I got a bit nostalgic reading about people burning mobile phone masts in Donegal. It took me back to my youthful twenties when I encountered mast protesters all the time. I was a "site-finder" for Esat Digifone, the mobile phone company.
I remember once, when construction workers were using chainsaws to cut a tree that had been deliberately felled at the entrance to a site, and a man flung his small daughter in front of them. Since he was worried about health effects from mobile phone antennas but was willing to throw his child in the path of a chainsaw, it was a revealing moment in how people assess risk.
Despite the objectors, I never lost a site and I give "my" masts a little wave when passing them today.
It was my first encounter with irrationality and the way people's minds worked. That was 25 years ago and the patterns of thought I saw then have intensified and expanded into all kinds of areas, most sadly vaccination.
There were three kinds of protester: the concerned resident, the paranoid activist and the criminal element. The criminal types - and back then Donegal was the chief source of them - usually had some other agenda.
Sometimes we wondered if they feared us stumbling upon arms dumps. Others were afraid the masts would be used for military surveillance or by MMDS operators who were licensed by the Government to broadcast television signals in competition to illegal operators.
Meanwhile, the kind of thinking that creates the paranoid activist begins with the logical weaknesses of the normally civic-minded citizen. They believe that expertise resides within the individual, authority cannot be trusted and possess that strange inability to assess risk.
The cycle typically began by reading a paper on the internet claiming that non-ionising radiation from mobile phone antennas causes cancer. Governments and regulators will refer to thousands of peer-reviewed papers from credible scientists endorsed by global health and scientific organisations showing this to be false. But in the protester's mind, these official reports are nothing compared to the one they found on the web.
This is what happened to the MMR vaccine when Andrew Wakefield published a paper claiming it caused autism. It was completely discredited and Wakefield was discovered to be working for lawyers representing families suing vaccine makers. But the damage was done and children are now dying from measles. It's a terrible tragedy and stems from overconfidence of the individual in their personal expertise.
I'm a firm believer in questioning authority, especially medical authority. But, ultimately, you have to give credit to the body of expert opinion. Alas, everyone's an expert now and many truly believe their opinion should have equal weight with the scientist or doctor.
This overconfidence led Steve Jobs, Apple's founder, to delay chemotherapy for his pancreatic cancer while he experimented with alternative medicine. It's reported he later came to regret the delay, but it shows that intelligence and education provide no immunity against stupidity.
Most people link risk to control. Driving is clearly much more dangerous than flying, but some people who often drive are terrified of flying.
They feel in control of the car but not the plane, so they feel safer. Statistically, it's completely bogus but people trust their feelings more than evidence. Indeed, our modern culture actively encourages people to prioritise their personal feelings above all else.
I have to bite my lip when confronted with the "I Just Feel" school of argument in modern discourse. Facts hold no way to someone who "feels" they aren't true.
So they'll fear mysterious radio waves they can't see, but give a phone to their child - and let them keep it all night charging beside their bed. When I went to protest meetings back in the '90s, I'd point out to the concerned residents their mobile phones had the same power and frequencies as the antennas.
They instinctively thought the phone was small and the mast was big, therefore the mast was more dangerous and no scientist could convince them otherwise.
But these fallacies are in the ha'penny place when it comes to the paranoid activists currently burning masts around the UK, Europe and in that hotbed of traditional protest - Donegal.
These go way beyond the apologetic "legitimate concerns" and have merged with coronavirus conspiracy theories to give birth to the most spectacular plot yet.
They believe - wait for it - that 5G causes Covid-19, or in a variant, that 5G makes us vulnerable to Covid-19.
Needless to say, this is fuelled by crackpot videos on YouTube, Facebook and TikTok. The 35 most popular 5G conspiracy videos on YouTube have been viewed 12.8million times.
It makes you wonder if those stories of Russian campaigns to destabilise western society are true - although that's another conspiracy theory one probably shouldn't indulge.
Why are people so willing to believe these completely mad ideas? Galway Bay FM's Keith Finnegan asked Declan Ganley, telecoms entrepreneur, that question this week. "Because they are incurably thick," Ganley replied. "And I'm sorry to put it that way, but that's what they are."
It's an unpleasant conclusion, but sadly irrefutable.
Like vaccination, the problem is the harm this stupidity creates.
Ganley pointed out that masts being attacked hold equipment for ambulance and police services as well as normal mobile technology.
In this global crisis we need telecommunications more than ever and taking down a mast could have terrible consequences. Which just goes to show that while Covid-19 can kill, so can stupidity.