Thoreau is quoted as saying, “Nothing is so much to be feared as fear!” From February 1918 through April 1920, the globe experienced an H1N1 viral infection, which came to be known as “The Spanish Flu.” Stories abound regarding the Spanish Flu, how healthy people went to bed and woke up dead. Stories abound about what governments did, how people reacted, and the science involved in this global panic. The media during this period was not yet a mouthpiece for radicals and tyrants, and elected representatives and unelected representatives of government worked to stabilize their populations, care for the sick, bury the dead, and recover the financial losses. Eventually, the world will experience the “Roaring 20s” because of the world leaders’ efforts to recover.
What changed in the century between the Spanish Flu and COVID-19; fear! Fear has become a tradeable good, a tool for beating people, and a method of communicating lies and half-truths as the ultimate word in human communications. Why was fear allowed to go from being disregarded into something that can control every population across the world, except for a small minority?
From Psychology Today, we find this gem of information regarding fear. “Fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger that has been pivotal throughout human evolution, but especially in ancient times when men and women regularly faced life-or-death situations.” One of the many pathways to fear leads through the badlands of disgust as an emotional response. Understand something; emotions are a choice, a judgment, and a social construct. How to emote correctly in that situation and environment is part of a survival trait and popularity tool to connect to other people (Solomon, 2003).
Social Aspects and Mental Connections
Matthew D. Lieberman (2013) authored “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect.” This book discusses how and why people connect and also disconnect. The following quote from philosopher Jeremy Bentham discusses the biggest issue in connecting as social beings, “Pain and pleasure … govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think.” With the brain wired, hard-wired from birth, towards a lust for pleasure, and avoidance of pain, the third aspect of hard-wired encoding is being social. We need each other to completely experience pleasure and avoid pain.
However, it is also clear that emotions are a choice, a cognitive, conscious, and clear-cut choice. We learn to read social situations as children, and these early experiences teach us about proper emotions in social situations. Since our emotions are a social construct and choice, the connections to society, pleasure, and pain become our reality if we allow emotions to rule our minds, which is also a choice, with social influences and a judgment for basic survival. Fear, especially as it applies to COVID-19 and other viral infections, we must understand our brains’ hard-wired coding and social aspects, plus the emotional decisions we consciously make. If we fail to understand these connections, we miss how every person was manipulated and propagandized into a method of thinking and acting during a viral infection with a 99% survival rate and why COVID reactions were one way, and every other viral outbreak elicited the exact opposite response.
There is an entire branch of science dedicated to studying these connections and responses called social-cognitive neuroscience. I am barely scratching the surface of these topics to provide the COVID response explanation, and I encourage further research if you doubt or would like more information. I am not a social-cognitive neuroscientist, simply an industrial and organizational psychologist who works to understand the why in human interactions.
Lieberman (2013) points out some interesting aspects of fear; in the top ten lists of fears, three categories emerge, fear of physical harm and death (including emotional and mental harm), the death or loss of loved ones, and public speaking. The hard-wiring of reward and fear, pain and pleasure, and our need to connect are physically exhibited through oxytocin release and the septal regions of the brain. fMRI’s have reflected this physical connection and hard-wiring in every person’s brain. When oxytocin is administered, humans show favoritism towards liked groups and strangers but increased hostility towards disliked groups — making the connections to fear being a product of disgust.
Daniel Kahneman (2011) authored “Thinking Fast and Slow.” In discussing how the brain works, Kahneman (2011) introduces intuitive heuristics. A heuristic or heuristic technique is any approach to problem solving or self-discovery that employs a practical method that is not guaranteed to be optimal, perfect, or rational but is nevertheless sufficient for reaching an immediate, short-term goal or approximation. Intuitive heuristics is problem-solving using intuition. In the US Military, we called these “WAGs” or “Wild-Arsed Guesses.”
In reviewing the literature on the social dynamics of Spanish Flu and COVID-19, we find two main concerns. The early stages of both health crises show leaders acting with intuitive heuristics, trying to solve the problem, e.g., avoiding pain, through educated guesses and flat-out WAGs. The second dynamic is the social fear spread by, influenced with, and spurred to new heights by corporate media and politics. We all remember how Dr. Fauci was first for and then vehemently against hydroxychloroquine, even though Dr. Fauci’s research had reflected the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine since the 1990s against viral SAR-Cov (coronaviruses) viral infections.
Where we are today – Nowhere Good!
Israel announced they are planning to re-enter restrictions for wearing a mask inside your home as a government mandate due to a COVID-19 mutation called “Delta.” The vaccine news continues to discuss whether or not the original vaccine developed will be effective against the new mutations of the coronavirus or if a booster vaccine will be required. We have a causal relationship between giving children and teenagers the vaccine and a rare heart disease. There are still doctors worldwide reading Dr. Fauci’s research and trying to prescribe hydroxychloroquine and being thrown in jail or facing ridicule and loss of license to practice medicine. Worse, we still have doctors who recommend doing nothing if exposed to COVID until you cannot breathe, taking the lackadaisical approach to practicing medicine.
All of these stories have a similar root cause, fear! The politicians fear losing their job, so they overreact. The media stirs up fear in a populace, for scared people are easier to keep emotionally distracted than logically thinking; hence fear sells advertising, and the media knows how to sell advertising. Fear drives irrational purchases, like packing your garage full of toilet paper and bottled water. Fear drives avoidance and acceptance of freedom stealing government mandates.
Fear drove a recent business interaction, where a person hard of hearing had removed their mask to lip-read during a conversation. The business leader demanded they both put their masks back on per “company policy.” Only later was the hearing impairment made known to the business leader. What has been the company response, investing in transparent and expensive masks. Fear driving irrational business decisions based upon fear of risks rather than proactive methods for conducting business.
One of the most problematic aspects of COVID has been accepting fear as a valid reason to take action, report your neighbors, and make wrongheaded business decisions. When COVID-Hysteria finally concludes, how foolish will people feel for blindly following instead of logically thinking and acting? Worse, what will the fallout be from being made to feel foolish? Long-term, does the feeling of foolishness and fear change how people listen and follow government mandates in the future? What laws will change social interactions and societal morals due to the fallout from COVID?
Honest questions, to which the answers must be sought and explored before the media decides the populace is too stupid to think for themselves, and they force solutions onto the politicians through shoddy statistical lies. America and every representative government globally, we the owners of our governments, need to become more proactive before we wake up one morning, and freedom has been lost, rights trampled, and liberty was stolen for the power of politicians and the media. Not fear-mongering. Just a concerned citizen looking for answers.
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
Lieberman, M. D. (2013). Social: Why our brains are wired to connect. NY: Oxford University Press, USA.
Solomon, R. C. (2007). Not passion’s slave: Emotions and choice. Oxford University Press.
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
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