Saturday, May 2, 2020

What to expect? The Pandemics effect on personality, culture, and politics.


Expect soliton waves: self-reinforcing waves of infection that propagate at a constant velocity.

I hope I've missed the likely better outcomes.

We are all in this together. None of us has ever experienced health and financial uncertainty in a global context where everyone else does, too. Historically, society wide unemployment has led to populist movements, from the totalitarian Nazi, to the New Deal versus America First. The New Deal brought people together. Pandemics and plagues elicit fear of the neighbor and the stranger. That sort of populism wants to build walls and rid itself of contamination and impurity.
Like it or not, adversity seldom brings out the best in us. Mostly, it makes us mean, suspicious, and selfish. It threatens narcissistic stability, and we act accordingly.
Social disruptions foster crisis cults and new religion. Collective trauma and deprivation are seedbeds for populist fear of the despised “other” and malevolent identity politics. 
The dilemmas of global stress creates temporary or sustained uncertainty. Cross-cultural stress, collective trauma, and a heightened awareness of difference in security, power, and privilege are already writ large. Look at some examples from cultural demography: The Great Depression, Post WW1 German trauma and deprivation, and the various holocausts and forced migrations. These collective circumstances affected communities and cultures many ways. What happened? Did people find common ground with the stranger or attempt their elimination? And, in contrast, consider the white middle-class post war Baby Boomer’s opportunities that moved people from the lower middle to the middle or better. But then consider the globalization that returned many to the lower middle. Consider their political shifts. With an expected recession, let’s be real: the lower middle is completely screwed.
Things to wonder about: Circumstances experienced globally are a vector for culture change. Global events of varying duration, now a context of our judgments and action, can change our character if acted on long enough to become in-character. If this changes enough of us, accompanying changes in our culture’s characteristic choice principles and social practices follow.
Here’s a key question: Given sufficient practice and experience, how long does it take to develop new ways of living? How long are these characteristics stable at different periods of life? Daniel Levinson’s ideas, taken with a grain of salt, offer a guide. Adult personality transitions require five +/- two years. Periods of ‘settling down’ are seven +/- two years. But how long does it take to fundamentally alter a child's rapid development and emerging view of self, community, and world? A year is a much larger portion of life for a kid than for an established "grown up".
How long will the pandemic last? What difference will it make to people at different phases of their life? Are you looking to start college or begin a career? Hoping to get out of debt? Are you a kid told to avoid the playground and the neighbor’s kid?
The pandemic’s major variables: How long will it last; how well will authorities understand rapid upward and gradual downward infection slopes; and how competently will they promote and apply varieties of corrective feedback. And, will there be ongoing and extended recurrences with or without adequate corrective action?
Will the the pandemic be a year or less of disruption; a painfully extended but temporary abnormal? Or will it last long enough to alter the shared course of people’s lives? And, in so doing, shift culture and personality? We are going to find out.


About Soliton Waves: Projecting the transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 through the postpandemic period (Science, 22 May 2020:Vol. 368, Issue 6493, pp. 860-868)

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