Gripped by Covid overload, what the disease has revealed about our society is the last thing I want to write about. But sometimes the last must be first, and this is one of those times. Four years ago, say, before the disease rampaged, if, for some reason, I’d been asked to predict national response to a future catastrophe, my answer would have been wrong. I would have expected reactions based on exercises of collective responsibility and personal common sense. Obligations to self and others would have been foundations for unified, intelligent combatting of any national threat. We are, after all, a highly civilized society, aren’t we?
Certainly, I never expected having to deal with an actual crisis-response scenario four years ago. What’s unfolded so devastatingly since has educated me in ways I’d gladly have done without. First, I’d never have envisioned so large a segment of our population so vehemently opposing what science and past experience indicate are best responses to rampant disease. Sure, I knew there were groups of science deniers among us, but what society doesn’t have people antagonistic to what they can’t understand or what they irrationally feel threatens them? In addition to this benighted group, lurking in the shadows have been large numbers of people pathologically resentful of what they consider their powerlessness. Being told what to do, however essential the information may be, even for survival, is, to them, a violation of their independence, an essential component of their continued brainlessness. This element, too, has loudly resisted government attempts to contain the pandemic. Their motto, “The government can’t tell me what to do,” could be--and has been--the first line of an elegy commemorating their own demise.
Second, while I’ve always been aware of deep corruption flowing through some political veins, I’d never have predicted that some ruthlessly ambitious pols would jeopardize lives of constituents by pandering for votes of the self-perceived “powerless.” “You people don’t want to wear masks? O.K. by me. Do what makes you happy. Just remember to repay me with your votes.” Two of these individuals, governors of what I’d regretfully consider from past performance not overly-enlightened states, have, quite obviously, been enticed by visions of eventually occupying the oversized Oval Office chair that once creaked under the current dictator of the Republican Party. If these ruthless bottom feeders are elected to any office in the future, it will be evidence of Covid’s impact on human rationality.
Why has a situation that would have seemed like fantasy not long ago become the ugliest of realities? One sad answer is rooted in overestimating the willingness, maybe even the aptitude, of many people to think and act in responsible ways. We toss around that simple word “think” without understanding its requirements. To think requires time, patience to probe, and intellectual courage to abandon ideas that, reconsidered, reveal themselves as invalid. Recalibration of thought can be particularly hard when these ideas have been deeply-rooted and long-held. Applying reason to problem solving can be thoroughly off-putting for those wanting to avoid change. Therefore, many problem solve by unleashing emotion, much less demanding than engaging in meaningful deliberation.
For this depressingly large group, there’s another alternative to responsible decision-making: avoid it by delegating power over beliefs and opinions to surrogates. That’s so much easier and obviously less annoying than trying to awaken hibernating minds. Therefore, this group cedes power to validate their resistance to solutions based on reason and investigation. They become members of cults, eagerly manipulated by shrewd puppet masters relishing power over inactive minds. If they tell cultists not to vaccinate, those zombies will obey docilely, invoking their right, of course, to independence. Further, and connectedly, if they tell cultists the Presidential election was stolen, that army of non-thinkers, pliable to the end, will demand recounts and aggressively some will storm the Capitol. Who cares if that’s illegal? “Independent” people determine their own laws, don’t they?
Something more insidious than Covid is attacking American society. How do we label this specific pandemic? Lethal independence? Logic aversion? Fox News hypnosis? Intellectual starvation? More important than naming it, can anything combat this debilitating disease? A long-range answer, I know, is to put greater emphasis on teaching essentials of critical thinking at every level of our educational system. I agree completely, but eggs in that basket will take too long to hatch. We must initiate strong counter-measures without delay. For example, publicize continuously and loudly discrepancies in Covid rates between mask-mandating states and resistors. Solicit testimonials from those who have reason to regret their previously misguided behaviors. Boycott in every way possible states whose policies jeopardize our collective health, even the health of the ignorocracy. Diplomacy and persuasion have run their courses. It's time to be aggressive, to go for the jugulars of the anti-thinkers, because infection and death rates continue to rise.
The future is in our hands. To shape it responsibly, we must do everything possible to negate the influence of fools among us.