Thursday, May 28, 2020

On pandemics and hippies

A good point by Matt K. Lewis — I hadn't thought of this connection between the current pandemic, past crises, and the '60s backlash against hippies, but it makes sense:

Let’s suppose you were born in 1911, as were two of my grandparents. You survived the Great Influenza, the Great Depression, and World War II—all by the time you hit your early 30s.

Think this might influence your political worldview for… oh, I don’t know, THE REST OF YOUR LIFE?

This realization has only hit me, recently, as I contemplate how COVID-19 might influence our politics, going forward.

Some of my grandparents’ traditions and hang-ups were, no doubt, the result of a lack of education. But many of the things they believed were the very logical conclusions almost anyone might arrive at, had they lived through a pandemic, a Great Depression, and two world wars.

You might be more fearful of disease. This might lead you to be very skeptical of foreigners. You might be worried that a new depression is around every corner. These experiences might lead to both positive and negative externalities. But one thing’s for sure: they would definitively inform your lifestyle, customs, and politics.

Growing up, I was always curious about why their generation paid so much attention to the grooming habits of “dirty, long-haired hippies.” This always struck me as weird and overcritical. Didn’t they worship a dude with long hair and sandals? Now, in post COVID-19 world, I think I better understand their emphasis on cleanliness.

Of course, not everyone who came out of that experience embraced a cautious, conservative lifestyle. Experience informs our worldview, but it turns out that some of this is hardwired. A pretty famous Cornell University study suggests conservatives are more sensitive to images they perceive to be gross or disgusting than are progressives.

In a recent column for Vox, Ezra Klein contrasted the two political camps:
Some people are innately more suspicious of change, of outsiders, of novelty. That base orientation will nudge them toward living in the town where they grew up, eating the foods they know and love, worshipping in the church their parents attended. It will also nudge them toward political conservatism.

The reverse is true, too. Some people are naturally more oriented toward newness, toward diversity, toward disruption. That base orientation will push them to live in big cities, try exotic foods, travel widely, appreciate weird art, sample different spiritualities. It will also nudge them toward political liberalism.
This view strikes me as plausible, which is why our current political debate is so disconcerting.

If you want to be reminded of how powerful a drug partisanship is, consider that it is, ostensibly, conservatives who think fears about COVID-19 are overblown.

On the basis of these descriptions, today’s conservatives and progressives appear to have pulled a Freaky Friday and reversed their roles. Conservatives should be the ones panicking about COVID-19, while progressives should be placating the masses and saying that the concern is overblown.…


Unknown said...

Is it ok to comment as a not regular reader after being directed to read this by another blog?

In the USA this disease has not been distributed evenly across the populace. I'd guess that a supermajority of those who are living in the town where they grew up, eating the foods they know and love, worshipping in the church their parents attended will not have in their circle of acquaintances any person who has been hospitalized or died from COVID-19.

cubanbob said...

Conservatives are just more realistic about life. A hundred thousand dead is obviously horrible but it's no worse than previous flu pandemic in the last 70 years. The young today are facing a real depression. For anyone who works for a secure employer like government or government contractors they are not worried financially. They aren't facing economic disaster. But a lot of young Left leaning people aren't in that position and the government simply can't print money in the multiple trillions indefinitely without disastrous consequences.

phantommut said...

I disagree with the premise entirely. As I said at the most conservative people I know (including myself) have done the exact opposite of Klein's stereotype. I find that it's liberals who are the most fragile when it comes to living places where their priors are challenged on a regular basis.

T_Wiz said...

Agree with the previous post.
I've lived in more countries than most of my friends and family have VISITED states.
You might call me conservative: I would consider myself as an original liberal. But the liberal moniker has been coopted by the communists/regressives.
I find today's "progressives" shallow, bereft of real world experience, huddled in mutual-gratification bubbles and, while often woefully ignorant, nevertheless uncertain.

Ozymandias said...

I think Klein’s descriptions are result oriented and far too limited to be valid. Conservatives are not Klein’s simple homebodies. They may be less fearful of Covid-19 because they are more optimistic, more individualistic, and tend to believe that they will rise or fall on their own efforts. Liberal, on the other hand, invented political correctness and cancellation of their own for imagined deviations from it. “Herd immunity” is tailor made for liberals.
Lewis’s ideas about the imprint of the 1918 pandemic, the Great Depression, and the Second World War upon members of the Greatest Generation are more interesting. Consider also, that most of those people had memories of growing up in circumstances, not only far less hygienic, but also far less affluent, than those they were able to achieve after WWII. The vast numbers of men in military service during the war had undergone a several-years’-long practical course in being good members of the group (see W.H. Whyte, The Organization Man (1956), and thereafter obtained formerly undreamed-off educations and training under the GI Bill. After half a lifetime of constant turmoil and risk, stability and its close cousin, conformity, looked pretty good.