Covid-19: Black and White Thinking, Mistrust and Powerlessness

The size of the society you live in matters. Right now, on North Sentinel Island in a remote part of the Indian Ocean, the entire population (somewhere between 50 and 400 people) are deeply invested in the issues of the moment. What are these issues? I don’t know, for every outside who has ever tried to contact the Sentinelese has either been killed by them or been scuttled away with a flurry of arrows and spears.

Maybe the issues in Sentinelese society relate to an aggressive or unfaithful group-member. Maybe they relate to the late monsoon and what that might mean for food supply. Almost certainly, the people discussing the issue of the day have firsthand experience of the issue and the key people involved. Almost certainly the people debating the issue can see its consequences unfold before their very eyes.

On the other hand, here in the Global Society (population somewhere between 7.5 and 7.6 billion), the people have been in deep obsession over the Covid-19 virus. If you are like me, you don’t know anyone involved in directing society’s response to the virus. Maybe like me, you don’t even know anyone who has caught the virus.

The size of the society you live in matters. The bigger the society, the less direct exposure to the source of society’s problems you have. And the less power to do something about them. Small societies engender engagement and trust. North Sentinel is normal for us humans, Global Society is weird. Size matters in societies. And we live in a whopper.

This week, I watched Melbourne go into a heavy lockdown. People continued to catch the virus. We were told that people were not doing what was asked of them by the government. Rule breakers. I wondered how this could be the same population who had been “hiding under the covers” back in April?

This week, I had several conversations with clients who are afraid that the Covid-crisis is a pretext for big government, big pharma, to further enslave us. Like me, these clients had no firsthand experience with the virus. They don’t know anyone who has been infected. The government and the mainstream media told them that a disaster was coming, and they dutifully curtailed their freedoms. And suffered financial hardship from it. Now they ask: Where is this alleged catastrophe?

Black and White Thinking is seeing things as either one of two extremes. The Coronavirus is either a personal calamity that must at all costs be avoided, or it doesn’t exist at all. I must lock myself away from the world, or I act as-if nothing is different from usual. It is natural for people to see things in polarities. It is effortful to see things in shades of grey.

Our enormous society has so many levels between the regular people and those with their hands on the leavers of power. Unlike the Sentinelese, we never meet those making the big decisions that affect our lives. Big people, like politicians try to simplify their messages: “Isolate yourself” “return to business as usual”. This shifting of simple messages can make us mistrustful of them. “Which is it, Black or White?!”

I believe that this virus is not an excuse to enslave us. It is a virus that we have little immunity to which spreads rapidly if we continue to act as normal. It will kill a small minority of those infected. But if we change nothing, the majority will be infected, which will add up to a lot of people dead.

I believe that too much public behaviour change kills the economy. The “economy” is not just for the rich. It is your brother’s work, your wife’s company, your Mum’s life savings, your kids first job.

Black – Lock down everything

White – Business as usual

White – The government is 100% trustworthy, and if not then…

Black – The virus doesn’t exist

We must move beyond black and white thinking.

What can you do?

Wash and sanitise hands. Keep apart and wear a mask when you can’t. Keep calm and carry on.

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