In the last few months, Covid-19 has taught us many things, which can change the way we see the world in the future. Our approach to China, black swan events, hopefully the views on hygiene for some people… Much needed knowledge. The newest lesson lies in the way we process information and approach policy. Every day, the parliaments, streets, and comment sections of clickbait articles on Facebook are filled with competing ways to combat the virus. While all of the modern-day philosophers are surely highly informed about the theories they gently shout at each other, their views are so incompatible that they cannot possibly be based on the same reality. Or can they? Perhaps what the coronavirus debate shows us is that we are not all living through the same pandemic and we are not all living in the same world.
In my previous article, I have tried to demonstrate that our calculations when it comes to policy can drastically change based on how we look at the measured data. And it’s not just our approach to data or empirical knowledge that affects our policy preferences. It can even just be our political identity. You may have noticed, that when it comes to this pandemic, conservatives tend to have a rather relaxed approach, while the liberals show great concern. Liberals prefer strict lockdowns, government enforcement of rules, and high interventionism, while conservatives lean towards more lenient measures and the idea of herd immunity.
This is rather counter-indicative since the psychological data shows, that conservatives are normally the ones who tend to be much more worried about threats. Social conservativism, the avoidance of outsiders, and the preference for social hierarchy are believed to be highly developed disease-avoidance mechanisms. Why is it then, that conservatives don’t seem to be especially threatened by this global pandemic?
Researchers from Heterodox Academy theorized whether it could be the environmental difference, such as the fact that the hardest hit areas in the US were the liberal ones. However, the proximity of the virus seemed to have little correlation with the preferred policy response. Instead, their latest research shows that leaning towards conservativism or liberalism can make people view the virus in a completely different light. What was the main issue? Government response.
Because liberals are already in support of the government intervening in every aspect of their life, they are more likely to magnify the threat in order to validate their own beliefs. In contrast, conservatives are opposed to the government telling them what to do, so their instinct is to downplay the threat. Our policy design is therefore not really a response to the actual objective disease threat but rather the preferred vision of a reality projected through our ideological lenses. Of course, we can’t see eye to eye. Our bitter divide is not just over policy but over the ‘correct’ way to view the world. To the dismay of many idealists then, it seems that Covid-19 will not inspire unity in the end. It may even drive the ideological divides further.