Covid-19 and Our Competing Narratives

It’s fascinating to watch the competing narratives regarding Covid-19 and risk assessment duke it out across the media universe (from social to mainstream to alternate media). As I’ve increasingly come to believe, we all believe what we want to believe. The continuum of beliefs seems to be that: we have faith in the complex systems we live within, our ‘leaders’ have things under control, everything will work itself out in some optimistic fashion, and life will return to ‘normal’ after a while; to the opposite belief that all hell is about to, or is, breaking loose and life will never return to where it was as sociocultural collapse is dead ahead.

‘Facts’ seem to make little difference to our belief systems. It is as author Robert Heinlein mused some years ago: We are rationalizing animals, not rational. We are not only not ‘objective’, but we are prone to using all sorts of cognitive/logical distortions to justify and confirm our beliefs and personal biases; because, after all, reducing our cognitive dissonance is a hugely powerful motivator. Our minds experience significant stress when ‘evidence’ opposes our belief system so we ignore or dismiss it and actively seek confirming information.

Science is not necessarily helpful here, although it is used as the ultimate arbiter by many. But one of the observations I made while attending university and shifting through different faculties as I sought a path to follow in those crazy formative years of mine in the 1980s was that the exact same ‘facts’ could be used for what were essentially diametrically-opposed ‘interpretations’. What one scientist saw as evidence supporting their paradigm was used by a colleague to justify their particular, and often very different, worldview.

This view of mine is supported by the opposing arguments regarding the reactions to the global pandemic currently sending our world sideways in some totally unexpected ways. We have a variety of interpretations of what the ‘numbers’ mean. We have some ‘experts’ assuring us that all is well, or at least manageable, to others ringing alarm bells and warning of very dire consequences for humanity.

What is the ‘truth’? Who knows.

Another thing I’ve come to believe is that complex systems with all their various feedback loops and emergent phenomena are impossible to predict or control no matter how sophisticated one’s model to interpret the system in questions is. While I have my own biases based upon my readings, research, and experiences (especially with respect to what pre/history tells us about complex societies and their ‘evolution’), I’ll make my predictions about what will happen when everything has worked itself out. That’s the safest bet for guessing what the future holds. I will say this however, it is likely in one’s best interest to prepare for the worst and hope for the best…whatever that may be. Life rarely, if ever, quite works out the way we expect.

(NB: I wrote this back on March 12 and sent it to a website I frequent for publication. I never heard back and thought I’d publish it here.)

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