a mystical möbius — curating facts, ideas, text, and media to create a contemplative space.
As we’re still responding, this is not really the best time to begin engaging a full-on after-action review of the U.S. response to the Covid-19 pandemic. We trust there will be plenty of time for those of us who remain (almost all, we hope) to do that later. I think we already know it will likely be a grim readout.
So, while later is better on comprehensive de-briefing, this does not mean we do well to individually and collectively become Pollyanna-ish right now with regard to leadership, government, and current events. We are truly living through what is a novel set of circumstances. Sharing our perspectives as we journey through these times will provide grist for the mill of history. Besides, it’s time for me to follow-through and declare what I alluded to back on March 15:
Next week: An intrinsic problem [flaw?] in the conservative political philosophy has been on full display in this crisis.
One and many. Individual and community. Agency and communion. I and we. These relationships are chock-full of dynamic energy. Barry Johnson has persuasively argued that these relationships are not a ‘problem‘ to be solved, but rather, polarities to be managed (here).
This same I–We dynamism is a key factor of a pendulum-like developmental mechanism of the Gravesian Spiral. Note each stage up the spiral oscillates from I to We, then We to I, and so forth.
Error by default
Along a misguided Randian-objectivism line, conservative Republicans (perhaps even more so Libertarians) tend to drastically overreach with an exclusive focus on the individual. This is at least partially a product of an over-identification with the Enlightenment paradigm that intrinsically embraces the notions of individual freedoms, rights, and responsibilities on a nearly exclusive basis. On this view, problems and solutions are frequently seen, by default, through the lens of individualism, e.g., “wash your hands” and/or hording in response to Covid-19. Other rotten fruits of an exclusively individual focus include a minimization of the importance of communal responsibility and collective (government) interventions, as well as a maximization of problems that involve justice issues like private property and economic inequality.
You may have heard of historian and journalist Rutger Bregman and the talk he gave in Davos earlier this year calling for higher taxes on the wealthy (NPR story). Bregman’s argument echoes that of Anand Giridharadas and his book, Winners Take All. Taxing the wealthy is a reasonable idea. However, I recently heard Bregman being interviewed in the context of the Covid-19 crisis and the attending economic fallout. He plainly stated, “We can all see that our emphasis on individuality and competition has completely failed us.”
“Has completely failed us?” Now, I would assert on that Bregman’s analysis commits the communitarian cooperation overreach that totally discounts and dismisses any possible benefits of individuality/competition. So, a legit knock on overreaching Green [FS] is the tendency to toss out the baby with the bathwater.
‘Favoritism’ contraindicated (either way)
As indicated above, three weeks ago I raised the issue of an inherent conflict of interest evident in the administration’s response to the Covid-19 crisis. Admittedly, it’s far from a new idea. Still, since then I have heard many TV news commentators voicing the same basic assertion I had in mind. The charge goes something like this: The Republican Party is incapable of actual effective governance because neither party philosophy nor party leaders believe in government.
The choices Republican leaders have made over the past four or five decades have organically lead them into a reduction-dysfunction, that is, to exclusively occupy the right-hand side of this very significant dilemma: Collective responsibility (more government) and Individual responsibility (less government):
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been presenting a masterclass in crisis management and crisis communication every morning in his press conference. Meaning to or not, Gov. Cuomo has illustrated why we richly benefit from the presence of both capitalistic and socialistic forms in our very diverse and highly complex nation.
There are two hospital groups in downstate New York. The NYC Health+ and GNYHA who (respectively) represent the more-government (democratic socialist) and less-government (democratic capitalist) approaches to health care delivery in New York City.
We benefit from the more exclusive (GNYHA), more expensive, more competitive, more capitalistic private hospitals because they are the innovators whose exploratory entrepreneurial spirit expands/increases the kinds of care available to the whole medical system. We benefit from the more inclusive (NYC Health+), less expensive (for consumer), more cooperative, more socialistic public hospitals because they are the social justice advocates who expand/increase the number of people who have access to the existing benefits of healthcare. The former group grows the healthcare pie best, the latter group shares it best.
Gov. Cuomo recognizes that our Covid-19 life conditions have created a demand to essentially combine the two groups in order to martial and cross-level vector the state’s collective resources through an inclusive socialistic cooperative management lens for the duration of the pandemic crisis—from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.
The whether to ‘mask’ or ‘not mask’ question?
This problem of whether or not the public ought to wear a mask when doing essential tasks in the public sphere is another example of our rather complicated I–We dynamics in the context of Covid-19. A non-medical-grade mask (e.g., scarf/bandanna) may indeed provide social health benefits by preventing an individual who is infected with Covid-19 but not experiencing any symptoms (e.g., pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic) from spreading virus-laden respiratory droplets into the environment, and, rather, keeping those to themselves. So, wearing a bandanna mask has no possible direct benefit to the I who is wearing it, but does potentially benefit all the other innocent I‘s (We) who may inadvertently be exposed to an un-masked person’s germs.
So, me wearing a scarf/bandanna mask doesn’t directly benefit me, but it may well benefit me by benefiting others.
Knowing this makes it rather easy to understand why President Trump has repeatedly said that he will not be wearing a mask himself. But then, too, I seriously doubt the president will be making any ‘essential trips’ to the grocery store or pharmacy anyway.
And so forth
Now, I have not enumerated anywhere near all the indications of the conservative reductionist default to the (I) individual locus that has been revealed in the Covid-19 crisis response. I wanted to leave plenty of room for you to contemplate the implications.
As reductionism influences/limits perspective and creates bias, the over-emphasis on the individual forms the ground for the notion that more government is intrinsically bad—that is, individuals ought to be responsible for taking care of themselves, the less government takes responsibility for individuals the better. This philosophy greatly influences policy. For example, Trump leaving many government agencies to atrophy and wither on the vine—e.g., gutted of leadership and wanting for funds (cf. The Fifth Risk by )—later produces very ineffective responses to emergent need (“Oh, that’s what those people do?”). In pre-Trumpian times, government agencies operated invisibly in the background until a crisis called for their real-time collective-agency response. What Archie Bunker often liked to say even applies here (loosely): “Those were the days!”
Again, the Republican Party is pretty much incapable of governing because “it does not believe in government.” Trump is a caricature of this and his administration indicates that, at least for now, we have reached the point at which ‘Republican governance’ in our democratic republic is largely an “oxymoron.”
[this post approx. 1,300 words (5 mins)]
I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?
Note: I moved away from stadial/stage theory in August of 2021. This piece is not rectified except for this graphic: