(2nd April 2020)
For weeks, almost every newspaper has stories about the coronavirus pandemic on its front page; radio and TV programmes have back-to-back coverage on the latest death tolls; and depending on who you follow, social media platforms are filled with frightening statistics, practical advice or gallows humour.
As others have already reported, this constant bombardment can result in heightened anxiety, with immediate effects on our mental health. But the constant feeling of threat may have other, more insidious, effects on our psychology. Due to some deeply evolved responses to disease, fears of contagion lead us to become more conformist and tribalistic, and less accepting of eccentricity.
(17 March 2020)
All this makes me think about the stuff I’ve been working on over the last couple of years in the Collective Psychology Project (CPP), which I set up in 2018 – and in particular the importance of whether we respond to perceived threats by going into fight-or-flight or tend-and-befriend mode.
Fight-or-flight – or more accurately, fight / flight / freeze – is a natural reaction to threat or feelings of overwhelm. But it’s not particularly helpful in the face of a collective threat like coronavirus. It’s a primal response, not a considered one. It focuses on the interests of the individual, not the collective.
It would be a mistake to see this degeneration as a necessary, let alone inevitable, evil. It is the realization of merely one potential, however central, of identity in a national context. It is neither ordained by heaven nor a divine law. It is a choice, and one that ought to be changed.
Moreover, identitarians on both the left and the right see human beings only through the prism of race, gender or sexuality, and fail to account for the primacy of the individual. As such, they are in direct opposition to the principles of Martin Luther King, who valued the content of one’s character over the colour of one’s skin. While collectivist rhetoric from the racist far right is easy enough to dismiss, it is far more difficult when it comes from those who claim to be advancing a progressive agenda.