Relative A started her conspiracy theories. It disturbed me too much to even listen to what she had to say. ‘Let’s change the subject,’ I said.

Yesterday, though, I tried a different tack when I called Relative A. I’d been speaking to other family members and we were all worried about her ideas and behaviour. I should stress there’s no mental health issues with either Relative A or Relative B. As far as my extended family knows they’re sane and sound of mind – even if they are both bizarrely enabling each other.

Instead of rationality, or mockery, or dismissal, I just asked questions. Why do you feel this? What makes you believe that? How can this be the case?

What I discovered was that my relative’s delusions were down to plain old fear and confusion. For her, nothing adds up. One day the Government says X, the next it says Y. One day the advice is do this, the next it’s do that. Businesses must reopen. Schools must stay shut. We’ll ease the lockdown. The lockdown will go on. We must test – but where’s the tests? We must trace – where’s the tracing? Where’s the safety gear? Police and scientists tell us to obey the rules then they flout the rules. Everything's wrong and broken.

Relative A said: ‘You can’t believe a word they say. Nobody can be this incompetent while people are dying. It’s the same everywhere in the world. If this was genuine they wouldn’t be frittering lives away.’

Then I understood. Where I see governmental stupidity, and the weakness and folly of flawed humans trying to control a global meltdown, my relative sees malignant conspiracy. We look at the same failures but see them through very different lenses.

In a way, our governments are driving us all mad. Their pretence that they know what they’re doing, their inconsistency, their dissembling, their cowardice, are all having a detrimental effect on the mental health of the world – as ordinary people tackle this crisis better than those elected to lead us.

For some, though, like Relative A and Relative B, government duplicity and failure aren’t just a drain on hope and joy, they’re a shattering of reality – and for that I feel nothing but the deepest sympathy for the people I love who are now a little lost inside this world we’ve come to live in, and are struggling desperately to understand what’s happening.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year

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