Op-Ed By: Mike Shesterkin, SMSBF Exec. Director
There are all sorts of terms to describe what’s going-on right now: unprecedented, uncharted territory, surreal are just a few. Dr. McGeorge of WDIV got it right when he said, “This isn’t about you: It’s about our community.”
In a system governed by hyper-individualism and a “have it your way” mentality, it may be hard to see the point McGeorge is making. Because consumerism necessitates it, we are formed to believe we can have what we want, when we want it. So, when confronted with a situation as the one in which we find ourselves – a situation that requires thinking of others before acting – we have a hard time.
Why are the store shelves bare? Why do we knock-down the vulnerable – the aged and infirm – to make sure we have our overstock of toilet paper? If we pay just a bit of attention to what the science tells us about the spread of a viral disease, we’d realize there’s no need to hoard groceries – especially toilette paper.
Yet, a recent Yahoo News survey found 58% of those who identify as Republican, and 29% of those who identify as Democrat, think the COVID-19 pandemic is exaggerated. It’s exaggerated. Really? I understand polls are only indicators of trends and don’t necessarily constitute a measurement of behavior. But where there’s smoke, something’s burning.
There is a science to polling and there’s a science to understanding the spread of a disease. Most of us – at least those willing to take a poll and identify with one party or the other – ought to have enough sense to trust what biologists are telling us about the spread of COVID-19. Americans, though, are free to think whatever we want, and when it comes to a scientific conclusion that would mean having to change our behavior, and adapt to a reality that impedes our lifestyles, we seem to have a real hard time accepting what science tells us.
There’s a parallel between how some of us are reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to what science tells us about global climatic change. This parallel speaks to our culture. If we don’t accept the science, then we don’t have to change our behavior. This means coming-up with ways of rationalizing away “inconvenient truth”. These rationalizations run the gamut between what some call “healthy skepticism”, to the hatching of conspiracy theories.
According to a book review on the NPR website, author Anna Merlan, in her book, Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power, indicates there are two conditions under which we become vulnerable to conspiracy theories:
(1) At those times when class structure becomes too rigid, leaving us locked in circumstances we cannot control and causing us to find someone to blame.
(2) When we sense being shut out of power, leaving us incapable of affecting the systems under which we live. This, in turn, leads to a questioning of ourselves and a distrust of the entire system.
For some, distrust of institutions, and therefore the scientists who work for them, is so pervasive it could – quite literally, within the next couple of months – lead to their deaths, or the deaths of those they love. It could also lead to the extinction of the entire human race – not because of COVID-19, but as the result of global climatic change.
Dr. McGeorge is spot-on. This is about our community and coming together around a common understanding of something that’s not all that difficult to comprehend. We need to accept what our biologists and medical scientists are telling us and act upon it.
This time does feel surreal. So, let it be so. Take the time to be in the moment and to listen carefully to what our scientists are telling us. We are blessed to have resources – right here in our local community – we can trust. The best thing we can do is pay attention and act accordingly – moment by moment.