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This was not the plan…

Published at: 15-07-2020

Posted on: July 15th, 2020 by RaduC No Comments

Based on the spread rate and lack of specific information about the novel coronavirus, staying at home seemed like the only solution to prevent the situation from spinning out of control. All countries that enforced it early in the pandemic saw contamination peak at much lower levels than those hesitating or experimenting with herd immunity which now testing has proven to be infeasible.

The longer people stayed home, however, the clearer it was that things could not remain like that forever and still avoid that an economic crash sets us back decades. After the initial shock and emotions running high have been put aside, clear-headed analyses and solutions started to emerge to help rescue the economy and consequently the overall wellbeing. The choice was no longer between death and poverty. There was a middle path that provided a transition until a vaccine was found. It was called “let us learn how to live with the virus”. This was the plan universally embraced and advanced and which underpinned governments’ decision to relax containment measures so as to save whatever could be saved of the affected economies.

Now we see how this very plan is on the rocks as a not so negligible minority thinks it is completely futile. Learn to live with the virus? Really? Firstly, there is nothing to learn because we already know it all. And secondly, what virus are we talking about?

We are all virus experts and the more obscure the sources, the better. Experts and public officials lie to us all the time anyway, don’t they? And sources are reinforced first and foremost by whatever strong beliefs we already hold. It is a type of behavior that widely-accepted psychological studies have demonstrated to exist. Firstly, humans tend to sift through the information that they receive and ignore data that contradict their pre-existing views. Secondly, the more pervasive the ignorance, the more embedded and unwavering opinions are. I know, it sounds bad, but this is how we are wired to think…

Here are some paragraphs from a post last fall.

“In March 2014, the Washington Post conducted a survey in the US on a significant national sample on Russia`s invasion of Crimea. The question asked was: how should the US act in Ukraine?

Given that two thirds of Americans claimed that they were watching the situation “somewhat closely”, the survey findings came as a surprise. Only one out of six Americans could locate Ukraine on the map. However, it was found that there was a close link between their ignorance and the path they preferred the US to take: the less they knew about Ukraine`s location, the higher their appetite for an US military intervention. To put it differently, the more ignorant the public was about geopolitics, the stronger they felt about a US military intervention.

This is just a facet of an extremely worrying trend that we are seeing and Romania is no exception. It is a general aversion to subject-matter experts` opinion across all fields. Whether we are discussing vaccines, the shape of the Earth, central bank monetary policy, among others, anyone feels entitled to have a say and decide. The flimsy knowledge that the Internet can provide the laymen of yesterday creates the illusion of a debate among equals with those who have spent a lifetime accumulating knowledge in the field. (…)

These collective action approaches act as a multiplier of individual tendencies that psychologists documented as the Dunning-Kruger effect after the names of the two psychologists who studied it. The finding of their research is alarming: the more incompetent someone is, the better qualified for their job they are convinced to be. Not only does this bias affect decision-making and ensuing results, but it also prevents the person from becoming aware of and consequently correcting the situation they are in.

We are so self-confident and so convinced that our Truths lie above the truths of others, no matter who the others are, that more often than not, the incompetent end up being the last to realize their misjudgment. Should facts disagree, they will turn to either fashioning a parallel reality or the infallible way out: the conspiracy theory.”

The problem is that this disagreeing minority will be deciding how the economy will fare moving forward. This is clear in all countries that reopened public spaces too early and now have to shut them down again. A minority that believes it knows what makes the economy of the majority thrive.

There is, however, one thing that responsible governments should not put up with.  No government should be so irresponsible as to imagine that central banks can endlessly print out money with no hyperinflation at the other end. And also, no government should wait for the public to grasp the fact that there are gambling with their lives by playing the Russian roulette. One round in the chamber of the gun, so not much chance of dying, is there…?

We have just seen the extremes between which public mind goes back and forth. At the beginning of the pandemic everyone was outraged that too little was being done to deal with such a dangerous disease, that more testing was in order and that the seriousness of the situation was grossly underestimated by authorities. Less than three months on, the pendulum swung to the other extreme. It was all a bluff, a hoax, because under no circumstances did the “flu” justify the abusive means taken by the government.

You cannot possibly fight a pandemic with this degree of emotional instability. This is why it is key to restore mental clarity, trust experts and specialists and look around. And if the pictures from space havebeen rigged to hide the fact that Earth is flat, then the common graves in Brazil, US or Italy, the madness in overwhelmed hospitals and patients left with life-long trauma are as real as it gets.

The bullet is in the chamber. How many times do you have the courage to pull the trigger in the hope to survive?

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