We are witness to a grand social experiment due to COVID and the COVID response. We are seeing belief in action to which we often don’t, or even can’t, get a front row seat.
That is, what you believe about the dangers of the various coronavirus variants, the efficacy of masks and vaccines, and the value of social outings as compared to those previous matters, greatly influences how you actually will behave. We are seeing people manifest their calculations in real time - our family, friends, neighbors, and ourselves.
We don’t often see people’s convictions play out this way. Whatever you happen to think about the existence of aliens or extraterrestrial intelligent life doesn’t impact your behavior very much. Or consider the controversy over working conditions overseas in workplaces that churn out products for American consumers. As it turns out, whether you believe something ethically wrong is taking place, hasn’t impacted the bottom of these companies, and statistically, did not prevent you from still buying that smartphone.
And yet, we are seeing a difference of belief on full display with the wearing of masks, the respecting of social distancing, and the process of vaccination.
What is unique about masks and vaccination as points of disagreement and stark difference of behavior is that they are relatively uncomplicated by a host of influencing factors. The main vector of concern is health and wellness. Compare this to another high disagreement, stark behavior difference phenomenon: voting for a candidate for President. There are an immense number of reasons someone might hold a different opinion about a candidate and behave/vote in a way different than you. I’m not shocked that people would behave differently - there are so many variables in play.
But with whether to get a vaccine, there are simply far fewer considerations. There are two key data points to think about: 1) Will getting this vaccine increase or decrease my odds, all things considered, for living a long, healthy life? and 2) Will not getting this vaccine increase or decrease my odds, all things considered, for living a long, healthy life? I’m not also factoring in school vouchers, free trade, taxation, and prison reform like I am in the voting booth.
So, what gives? Why is there so much disagreement on a topic with comparatively far fewer possible points of contention?
I think the answer is largely the demise of reliable mainstream media. Even the term, “mainstream media” has become a derogatory term; a synonym for corporate corruption, political bias, and a swamp of rhetoricians rather than intellectually virtuous seekers of the truth, come what may. This is to be lamented. We should want a mainstream media that is reliable and trustworthy - in other words, we should want the big competing outlets of news to be on largely the same page, the page of truth, and crucially to stick strictly to actual news, about the biggest stories of our time.
But we don’t have that now. Alternative media is our present and certainly the foreseeable future. And with it, the advent of the so-called Information Wars. There is a war of competing information and this has led to drastically different behaviors by adherents of their preferred streams of information - even on something that should be easy and straightforward, like whether to get a vaccine.
You are in the information war, whether you like it or not.
So, how do you move about the battlefield? Are you a soldier on the front line, fighting tooth and nail to spear down the enemy on the other side? Are you a conscientious objector calling for everyone to put down their armaments and take up a banner of peace and diplomacy? Or do you have your lawn chair parked on the sidelines, watching with horror or perhaps sometimes sick entertainment the mess in front of you?
Or for those that don’t like metaphor - what do you, you in real life, actually do when you are confronted with competing information - pieces of information that cannot both be true at the same time?
Or still yet - is there an end in sight? I’m sure you’ve also felt the sensation of being in limbo, in this liminal space, an in-between period, waiting for the what-comes-next. Maybe this is just how life feels now in the Age of the Info Wars - you never get the feeling like the other shoe has dropped.