Pandemics! So much to think about!

Pandemics! So much to think about!

As if the threat to our physical health isn’t enough, there’s also 

  • the mental health implications 
  • the loss of employment for many people 
  • the lapses in health maintenance appointments
  • And, not least of all, the tough decisions around how to navigate the situation

The decisions we face (as with any crisis) sometimes feel like there is no clear right answer:

  • Should vaccination be mandatory for the good of society? If so what ages? 
  • Should vaccination status have links to privileges? 
  • How and when to reopen? 
  • What prehospital treatments can and can’t be discussed? What treatments can be used? Who decides?
  • Who gets censored and why? Who decides?
  • Where do we make compromises with our freedom if anywhere? Where do our individual rights give way to societal rights?

In a pandemic there are a bad options and worse options. We are just trying to make the choices that are the least bad.

We, as humans, come from such different places that different options make varying amount of sense from our individual standpoints.  We can’t possibly find a one-approach-suits-all solution. These decisions are difficult by definition. They have different implications for different people.

If I could have one request of us citizens of the world, a request that I think could make a massive impact it would be simply:

As a Rule: Be Kind

In democratic lands, the majority rules and the minority is protected.  Tolerance and freedom of opinion are our foundation. They make us strong, and safeguard the truth. We can’t possibly all think alike nor would we want to.

Realize we need our differences. All of them. This doesn’t mean to be passive. We can and must still stand up for good things passionately and do so with respect, honor and kindness.

Nor does it mean that we can’t and won’t make mistakes. To strive to be compassionate and not lose the care for each other is the goal.

Examples abound where minority opinion proved to inform the majority and become the majority over time. 

  • The suffragette movement
  • The civil rights movement 
  • And in science, let’s take the Heliocentric view of the solar system. 

…to name just a few, all important viewpoints to us now.

Our current tolerance for variation in thought and opinion seems especially low.  Rigidity and polarization are rampant, about so many things.

What is at work?

What is a healthy response?

It bears repeating our theme:

Since you can never know what a person is going through, as a rule be kind.

The facts of another person’s life, especially their inner life, are hidden to us.

Modern life isolates us more and more. Media has a great power of influence on what and how we think and has intensified the situation over the last hundred years. 

Now with personalized media which is delivered by artificial intelligence we have an intense new twist. Over the last few years algorithms and the computer learning behind them have been charged with figuring out human behavior with the intention of influencing it.

The algorithms (which are built to keep the media user engaged) have found that people are attracted to views slightly more extreme, more hardcore than their own.

We are given our own news, and extremism is actually encouraged – all so we tune in longer.

If you show vegetarians a video on being a vegan, they will stay tuned longer. Benign enough, but show a racist something with harsher rhetoric it will get their attention. The algorithm doesn’t distinguish. No one told it to.We give AI programs free range to collect anything and everything about us:

  • from data about purchases and articles we read 
  • to the content of every sentence we type in an email 
  • to what time we logged in and from where
  • Etcetera

We are studied, then catered to (manipulated). We are fed content that will keep us individually engaged.

A couple things happen:

  • The power of these algorithms to “deliver the goods” gets noticed. Because these algorithms work better with the more data they have (giant matrixes, thousands if not millions of rows and columns) the desire for more success of these algorithms encourages more deep state data collection. Right to privacy? What rights?
  • The personalized media deepens the isolation of modern society 
  • Little by little public debate becomes impossible. 
  • The content of media can not only determine the duration of your engagement and your political activity but can have side effects on your mood.

Our theme now looks like this:

You have no idea how AI has warped your reality and is making it impossible to connect to another person who is subject to their own algorithmic reality, So, as a rule: Be Kind.

This is humanity’s to bear now. Regrets are useless. We should learn how to elicit good from it. For example, AI can diagnose certain mental health conditions at early stages through certain online characteristics.

That point may not be particularly reassuring, but the fact remains that we need to use technology for good. From one perspective, technology is neutral. If good people are paying attention, awake at the helm, things will go well.

Our basic disposition, furthermore, which is the theme of this bulletin has been the same for millennia. It may be getting harder, but it is still simple:

Be Kind. Be tolerant. Respect each other.

Brief COVID review

Locally, in Berkshire county cases rose by 262 over the last 7 days. That’s in the moderate, catch-your-attention range. Last week was in the 230s. The message is the same: be careful. Keep your gatherings COVID style, with testing, distance, ventilation, masking as appropriate.

Nationally, the 7 day average of new cases crept up to the low to mid 60,000’s per day, up from from mid 50,000’s. It’s an increase, but it hasn’t taken off.

COVID news updates

  1. We see and will continue to see cases in the immunized, but we expect them to not be as bad. Vaccination doesn’t mean bulletproof, however.
  2. Also we learned this week that the vaccinated likely do in fact not spread COVID asymptomatically in large numbers. The vaccine seems to be optimistically protective of those around you.
  3. Another study showed high response (80%) after just one of the Moderna and Pfizer shots.
  4. Furthermore, reassuring ongoing data from the drug company trials showed persistent strong protection at 6 months and counting.

Wuhan in the news

Speaking of minority opinions and the importance of dialogue, the Wuhan Virology Lab is well known to have been doing research for many years in Pandemic preparedness by collecting coronaviruses and subsequently doing experiments to turn them into pandemic-ready infectious agents (called gain of function experiments) so we could study how to stop them.  Yes, they were collecting and creating new viruses that could spread rapidly in humans so they could learn more about them. This is not disputed. America was active in the support and participation in this research.

The was a large minority (in this case minority might mean less empowered, not necessarily less frequently thought) opinion in the scientific community that this was too risky (because accidental leaks are hard to stop) and should be avoided. The fact that the pandemic cases started in close proximity to this lab caught the attention of a lot of people right away at the onset of the pandemic. These concerns have been dismissed by the Chinese government and scientists and gain-of-function scientists all over the world (conflict of interest?!), but the story line is gaining steam that the investigations have not been thorough enough.

The previous CDC director and US intelligence have pointed to the likelihood that the virus originated from an accidental release of a coronavirus that was part of pandemic preparedness research. Up until now the investigation has been along the lines of “they don’t seem like they are lying.” The minority needs to be heard here because the scientific community and/or the world might decide that gain of function research should be stopped based on what we learn. And we would like to gather that and any other information on how to handle an early outbreak of a unfavorable infection for future preparedness.

This is just a warning that censoring opinion which deviates from the accepted norm at a particular point in time in the name of eliminating fake news is extremely complicated and can be perilous to the truth.

We have lots of work to do, but most of it is in the category of paying attention, knowing where you could be manipulated and treating each other with compassion and loving kindness.