With two years of overreaction to and media obsession with the myriad of ways that COVID-19 can kill or permanently disable people, there’s reason to believe a major subset of the population that was faithfully adherent to public health edicts about non-pharmaceutical interventions will remain mentally scarred.
Perpetual decline and fall is not inevitable. It is fixable but every powerful force out there, especially mainstream media, seems to stand against that. It is all designed to demoralize us and cause us to give up. We cannot accept this fate. There is still time, providing that we understand what is happening and the grave consequences of letting it all take place without a fight.
We need pandemic policies rooted in human nature—policies that meet people where they are, not where some sanctimonious Twitter warriors decide they should be. Throwing the S-word around doesn’t earn respect or cooperation from the accused. Au contraire: when pelted with character-assassinating epithets, people double down.
Participation in the ritual, which lacks pragmatic advantages and requires sacrifice, demonstrates that the collective is higher than the individual. For this portion of the population, it doesn’t matter whether the measures are absurd. Think of walking into a restaurant with a mask on, and removing it as soon as one sits down, for example.
In these times of summarily rejecting people we disagree with or treating those with differing opinions as dangerous or diseased, I have felt led to remember what I would have missed if I had rejected certain people with whom I disagreed on significant issues but from whom I had also received wonderful gifts.
Given the world in which we have been living for the past two years, despite the numerous flaws critics have found in both Zimbardo’s work, it would seem that both he and other members of social psychology’s golden age can still tell us a lot about how social roles, oppressive environments and powerful authorities can alter the psyches and actions of normal people in pathological ways.
Beyond empathy, to combat a psychic epidemic we need meaning in our lives. Not an ersatz top-down solidarity, dreamt up by technocratic communications experts, but genuine, socially meaningful relationships, purpose and values. Lockdowns and restrictions squashed exactly what we need to flourish as human beings in order to counteract a psychic epidemic. For the good of the collective, we must recapture meaning and values as individuals.
By going with the grain of how we think and act, the state-employed ‘nudgers’ can covertly shape our behaviour in a direction deemed desirable by the regime of the day – an appealing prospect for any government. The ubiquitous deployment of these behavioural strategies – which frequently rely on inflating emotional distress to change behaviour – raises profound moral questions.
And, even after the most cataclysmic events predicted by “The Science” have not come to pass, there remains a core group of true believers who are convinced “The Science” had simply gotten the date or the variant wrong and that the End of Days are still to come unless we all remain vigilant by forever being ready to mask up and lock down when “The Science” says it’s time.