People Ask What I Think About the Pandemic. I'll Be Frank.

Frequently they ask what we need to do to end the pandemic. When I tell them we need strong, decisive, top-down leadership, they balk. Look — it’s OK if you don’t want to do the things that work, but don’t pretend they don’t work. We must stop with the foolish thinking, magical thinking, conspiracy thinking, seeing shadows behind everything.

The world is easier when we see it in simple terms of the hero and the villain where you’re the protagonist, of course. You are not triumphing over dark forces. You are not fighting Marxism or fascism or whatever phantom governmental boogie man it is today. This is not a story. Things are not simple, and if we persist in simple thinking, we will live in a dysfunctional world borne of superstition and paranoia, where we’re so preoccupied with what we think is there, we miss what’s right in front of us.

I know we all believe we see the full picture, but we have got to stop being so childish. How can we truly believe that watching the news for 3 months straight qualifies us to completely disregard the consensus of an entire field? Be honest.

Do you want to live in your house forever? I don’t.

Instinct isn’t working. If something an expert says seems wrong to me, which conclusion makes more sense? That the expert is wrong or that I may not know everything they do? How is it not the first conclusion that the expert probably knows something we don’t?

I know this may seem harsh, and it is not my intention to shame people. Everyone has a field in which they excel. Whatever that field is for you, think of it now. Now imagine the entire country read some mainstream articles on it and challenged everything you know from years of devoted study. Would that seem logical? Would that lead to a better quality of work?

Our situation has grown so dire, we now contemplate a future where this is not a crisis of months, but of years. Is that what you want? It can indeed happen. If we don’t want that reality, we will all have to stop pointing fingers and face the hard truth. The only way out is work, hard work and cooperation.

That’s it.

Look at this flow chart with me; It’s linked in the show notes or in the article text. This map is a governmental hierarchy for crisis response.

How many branches do you see? 50, 75? A lot, that’s for sure. Imagine the bubbles as people who have been left to work out the best course of action on their own. Imagine there is no clear contact for critical tasks like testing backlogs, no clear supplier, no uniform way of collecting data, and thus, leaving us potentially blind to crisis until it’s too late.

It would look like sheepdogs herding their flock after the shepherd tells them to work it out on their own, except every dog has its own ideas about where we should go, confusing the sheep who just stay in place because the situation makes no sense. That’s mostly what it looks like right now, and no, a comparison to sheep is not condescending. We are all followers of something, whether it’s experts with evidence or an internet troll spreading misinformation, everyone follows something.

Whether we deny our situation and the response needed or we face it, the future will come to pass and it will reflect the choices we make today. No one can honestly look at that map and think this will work without a sophisticated plan, a plan worthy of a nation that calls itself great. How could anyone imagine that flow chart working without an organized national supply chain management?

How? Just how? Be honest with yourself. We can deflect to governors, but it is indeed deflecting blame. On top of the problems that come from trying to navigate a maze of bureaucracy, imagine those who know how to manage a crisis were being undermined by unqualified appointees who intervene at the hint of anything they perceive as a slight, even if it is in the best interest of the public that they not intervene.

There are no new answers. There will be no new answers. We have them now, and there is no one right way. Even so, it is not enough to know the things to do, to talk about them, to do them for a week, nor is it helpful to vilify our best chances at survival because we’re too proud or scared or unsure. This does not make us the hero of the story. I assure you that would be the opposite. 

We must stop the self-important and vain focus that leads us to interpret every bit of new evidence as a cog in a vast plot against the heroes of this story. We must stop giving in to the vain fantasy that everything is a personal attack, like we are mired in some mythic battle against a shadowy villain.

The historian Richard Hofstadter once commented on this idea, saying:

“The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms — he traffics in the birth and death of entire worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point.”

“The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms — he traffics in the birth and death of entire worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point.”

Historian Richard Hofstadter Tweet

So many have fallen prey to this desire to see ourselves in this position of prominence where it is us against the world.

Everything is not about you. No one cares what you do with your time so long as you aren’t hurting others — certainly, people aren’t interested because they want to control you. We want to get through this crisis, and it requires extraordinary measures just like every other disaster scenario. 

These ideas about ulterior motives are not logical when thought through to their conclusions. Why would anyone waste resources putting an app on our phones, potentially alerting others to your intentions.? People who wish can already track your iPhone, your Facebook, your GPS, your IP address, your credit card spending, your mailing history, and the wiretap everyone calls Alexa.

It’s just not a reasonable idea. All anyone wants is to control a virus and paranoid ideology has given the body that is America an autoimmune disorder. No one wants to stop you from going to church, from seeing friends and family. No one wants to stop you from dining out or having a job. What we want is to get out of this crisis so we can all do those things without societal collapse.

No one wants to take your freedom; more than anything, we want to protect that freedom and have the foresight to see it will be short-lived if we cannot get our act together. This crisis has largely been a struggle between those who see immediate consequences and those who are considering downstream. Downstream implications do not come to us naturally. We need to think critically, to do more than react. We’ve tried the knee jerk disaster response and learned that crisis management is not an innate skill.

When you think back, do you recall thinking so much about the CDC?

Do you recall having such an opinion about who or what should do or say this or that? Most people didn’t. It is precisely because the CDC worked so well before this, without interference, that few people thought about infectious disease. It is not because we did not face threats before, because we absolutely have. It is because we harnessed and organized our assets. Now, we snuff them out and react with unthinking impulses that serve us poorly. Then, as if we have the memory of the adorable protagonist Dory from Finding Nemo, we get up and do it all again the next day.

Our government is complicated, far more complex than it appears on the surface. It is not just the President or just the three branches of top tier leadership. It is not just the governors or letting them decide what to do or telling people what to do and leaving it at that. This is far too simplistic, and it’s OK to understand it in those terms on a personal level, but it is an incorrect impression of the situation and a reason people cannot see why our approach is an utter failure.

Again, it is OK to know the basics, leaving the rest to people who make it their life’s work to know these things. Keeping it simple can help us cope in a time where so much is uncertain. Do not feel you must weigh in on every decision, every recommendation.

To do it meaningfully would require extensive study and to speak without the due the requisite study is to recklessly throw out an opinion that others may adopt, despite how wrong it may be. Simplifying is coping, but it is no way to plan a successful strategy against a threat like a pandemic. That we still see many proposing this betrays how we continue to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of our current state. In a hurricane, would you suggest such a strategy? How about during a wildfire that requires forced evacuation? Is it best to just let everyone work it out and do what they see as best?

“Historically, in times of upheaval, such as the great fire of ancient Rome in 64 C.E. or the 9/11 terrorist attacks, paranoia and conspiratorial thinking increased.” 
Reed et al., 2020

Does that sound like a good time to let people improvise?

In war, do you see a general tell his or her inferiors to do as they see fit and to figure it out, find their own clothes, get their own weapons, and to just win somehow?

That would be madness, and so is this. Madness. We have lived in madness, and so we reap more madness.

Think about it. We can have all the opinions in the world, but opinions do little to change the truth. We have the power to change our current situation but it will take humility, forgiveness, compassion, and trust, things our current approach is not fostering.

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