Unity and Negligence During a Pandemic
More than 190,000 Americans have now perished from COVID-19. Had American leadership adopted the decisive early measures like other nations, it is estimated that we would have reduced the death toll by 70 to 99 percent. This is not the regretful cost of freedom; it is negligence on a national scale. This is the unnecessary death of at least one hundred thirty-three thousand Americans and counting. While poor leadership may have been a catalyst, the suffering is not entirely the result of government mishandling.
For many, the American definition of liberty and freedom has become so skewed it no longer resembles anything more than dystopian anarchy. Do you want to keep a fully loaded AK-47 for protection? That is your right because you never know if a bad guy burglarized an unsecured AR-15 or AK-47 and you may need to level the playing field. You do not need weapons training or a license, a weapon safe, or a plan for what happens to the gun when you die. That is an inconvenient and unnecessary burden on your constitutional rights. If you want an automobile that can hit speeds of 200 or a car stereo with bass so loud it can be heard two miles away; that is your right because unlike the teenager down the street, you don’t plan to play your stereo that loud or drive so recklessly. You may tune and rev your Harley Davison at such volumes that the near deaf Viet Nam Veteran living three houses over, turns off his Jeopardy in surrender. It is okay because you do not do it all the time. You do not want to wear a mask because it is uncomfortable? That is your right, even if it risks the health or safety of others. Even if not wearing a mask contributes to an overwhelming financial burden on the taxpayer, you go on because you live in a ‘free’ country. Such a thought process is the result of under-developed moral reasoning.
In the mental health world, we call this ‘conventional morality.’ Individuals who think this way believe the behavior is justified if it is the norm for the group with which they identify. Individuals within such moral development do not question authority and rationalize their position because it is normal in their social group. Unfortunately, such undeveloped moral footing has implications beyond merely disturbing one’s neighbor. Nationalism, toxic masculinity, and even violence (if normalized by the group) is a symptom of conventional morality. It also multiplies a troubling effect on the individual.
Behaving in a way that feels wrong but is justifies because it is normal for a social group leads to what is called incongruence. Incongruence can be thought of as a subconscious conflict between what you feel is right and what is socially acceptable. It creates a discrepancy between the individual’s self-image and their actual experience. Such incongruence leaves the individual vulnerable to even more significant fears and anxieties. If you are wondering how we might advance such a considerable population’s moral development, remember that they are literally raised to feel that way. Our best hope is not to change the way they think directly, which will change, albeit slowing with public opinion. To ensure a majority develops a post-conventional morality we will need to better develop empathy in the classroom.
To get more people to wear a mask now, we have two things going for us, natural consequences and decreasing anti-mask sentiment. It is important to remember that as norms change, those who seem radical or at the very least callous will change their behavior if they feel not doing so risks the judgment of others in their social group. This sort of conventional morality groupthink is why America went so terribly wrong with the pandemic. The authority and who many considered their group leader shunned masks, and this position sent ripples throughout America. We can alter this reality by forcing change at the top in November and holding those accountable for their negligence. As businesses push mask requirements, whether out of fear of reduced patron traffic, fines, or even ‘negligence per se’ lawsuits, it will decrease the social norm of going mask-less. The federal government can also do much more than print more money, it can use the system designed for dealing with major disasters.
The Incident Command System (ICS) is the federal government’s system for managing large scale emergencies. While some may argue that ICS is designed around localized emergencies, even if that were true (which is not) consistency in an already developed framework is only logical. Still, ICS on a national scale was not used, and this should anger not just those who have suffered illness or loss, but it should anger every American. Every emergency responder in the U.S. receives annual training on ICS. One of the components of ICS and first lessons taught in the military is that ‘Unity of Command’ is crucial in winning a battle or war. Make no mistake we are at war with a microscopic invader. Unity of Command is not just core to the military and the ICS. It is widely understood as a fundamental rule for efficient use of resources and communication lines. Unity of Command works because a subordinate has only a single superior directly above their own position. Material, manpower, or funds are allocated from superiors to those areas that have the greatest need. The centralized management of a disaster prevents communication problems. It ensures a unified goal in which resources are effectively and efficiently requisitioned, dispersed, and utilized. Those familiar with ICS were putting our hands over our masks in shock as governors competed not only for resources but responded to the threat differently. To many, this was like asking each state to guard against an invading army instead of deploying the United States military; it made no sense.
The federal government threw out the ICS playbook during this pandemic. A countless number of Americans have perished or are suffering as a result. The COVID-19 Pandemic response should have been unified, the standardized way the U.S. Incident Command System (ICS) was structured to respond to an emergency. The fact that the federal government did not respond in a decisive and unified manner is not just oversight, it is negligence. Those who failed to respond as was designed should be held accountable.
References and Further Reading
McLeod, S. (2008, February 5). Kohlberg — Moral development | Simply psychology. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/kohlberg.html
Person-centered therapy (Rogerian therapy). (2018, January 17). Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/person-centered
Sebenius, I., & Sebenius, J. K. (2020, June 19). A faster response could have prevented most U.S. COVID-19 deaths. Retrieved from https://www.statnews.com/2020/06/19/faster-response-prevented-most-us-covid-19-deaths/