COVID, Politics and Psychology
The whole world has gone nuts, clinically-speaking, in this age of COVID. What was it that was going on inside people’s heads that has made almost everyone shut themselves up at home, wear germy rags over their mouths, keep their kids out of school, sanitise until their hands bleed, hoard toilet paper, queue for hours to take a meaningless test to see if they have the coronadoom, demand Novak Djokovic’s head on a pike, salivate at the prospect of booster upon booster of an experimental, liability-free, gene-therapy product from the corporate suits of Big Pharma and all the rest of the bizarre behaviour and superstitious ‘safety’ rituals we have had to endure for two years of unrelenting virus hysteria?
The What, When, Who and How of the Great COVID Panic will be pawed over by historians, political scientists and moral philosophers for decades to come, but the ‘Why’ of it all is the crux. Why did our COVID overlords do what they did? And why did so many of us go along with it all? To answer that, we need psychology, the science of human behaviour, to work out the ‘Why’ of it all and how to prevent such a destructive madness ever happening again.
Psychology classics from the research vaults
The 1951 Asch Conformity Experiments were conducted by the American social psychologist, Solomon Asch, to test the degree to which people would adjust their perceptions of reality based on the need to not stand out from the crowd, even when they know the crowd to be wrong.
When experimental subjects, alone in a room, were asked to estimate which of three different lines was closest in length to a comparison line, 99 per cent made the correct judgement, but when placed in a room with other subjects, all confederates of the experimenter and instructed to deliberately give the wrong answer, the experimental subjects could be persuaded to go with the peer flow and give the wrong answer. This happened just over a third (37 per cent) of the time, either because the subjects doubted their own eyes and thought they must be wrong (called ‘informational conformity’ by Asch) or because, even though they knew their perception was right, they nevertheless wanted to avoid group disapproval and social discomfort (‘normative conformity’).
Six decades later, and the majority view that we have been faced with a viral ‘destroyer of worlds’ holds social sway, including over many of those who have secret doubts about just how deadly the virus really is but who, for the sake of social harmony, go along with the majority view and pitch in with compliance to the ineffective and damaging lockdown/mask/vaxx-mandate theatrics. Asch showed that it is sometimes just easier for many people to live a popular lie than to go out on the lonely limb of truth.
In better (but often overlooked) news, however, Asch found that when his subjects were paired with another subject who was not in on the set-up, conformity in face of the objective evidence dropped from 37 per cent to just 5 per cent. When group unanimity is punctured by even one other reality-based human, the power of the group to enforce conformity is fatally compromised. This is basic social psychology – there is strength in numbers, for the COVID dissidents as much as for the COVID regime.
What we can take away from the Asch conformity experiments is that if everyone else is fearing viral Armageddon and seeking salvation through ‘social distancing’, they could just be wrong and you should trust your own senses, verify them by reading outside the permitted boundaries of thought and make connections with other people who still recognise truth when they see it.
So, stick to your guns – and dig out that old Kipling poem, ‘If’ with its opening lines:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…
Don’t be afraid of what others might think of you for going against the COVID grain – follow Epictetus:
Who are these people whose admiration you seek? Aren’t they the ones you are used to describing as mad? Well, then, is that what you want – to be admired by lunatics?
Milgram’s Obedience to Authority Experiment
The 1961 Stanley Milgram’s Obedience to Authority experiment shows that ordinary people can be persuaded into following unethical orders if they believe the commands are from a legitimate authority.
Milgram’s subjects were told they would be helping with research to see how learning can be affected by punishment (administering mild electric shocks of increasing strength) to a man (an actor simulating increasingly distressed protests) in another room whenever he gives a wrong answer to a learning task administered by the subject. A frighteningly large percentage (50 per cent – 65per cent) of subjects were found to obey authority (the white-coated experimenter in overall charge) all the way, even if this conflicted with the subject’s conscience.
Sixty years later, and the combined authorities of government, health officialdom, the medical profession and the lamestream media have found it child’s play to make people obey orders to stay home, stay apart, lose their jobs, wear masks everywhere, dob in rule-breakers, cheer on a militarised police and take an experimental drug that may harm you.
There was, however, one ray of hope from a very dark experiment: 35 per cent to 50 per cent of subjects will bail from the obedience experiment if it crosses an ethical line-in-the-sand.
One of the independently minded subjects, a Dutchman called Jan Rensaleer, put it this way after refusing to zap the actor ‘guinea pig’ with 255 volts:
I do have a choice. Why don’t I have a choice? I came here on my own free will. I thought I could help in a research project. But if I have to hurt somebody to do that, or if I was in his place, too, I wouldn’t stay there. I can’t continue. I’m very sorry. I think I’ve gone too far already, probably.
For COVID, that point may be a business bankruptcy, a school closure, a no-jab-no-job vaxx mandate, a discriminatory vaxx passport, the vaxxing of children, one booster mandate too many, or some other authoritarian aspect of medico-political tyranny. Lots of us do have our hill to die on in rebelling against silly and cruel rules.
In Classical Conditioning, as accidentally discovered by the Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov, a dog will salivate at the ringing of a bell alone if the bell had on earlier occasions been rung in the presence of food. In Operant Conditioning, B.F. Skinner found that hungry rats who discover pressing a lever causes food to drop into a feeding tray will learn to press the lever to produce food; or, if touching the lever produces an electric shock, they will learn to avoid pressing it. Generations of amateur psychologists (parents and teachers in other words) have confirmed that behavior rewarded (positive reinforcement) will likely be repeated and behaviour punished will be less likely to be repeated (negative reinforcement).
Under COVID, we have been conditioned by a professional fear campaign to expect pandemic ‘restrictions’. The monomaniacal focus on ‘cases’, hospitalisations, ICU use and deaths (with or from COVID – who knows?), all of which are metrics utterly detached from any actual health crisis caused by this virus de jeur, is the ringing bell that, simply by association, conditions us, including the Expert Class of bell-ringers, to the learned response of going into lockdown or a mask mandate or border-shutting or booster-time. Getting jabbed is the behavioural lever to press for reward (being allowed to board the vaxxed-only cruiseship, or going to the library, or being allowed to buy shoes). Social exclusion and unemployment are the electric shocks for not getting jabbed.
Conditioning overlaps with the related psychological concept of habituation which is defined as the process of growing accustomed to a situation or stimulus following repeated exposure to the stimulus. One lockdown begets more of them. One unwanted jab begets a second, and a third. Complying with every absurd, illogical and authoritarian COVID ‘rule’ gets us used to ever more extensive loss of freedoms. What would have once been rejected as barmy and harmful and un-Australian (masking, suspending the economy, coerced medical experimentation, cancelling crowds at the footy) becomes normalised the more we are exposed to it.
The science going on with the whole behavioural angle to COVID restrictions is nothing to do with virology or immunology or public health but is all about the science of psychology – using fear to condition people to follow oppressive rules, which are a daily moving feast of illogicality and complexity, a deliberate psychological ploy to downgrade people to unthinking sheeple.
People’s behaviour under the COVID regime calls to mind Stockholm Syndrome, the psychological condition in which hostages develop an empathetic bond with their captors. It got its name after four hostages who were taken during a bank robbery in Sweden in 1974 wound up developing positive feelings towards their captors to the extent of refusing to testify against them.
Today, the COVID captors who have stolen two years of our lives, who have stolen our liberty (to work, trade, travel, decide what goes into our body), are held in fond regard by dismayingly large percentages of the captive population who often reward them with landslide-election-winning majorities for ‘keeping us safe’ with their toxic kindness.
We should learn from Stockholm Syndrome not to get too chummy with our captors. Do not withhold your moral judgement from those who would do you harm even with the best of intentions.
‘Escalation of Commitment’
The psychological phenomenon of ‘escalation of commitment’ (comparable to what military strategists call ‘mission creep’ and what economists call the ‘sunk cost fallacy’) has manifested itself in the two-year journey from ‘two weeks to flatten the curve’ to medical apartheid, the sacking of unjabbed workers and ‘national conversations’ about mandatory universal vaccination.
Those with this psychological condition can’t bring themselves to cut and run from their futile ‘war against the virus’ because so much of themselves has been invested in their past actions that to simply skedaddle would be to admit that their objective (of ‘Zero COVID’, or ‘beating the virus’, or somehow deflecting a virus for the first time in humanity’s coexistence from its predetermined path) had been a bizarre politically-driven fantasy from the start and their panicky policy response both useless and damaging. Instead, they are forced to double- and triple-down on failed policies rather than admit to failure and the waste of the significant sacrifice already incurred for no benefit.
Although the popular perception of COVID as a monster demographic cull is way off target, women have been found to be much more prone to exaggerate its deadliness. The opinion pollster, Kekst CNC, found that, in Europe in July 2020, the mean respondent estimate of the percentage of the total population believed to have been killed by the virus was 5 and 7 per cent whilst a stellar 9 per cent of all Americans (a staggering 30 million or so) were thought by the average American to have died because of COVID. These gross overestimates by the general public are some fifty to a hundred times higher than the actual death toll of 0.2 per cent of the total population (and substantially less than 0.2 per cent, given that official statistics methodologically inflate the real death toll by including the ‘died withs’ as well as ‘died froms’ in the COVID bodycount). Australia is truly off-the-wall hysterical — the average Australian believes the virus, if contracted, confers a 38 per cent death rate which is some 25,000 per cent higher than the actual overall Infection Fatality Rate of 0.15 per cent.
Whilst the perception and reality of the virus’ fatality rate are on different planets, the estimates by women and men are in different galaxies. The survey found that women in the UK, for example, on average, rated the COVID cull at a catastrophic 10 per cent of the total population, which was some three times higher than the mean estimate by British men.
Perhaps the sex difference in the perceived virulence of the virus is due to the more ‘caring’, ‘nurturing’ and ‘protective’ nature of women vis-à-vis men. Perhaps the psychological make-up of women sees them more likely to catastrophise and seek safety-first-ism.
Despite male Chief Health Officers in Australia being quite capable of calamitous overreaction (Victoria’s Brett Sutton must surely take the cake for that), having a woman as a CHO (as Queensland did, and as NSW and South Australia still do) may really be loading the dice against proportionality in response to the virus.
Some personality traits seems to influence whether one is more likely to be a sceptic/opponent of orthodox COVIDpolicy or to be a supporter/conformist. These are:
Otherwise known as ‘conformism’ and ‘agreeableness’ (the tendency of individuals to follow ‘socially prescribed norms’) have good explanatory power for predicting personal differences in adherence to lockdown and ‘social distancing’ guidelines. Conformists will be dutifully compliant, the norm-breakers much less so. Note, in passing, how the progressive-leaning discipline of psychology linguistically frames something with potentially negative connotations (conforming to authority and the herd) as a positive characteristic (‘conscientiousness’, ‘agreeableness’).
People who score higher on ‘neuroticism’ tend to be more fearful of danger and disease and are easy prey for the panic-peddlers. The neurotics can be readily spotted ostentatiously wiping down supermarket trolley handles, sanitising everything in sight, waiting outside a store until customer numbers drop below the magic allowed limit, wearing their mask over mouth and nose all the time, religiously signing-in to shops, self-quarantining to the letter of the rules, and getting quite agitated about anyone in their vicinity who flouts peremptory ‘Stand There. Don’t Sit Here’ signage.
Extraverts are more sociable and outgoing and are therefore less likely to follow ‘social distancing’ guidelines including staying at home during lockdown, avoiding crowds, etc. Extraversion is associated with more (allegedly) risky health behaviors (like going to a pub, or shaking hands instead of elbow-bumping) and it also correlates with lower germaphobia. Introverts, by contrast, are more psychologically predisposed to comply with fear-driven adherence to ‘staying apart’.
Homo Covidus has emerged during the ‘pandemic’ with such an extensive catalogue of defective personality disorders that a total product recall would be in order if this new species were a car. So much of Homo Covidus fits to a tee the Mayo Clinic definition of a personality disorder as a
type of mental disorder in which you have a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning and behaving. You may not realize that you have a personality disorder because your way of thinking and behaving seems natural to you. And you may blame others for the challenges you face.
Homo Covidus has a closed mind which holds unscientific and utterly dogmatic beliefs about COVID and its management whilst regarding their own self as completely normal in contrast to what they portray as the ‘COVID-denying’, ‘anti-vaxxing’ loonies with ‘far-right’ political tendencies who are responsible for keeping us in our COVID mess.
There are three main groups of personality disorder – and all are on full display in Homo Covidus.
Cluster A personality disorders
These are characterized by “odd, eccentric thinking or behaviour”: stand-up-mask-on/sit-down-mask-off at an eatery; footpath-swerving to avoid other people; vaccine passports to protect the protected from the unprotected (nope, still don’t know how that one works). There is “unjustified belief that others are trying to harm or deceive you (the non-maskers, the non-testers, the huggers, the jab-free, the purveyors of ‘misinformation’ from the fetid depths of the uncensored Internet). There is a profound level of “magical thinking” whereby the sufferer believes their thoughts and wishes can affect reality (the entire voodoo science of lockdowns and other placebo-like ‘restrictions’).
Cluster B personality disorders
These disorders are characterised by “dramatic, overly emotional or unpredictable thinking or behaviour”. This can be seen in our COVID decision-makers such as Mad Dog Michael Gunner, the Northern Territory Labor Chief Minister with his globally-trending, bug-eyed rant against the unvaxxed and against even the vaxxed who oppose vaccine mandates. Other noteworthy performances have been distressingly frequent by most state premiers and their CHOs when in front of the cameras to announce the latest strictures for the compliant and fatwas against the disobedient.
The clinical symptoms of Cluster B personality disorders include:
♦ ‘Antisocial personality disorder’ which, as the Commonwealth Department of Health elaborates on its website, “may cause a disregard for the law or for the rights of others, with a lack of remorse, including lying and stealing, aggression, violence or illegal behaviour”. I bet the then-Department Secretary, Jane Halton, who has been integral to the federal bureaucracy’s promotion of Covid-fear/vaxx-mania, had no idea that it would be her Prime Minister, every state Premier, every Territory Chief Minister and every CHO/CMO that would turn out to be the exemplars of the anti-democratic abusers of civil liberties whose people-hating craziness has ruined the lives of Australians so effectively.
♦ ‘Histrionic personality disorder’. People with this disorder are highly emotional and dramatic, and have an excessive need for attention and approval, as any COVID official at the press conference podium demonstrates. You would think these amateur hams are all NIDA graduates with their portentous tone, stern visages and melodramatic flourishes when lecturing us about their latest derangee Covid imposition or threat. To maintain faith in their pronouncements, best to forget the South Australian CMO’s advice that AFL footballs and pizza boxes represent potentially mortal threats.
♦ ‘Narcissistic personality disorder’. This is characterised by “persistent grandiosity, an excessive need for admiration and recognition, and a personal disdain and lack of empathy for other people”. A person with this disorder displays “arrogance and a distorted sense of personal superiority, and seeks to establish abusive power and control over others”. Hmmm …. inflated self-importance, disregard for others and grandiose proclamations about ‘keeping us all safe’ – I wonder who that might describe (pick a premier, any premier, or a CHO, any CHO). We really have been cursed with appalling health officials who can’t see how screwy they really are.
Cluster C personality disorders
Cluster C personality disorders are more common amongst the indoctrinated foot-soldiers of the COVID cult. These disorders are characterised by “anxious, fearful thinking or behaviour” and their manifestations include ‘avoidant personality disorder’ (the fear of other people, who are seen as dangerous virus vectors, especially the unvaxxed), ‘dependent personality disorder’ (waiting on every fresh instruction from wise health bureaucrats or media talking heads), and ‘obsessive-compulsive disorder’ or OCD, which could just as aptly be described as ‘Obsessive COVID Disorder’ what with all the fanaticism of ‘germ avoidance’ such as the miraculous, made-up rule of ‘1.5 metres apart’ and all the other pseudoscientific hygiene theatre, all of which is as useless as politicians who, privately, know the COVID mania not merely follows but gallops down the path of folly eyen as they publicly tug the forelock and urge all to submit.
That’s it for today’s installment. Tomorrow, in Part II, we’ll take a look at, among other things, the difference between authoritarians of the Left and Right. Stay tuned.