Self-honesty, pt. 2a: Thinking about COVID19 in a culture that doesn’t know how

On this occasion I decided to try my hand at my first-ever tweetstorm, which the Twitter-savvy among you can read and engage with here. For the rest of you (of whom I was recently one, after all), here’s the complete “unrolled” version below:

Recently I tweeted this post on the need for “self-honesty” to help us resist unconstructive, avoidance-driven worry about #COVID19: .

But now I see a deeper, wider need for self-honesty: to remediate our culture-wide response to this pandemic.

Each of us has been called upon to take a stand on the individual and collective measures needed to slow COVID’s spread. This is immensely hard on two fronts:

1. It is really hard to think realistically about exponential growth, and thus to properly assess the looming risk.

2. It’s at least as hard to think realistically about all the economic, cultural, and personal costs that mass social distancing will incur.

What’s more, we’re all prone to ignore one or the other side of the equation:

Those who can more readily appreciate the economic costs—e.g., because they risk losing their livelihoods and ability to feed their families—are motivated to downplay the dire implications of COVID’s exponential spread.

And those of us who have the luxury to work from home (or enjoy a conveniently-timed maternity leave 🙋🏻‍♀️) are motivated to signal our mathematical sophistication and righteous concern for the sick and elderly by preaching that everyone “stay home” & help “flatten the curve”—without giving due consideration to what this will mean for the whole economic infrastructure that enables such luxuries, or for those working to keep it afloat.

(And each group’s preferred media sources tend to reinforce their respective biases, of course.)

Such is the cultural state in which COVID finds us. We’re as vulnerable as ever, b/c we haven’t been taught or incentivized to think, independently and rationally, about complex problems like this.

Such thinking is counter-cultural; it runs against our grain. Sometimes it leads to unpopular conclusions, thus incurring moral censure from one faction or another. Yet such unfettered, reality-based thinking is our only weapon against this (or any) pandemic.

It will take a heroic feat of self-honesty to take full stock of this insanely complicated, uncertainty-fraught situation and develop a truly realistic cost-benefit framework to guide decision-making about COVID.

Who out there is attempting to do this? And how can I help?


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