Updated: May 4, 2020
It’s a scary world out there. Anything could happen…
We’ve always known this. So we’ve faced our dread; looked despair in the face; conquered our trepidations; and, realized that fear is the enemy. We’ve visualized ourselves as indomitable – we’ve meditated and centered and prayed. We’ve done everything except truly comprehend that some of our fears are can only be dealt with by broad-based, proactive planning.
Now a real COVID bogeyman has swept in and threatens to drown us beneath torrents of infection and angst. We knew a global pandemic was inevitable and still somehow we didn’t see it coming. The problem is that even when we are confronted with clear risks, we still fail to act. We don’t do anything to address the warnings until it’s too late. It won’t happen to me. The people in charge have it under control. There’s nothing I can do about it. Hey, want to grab some pizza and catch a late movie?
It’s no wonder we’re in this position now. We are, as a people, complacent in regard to future dangers – we just don’t plan for oncoming disaster. We deny what is frightening and believe what is convenient. We look the other way and allow wishful thinking to circumvent truth. So here we are, with not enough resources and too few doctors, nurses and hospital beds; inadequate testing; and a lack of clear information about what to expect next. We haven’t a national plan much less a global blueprint to follow. And chances are, when this is over, we’ll continue along in the same way as before; because, as each crisis recedes, we really want to forget about it rather than learn from our collective experience.
We like order and comfort and will do whatever it takes to maintain the status quo. So we ignore the possibility of catastrophe and when it shows up, we kind of freak out, buying too much toilet paper and stockpiling meat. Our natural response to peril is fear. It’s just the way we’re built. And, in this climate of adrenaline and grief, fear replicates itself like the virus itself. Then, the awful anxiety tightens around our chests and leads to a fevered quest for security and order.
It’s a loop and if we’re not careful that fear, and the things people do when they’re afraid, will lead to a grasping for safety at any cost.
We look to our leaders for help, to bring a sense of safety back into our lives. People are dying and losing their jobs. The supply chain is stressed and the markets in flux. The world seems to be collapsing around us. We look to our leaders for guidance and clarity and for answers about how to respond. We expect them to be competent and make plans with our best interest at heart. We want them to soothe us with expertise, optimism and reassurance.
But what if there's a wolf at the door?
What if the leaders we look to are feckless and have manipulative agendas? Then the reassurance we seek might come from a despot who parasitically strokes us: everything is okay; it’s not that bad; we’re over the worst; the enemy is China; blame the media; WHO is at fault; don’t worry - our economy is strong and it’s all going away when the summer sun begins to shine bright.
A desperate urgency to believe in these messages can create a readiness to accept an authoritarian leader and any ideology that comes with them. Fear can make people more willing to give leaders the benefit of the doubt and tolerate malignant abuses of power; tune out dangerous expansions of power; and, go along with racism, xenophobia and the silencing of independent media. Authoritarian leaders can thus gratify our wish to minimize the crisis by stripping away complexities and promising quick, simple solutions. They identify fictitious enemies and offer protection against them; provide pacifying propaganda over hard to face facts; and, guarantee a return to the sweet normalcy we hope will be restored. Baby, I'll give you everything you need.
As humans we are prone to making decisions based on habit, hope, fear, and using whatever information is available to confirm what we want to believe. A hypervigilant state of anxiety renders people immune to accepting new information, even when it is evidence-based. Unscrupulous leaders capitalize on fear, to heighten the desire for authoritarian order and control. Couple this tendency with a pandemic and the consequences can be painful.
If we had been listening to scientists we would already have plans in place for global emergencies. But at this point, facts are often deceitfully conflated to be fake news or beliefs that are politically motivated. The national response to the coronavirus emergency has been uncoordinated, mishandled and frivolous. There has been a campaign of disinformation aimed at downplaying the scope and significance of the virus and then redirecting blame to political advantage. The government’s fragmented response seems to be cracking further along partisan lines. If this continues, things are not going to end well.
Right now, there is the crisis of COVID as well as the crisis of effective feedback channels to provide evidence-based scientific information to our communities. We need to find new and accessible bridges for disseminating scientific data that are trusted and make people curious and less closed off to accepting new information.
We need to establish platforms that are able to motivate us to become proactive. We need to build networks for collaboration that can address complex global problems in creative transdisciplinary ways. We need to find ways to engage with one another that promotes solidarity, community participation and social action. We need to find our common humanity and rise past politics so we can construct mutually beneficial, systemic solutions.
In order to change our future we must find a new language of interconnectedness, transdisciplinarity, and intersectionality. By recognizing that as individuals, communities and nations we are all connected, we will be more able to live in concert, with intention, creativity and mutuality.