• Thinking Straight

    The coronavirus has induced, I think, a kind of psychological confusion on the part of my fellow-citizens – they have conflated the virus and the government, with the result that they now see them as the same phenomenon.

    The process works like this. The virus is so pervasive that its effects are felt in all sorts of unpredictable ways. The government, for its part, has undertaken to protect us by negating as many as possible of the manifold and sometimes unforeseeable problems caused to us by the virus. The result is that the adverse consequences felt by us are seen by many as the culmination of a causal process in which the government is directly involved, and unless the government has succeeded in negating the adverse consequence entirely, and – even more, if the government’s response itself brings some unwelcome consequences – some part of the injury or discomfort or displeasure experienced will be attributed to the government. The virus and the government are therefore seen as being a single phenomenon and indistinguishable from each other.

    Paradoxically, the government would be seen more clearly as a separate factor if it had not tried to protect us in such an all-embracing way – if it had said “we are all victims, there is nothing to be done, and you’re on your own”. The confusion is of course increased if there are those sniping on the sidelines and pointing to every unwelcome aspect of the pandemic – that is, brought about by the virus – and saying, for political reasons, that it is all the government’s fault.

    If we are to avoid this trap, we have to think straighter.

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