June 17, 2021

June 17, 2021

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Chasms of Distrust, Post COVID

by | May 27, 2021 |

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“Because people don’t have a “V” tattooed on their foreheads telling you they’ve been vaccinated, I’m going to treat everyone as if they aren’t.”  

That was the indignant pronouncement uttered in a Zoom conversation by a resident from one of the affluent, and fashionably locked down Ventura Boulevard San Fernando Valley part of the City of Los Angeles, an area that has become a “Blade Runner” dystopian enclave where “Karen’s” abound and openly admonish at people on the street for not wearing a mask.

A few miles away in the predominantly non-white NOT “virtual signaling elite” part of town, where the people who went to visit their relatives last Christmas and brought home with them the last COVID-19 case spike in the region, people are more casual and less likely to go off on strangers because they aren’t comfortable being on the other side of the road or within four car lengths of an unmasked person.

By the time you get to the beaches of the California coast, the movers and shakers’ mood is the opposite. People defiantly roam the beaches maskless, often in clusters of trusted friends, walking or bike riding, defying COVID-19 like a bunch of teenagers with mom and dad’s land yacht Ford Galaxy station wagon our for a cruise. Life’s a Beach in Sunny Southern California. People with perfect orthodontia love to show their smiles.

Where many parts of the country returned to near normal, in Southern California, there’s still the confusing double standard of dining at restaurants where you dispense with the facial covering as soon as you sit down but need to put it back on again to use the toilet. Weird stuff.

This is the macabre linger from 2020 America, where toilet paper became a more valuable community than gold or ammunition. Ammo is now overtaking bathroom tissue as the nation’s supply chain logistics soft points thanks to improved paper products supply, and a year-long uptick in demand for French or Japanese bidets and Filipino tabu’s, the little buckets you wash with after doing your business. Even weirder stuff.

People became accidental preppers overnight. They hoarded everything creating disruptions in the consumer goods supply chain that would ripple through the world for the entire year that followed. 

People bought guns thinking the world was going to come to an end in a dystopian nightmare. It was fueled by political animus and the resurgence of prejudice that would turn into argument and acrimony as a presidential election loomed. 

At the same time, everyone had nothing to do but sit at home bored and fret about it.

Uncomfortable Ground Hogs

If I had told you what we are living today would be the Summer of ’21 two years ago, you’d have had me committed. And yet, here we are. And the weird part? There are people among us that do not want the lockdown to end even when science says to.

When COVID-19 sent everyone into their hovels, in the panic that followed, our country went into two lockdowns, one physical and one mental. As we begin to emerge from hibernation, two cultures with very divergent values are beginning to reveal themselves.

Some people like their cocoons. The bliss of interaction only through Zoom meetings where the slobbery in the world is just beyond the camera’s field of view, never to be seen thanks to the magic of virtual background technology.

The overhead of putting up with people you do not like in the company halls or conference rooms is gone. You get to shape your world experience through camera and audio controls that you have complete command of. Those most human of things like pheromones and attitudes that overload workplace moments are gone.

Oppositely, others hated being in lockdown. They grumbled loudly, complaining about the onerous policies of officialdom that seemed to spring up like poison mushrooms taking freedom away from everyday life. Many simply did what Americans are good at; they rebelled. They flipped the bird, went outside, bypassed quarantines, lived their lives. 

Defying public health officials, activists of every political stripe ignored the warnings to stay home to come out and protest for whatever cause suited them. They were willing to risk what public officials were saying might be certain death for breathing fresh air while basking in the sunshine against a virus that hates UV radiation and drying out. 

Agree with the message or not, people’s protests were so vociferous that government officials simply surrendered control to them while telling everyone else to stay inside. It was their way of minimizing the risk by hoping that a relatively small segment of society actively protesting was sufficiently isolated from the meek. In military parlance, they were declared expendable in the war against COVID-19. With that green light, everyone watched and waited for pocket battleship-sized Armageddon’s to happen. They didn’t. People lived.

To hide the breakdown in cohesion and control, censorship became the new normal. The news media became complicit in selectively exposing information to manage the tension in society, doing the only thing they knew how to do, talk about the squeaky wheels while ignoring the boring sanity quietly waiting for the pandemic to end.

Social media equally participated in organized censorship by honing their skills to isolate incompatible persons from each other. The major social engineering consequence effect of that was creating echo chambers to soothe the prejudices of individuals. We encouraged self-justified reflections while isolating people from each other more and more as time went on. In fact, while now less visible as open acrimony, social media’s quest for quiet has probably reinforced closed-mindedness as people increasingly learn to see any virtue signaling that does not fit their comfort zones as a form of badly packaged infotainment commercial.

The net effect of it all. We stopped being a nation. We became a bunch of tribes.

Lifeboats 

COVID-19 saw Americans go into emergency electronic lifeboats. The thing about lifeboats is they collect people who would not necessarily like each other in the real world, but they must hang together to survive the moment’s crisis mutually.

What I recall most about life-boating in 2020 was interacting with people over email, telephone calls, and video zoom meetings where you never talked about what you really believed in. You held back with these stranger-danger people. You kept the conversation shallow. You focused on the immediate tasks at hand. The gossip was about one’s adventures at living in isolation. How much exercise were you getting? How has work changed? Have you changed your drinking habits? Have you gotten into creative cooking? How many bread recipes have you tried?

Essentially this is small talk at a cocktail party conversation. These are the kinds of subjects you interact with total strangers about for a few minutes while sipping on a glass of soda water with a lime pretending it is a mixed drink. You give everyone their chance to express their virtue. You politely nod, then you let it go right out the other ear. I will be straight with you. Just like real cocktail parties, these are those boorish conversations with people whose names I admit I tend to forget the second I walk away from them.

We all ran into these situations during 2020. We made nice. We made “friends” because other friends brought them into the conversation. You had no idea they’d appear online beforehand. You did not want to insult your actual friend by questioning the other person. You made diplomatic small talk until it was time to leave the meeting.

Re-Entry into the Real World

So now we get to 2021. Advancements in medical science have reached a point where vaccinations are changing the boundaries on what constitutes safe and unsafe behavior in society. The medical community has worked tirelessly to enable the resumption of normal physical human interaction. The American economy, regardless of one’s political beliefs, must restart.

The year 2020 forced about a decade’s worth of social, workforce, and industrial infrastructure change onto the American landscape and compressed it into one year. It is imperative for our economy that we begin to do the work to turn the shock of such a rapid change in our system into something we can adapt to and prosper from in the next decade.

That means getting out there again. That means taking on the stresses of real human interaction all over again. It means the COVID-19 cultures of cocooning and rebelling outside are going to come into conflict. Look around you. Look at the distrust in people’s eyes. The problem is real and personal.

We now have two cultures whose definition of a perfect lifestyle are diametrically opposed to each other, perhaps even more than the political divisions that preceded such a fundamental human view of the world that needs to be reconciled. If we ignore it, the problem will just get worse.

Unless you are in your groundhog cave or a nuclear fallout shelter, you have already seen how people explode when their virtue is challenged by someone simply hesitating in agreeing with them in the moment. The internet has taught people to be rude. This lack of tolerance will not turn out well if it becomes the major form of real-world interaction between humans in this country. We are now in the period of reintegration that will follow the COVID-19 episode. It is ours to do well or totally blow it. There will be some tough love and tough medicine to swallow as people begin to reintegrate society into something beyond interacting in a Zoom room.

The questions each of us will have to ask in the months and years ahead is how many of the friendships we made during COVID-19 are we going to keep? How many of these people, no matter how promising their potential, are simply people whom we could never get on with in the real world? How many are worth keeping but require serious investment in establishing proper long-term boundaries and expectations in their interaction as acquaintances or friends? How is the best way to diplomatically let the dead ends wither away into anonymity? And how in the end will that change who you are from who you were before COVID-19 to who you will become for their next roaring 20s in America?

These are questions every single one of us must look in the mirror and come up with an answer to lest we risk if we do not lose the very fabric of what makes a nation of individuals able to tolerate the dissimilarities of their views. I am not ready to lose that fight. I hope you are not either.

We need to tap into the brightest strengths of what makes us uniquely American to win against an asymmetric threat to our social fabric standing on the feet of clay of flawed virtue.

I submit to you that our nation’s next mission is not to come together into some sort of stupid mass consensus that will crater-like every other shallow viewpoint that has failed miserably on this planet. 

No, our mission is to restore that culture of coexisting cacophonous and decadent mix of individuals with the deep societal reserve to adapt to any challenge and continue evolving the Great American Experiment to last an eon.

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Dennis Santiago is an author and commentator on national policy and global stability issues. His subject matter expertise was developed during the Cold War as a strategic warfare systems analyst, missile defense architect, and arms control analyst. He is the author of the US Imperfect Defense Theory of Strategic Missile Defense. Dennis has worked on conventional warfare, nuclear warfare, and asymmetric warfare. His expertise includes combat aircraft, ordnance, electronic warfare, command and control, campaign design, and game theory.

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Mark Maynard
Mark Maynard
20 days ago

Nice work Mr. Santiago. Thank you for your thoughts and perspective.

Anonymous Person
Anonymous Person
19 days ago

where toilet paper became a more valuable community than gold”
I think you meant commodity.

Use the code ‘OUTLOUD’ and receive your 20% discount on your first order.

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