Updated: Sep 3, 2020
Covid-19 is an immediate yet classic example of a control situation for humans. Of course, every animal and plant species has to contend with disease and the same issues of control exist for them too, but let's focus on humans right now since this stares us in the face every day. Our interest here is not to go over the statistics but to examine what the pandemic means to us as individuals and our ability to control the factors involved.
Covid-19 is certainly a threat to each of us, and won't be the last of such diseases to do so. Examining our individual responses now can therefore be helpful in establishing a pattern of positive reaction for now and the future. To do so involves many levels of involvement, with the whole thing seeming to be like a spinning tornado of virus, instead of wind, which has a hierarchy of who, what, and why issues constituting the composite whole: all the way from various levels of government and science advisories, politics and economics, down to the lonely you and me at the bottom—the individuals who are potentially affected and could die. How do we wrap our heads around this mess and know what to do?
In analyzing the control components involved, we should simplify things first. The “Who” most likely to suffer most—the very bottom of the tornado where destruction occurs—is you and me. Forget the other debris in the tornado for now, the other consequences of Covid-19. Let's take care of us first. OK, the “What” is the virus; that's simple. Also, the “Why” it’s of concern is clear. Scientific evidence shows it's a virulent strain of flu with a high potential to kill—lots of bodies totaled up to verify that—or to cause us damage which can at least make us uncomfortable and a threat to others or can cause life-long complications that may significantly reduce our quality of life. No politics or anything involved in this level of the total control scenario. Just identifying in simplest terms what it is we're facing—much like we would look at buying a car or choosing what to wear for the day.
Therefore, the question is quite simple. How do we individuals control this base-line level of the Corvid-19 threat? How do we protect ourselves and others? Since it's a communicable disease, if others are protected, then that helps protect you and me as individuals. If it were just something we were individually susceptible to, such as cancer or a bad reaction to something we ate, then other people wouldn't be involved and could be ignored. But that's not the case here.
Other people do matter because we could catch it from them or infect them. So, protection from others is the key to protecting ourselves. What do we do to protect each other then becomes the sole important question in this whole Covid-19 situation, and we have to work diligently to remember that and not lose that understanding as we carefully consider the hierarchy of control issues in the tornado.
OK. We're at the next step up in the hierarchy: what can protect us from each other? What seems to be the clearest are wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and testing and tracking. In other words, 1. keeping the virus from being breathed into our bodies and 2. finding who has it and may have infected others. Protection and tracing the spread is basic to all communicable diseases, whether colds, bubonic plague, or this one. That's it. Just do it and it goes away, at least until it returns because some individuals didn't do their part in protection or helping out on tracing.
At this level, other people are involved in the “Who,” such as who is providing the masks and making other PPE available, who is implementing and maintaining requirements for social distancing, and who is establishing testing and tracking. Here is where we individuals get drug into other boundaries of control by organizations of individuals such as business establishments, scientific research, and governmental agencies.
But as individuals we can still be able to control much of what happens at this next level. We can throw on a face mask of at least a handkerchief and support the makers of masks (private or commercial) by buying their products. We can also support laws and directives requiring or recommending their use by protecting each other. The same goes for social distancing. We protect each other by following the rules and laws at locations that have set distancing requirements. It's all pretty simple: Just do what is needed to control your participation in the group effort, for the benefit of all.
Next are the economic, scientific, and governmental levels that affect our control, such as businesses being open. If they aren't open or are operating at reduced capacity, then their products aren't available and employment is reduced, which means people don't have jobs to pay for living expenses or have to work where they are unable to maintain social distancing, for example. That infringes on their individual control ability with regard to Covid-19.
Scientific research into understanding and developing medical responses to the virus is involved and clearly impacts the individual's ability to control their contact with it. Research is also involved in testing and tracking; another impact on the individual's control. In addition, individuals are needed in medical trials for developing measures, such as vaccines, which can be added to an individual's toolbox of protective control measures which can be employed.
Federal, state, and local governmental levels of authority and economic funding are crucial to helping the individual protect themselves. Without a doubt task that should be the sole organizing focus of their participation in this tornado of control issues. At this hierarchical level, government reaches out and into every other level of control, and consequently, is the most publicly discussed of the whole issue of Covid-19 control, as it should be. Unfortunately, other factors of control, such as politics and culture, get involved with government and other levels of participation.
Politics, the power to influence individual and group decision-making, is integral to understanding what is happening, much as atmospheric pressures of moving weather fronts affect the course of a tornado. The other factor is cultural values and beliefs which also help direct the path and strength of the Covid-19 tornado. Well, how does this work?
In simple terms, politics is individuals forming groups of influence (such as political parties, non-profit organizations, unions, lobby coalitions, etc.) in order to use an event to further their goals. The virus appearance is one such event. Individuals and their groups work to make a successful outcome of the event according to their goals. Ideally in a democracy, this means cooperation and adaptation to make this happen, but often authoritarian measures are instead taken to achieve the goals a group has. So, those are the basic elements which must be analyzed in order to understand the control behavior of political groups and their members: who the individuals and groups are, what their actions are, and why they are doing it (the goals of what is hoped to be accomplished, public and hidden).
Of course, we could get into naming these individuals and groups to flesh out the simple outline just given, and there are thousands of opinions and analyses about them in the media which can be accessed on a daily or moment by moment basis which do that—and I search out some of that myself, to be sure. However, that's not the purpose here. Our goal is to apply a simple format, control, in order to reduce the clutter of what is happening out there in the world so it will be clarified and understandable.
Culture is the second, and most influential, element which permeates every level of a control hierarchy, and the Covid-19 tornado is no different. Cultural beliefs and values structure and incentivize all that individuals do. Without them, humans would basically function on instinctual directives from our genes, much as the majority of other animal species do. So, culture makes us what we call human—for better or worse. Therefore, to understand the behavior of individuals in the virus pandemic, we have to identify the cultural values and beliefs of the individuals involved.
This means, at the base level, how people control their reactions to the threat, in particular, how they protect themselves: wearing masks, social distancing, and aiding in testing and tracking. If someone fails to do any of those, then how do we analyze why they don't? Simply look at their cultural values and beliefs: the influence of personal experience, religion, political affiliation, ethnic identification, personality image, sexual identity, and on and on. For example, some men are against mask-wearing because it counters their concept of manhood or, for both sexes, their beliefs of individual freedom. This issue has even been identified with political affiliation. Regardless, culture is at the root of what people believe and do, and is the most important control element that humans have.
To understand what's happening in the pandemic, we have to understand the specific cultural motivations for how individuals handle it. This explains why different cultures around the world end up with different statistics regarding infection and death rates: Their cultural values and beliefs are different, and some lead to more effective decision-making for control of the virus than others. What the particular cultural values and beliefs that US citizens use for deciding how to control the virus is a legitimate and needed topic of discussion. That frames the issue in a simple but useful way.
Now, decision-making by individuals isn't limited just to the level of protecting themselves. For some individuals, it also goes up into the more complex, levels of the economic, political, and governmental groups mentioned previously. Groups don't exist except for individuals, and individuals bring their personal cultural values with them when they join a group; and those values then form the goals for action by the group. Hence, to understand why a group, like a political party, does what it does, you have to look back at what the individual in a specific role believes and does as a member of the group—and not particularly only the stated goals because they seldom match the reality of what the group's members actually believe and do. This is because control is what the individual is seeking, and joining a group is simply an attempt to broaden the boundaries of a person's control.
Hence, when the public discussion is set forth in terms of what this or that group is doing and why, the real focus for understanding should be on what individual members of that group are doing and why. This is the reason the best analyzing of what is happening with the pandemic gets down to discussing the individual actors involved in whatever is trying to be controlled—because it’s they who are exerting influence on the group's decisions, through their personal cultural values and beliefs. Of course, it's not always easy to know what those individual values are, but the actions, current and past, are good indicators to consider.
To summarize the whole issue of the Covid-19 tornado, then, is that it all comes down to the individual. It’s the individual at the bottom of the hierarchy of levels of control who is of prime importance because the virus attacks individuals and not the groups at the higher levels—those are just enmeshed with the debris (consequences) of the tornado. An individual must control exposure to the virus in order to survive the attack and can do so by: 1. taking direct action (masks etc.) or 2. joining or identifying with a group or groups which share that individual's cultural values and beliefs regarding the pandemic. Everything else, the political, governmental, and economic issues, are fallout from the individuals' ability to protect themselves—whether those are aiding or hindering the individuals in their attempts. That's basically it.
I should add that, of course, this all is the format for every similar demanding control event, and for those of a world-wide scope. It also is basically the format for our own personal, daily control decision-making—figure out the who, what, and why and then act. The Covid-19 tornado is just a bit larger.