Tuesday, March 31, 2020

ideology and pandemics

One of the more depressing things about the modern western world is the way everything has become politicised. Art is politicised. Sport is politicised. Science is politicised. The weather is politicised. Everything is judged not on the basis of evidence or on the basis of right and wrong but on whether it’s consistent with one’s pre-existing ideological position.

This has become depressingly apparent in responses to COVID-19. Particularly in the US (where the politicisation of absolutely everything is further advanced than anywhere else). To Democrats everything President Trump has done has been wrong, because he’s Trump. To the MAGA cultists everything President Trump has done has been right, because he’s Trump. To them everything is the fault of the evil Democrats.

We’re even seeing ideological divides in people’s views of the seriousness of the pandemic. To some extent people’s responses are conditioned by their emotional outlook, but then their emotional outlook is largely what determines their ideological position anyway. Those who insist that the disease is no big deal are not interested in any evidence that contradicts their view. Those who insist that the disease is the worst thing ever are also not interested in any evidence that fails to support their view.

It’s even more evident when it comes to people’s reactions to the economic consequences, with economic rightists insisting that saving the economy comes first and with their opponents insisting that destroying the economy is worth it if it saves lives. Neither side is interested in rational argument or compromise.

There are also those, especially on the Right, who are determined to blame it all on an evil Chinese communist plot. And there are those who are determined to blame it all on the Americans. In neither case is there any evidence for such assertions. Conspiracy theories abound.

The one thing that is clear is that societies that are highly politicised are incapable of reacting to an actual crisis. Emotional responses, cheap political point-scoring and indecisiveness followed by blind panic have characterised the responses of western governments.

I’m not taking a personal position on any of this. I have no idea if the optimists (“it’s a nothingburger”) or the pessimists (“we’re all doomed”) are right. I have no idea if the economy is capable of recovering from a shutdown. I do think however that we’d be well advised to put politics to one side.

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