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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Fife

Covid-19 #1 - Knee Jerk Reactions - We all have them.

Updated: Apr 11, 2020

As I launched into my initial 30 days o' blogging, I promised I'd write some of my thoughts regarding Covid-19. I honestly started a post a couple of weeks ago, but it was such a colossal thing that I started it... and it went nowhere. When I got lining out what topics I wanted to tackle with my 30 day blog challenge, it became apparent why. There are dozens of conflicting views that I myself hold on it.

Then, on Friday, when I was initially going to sit down and write my first post on it, I had an enormous knee jerk reaction myself, to someone else's knee jerk reaction, which may well have been a knee jerk reaction to... you get it.

This whole indefinite quarantine thing has us all on edge even if we don't realize it. The last time I recall seeing as many knee jerk reactions in succession, speaking of Public Policy in particular, was post 9/11. And I get why. 19 years ago, 2 planes crashed into 3 iconic buildings on live television, filled with at the time, no one was quite sure of how many people, nor if there were more atrocities in the works. Right now, as global cases are approaching 1.5 million, and deaths at nearly 75,000, ( the level of anxiety and uncertainty are similar to that of 9/11, but on a global scale.

I personally know someone who has contracted the disease. He and his wife seem to be making a full recovery, but in my little rural Blackfoot, Idaho, where we have 2 confirmed cases, it brought it home for me a little more. This is something real that real people are dealing with. And we all REALLY have to deal with it in so many ways right now. Personal fallout varies from person to person, community to community, and family to family, but they can easily range from something as innocuous as an unplanned stay-cation, to loss of employment, livelihood, utter collapse of your industry, death of a loved one or even for yourself.

Since Real people are Really having to deal with this, it explains why knee jerk reactions seem to be par for the course. We are human. What initiates a knee jerk reaction? Another - probably better - term for it is fight-or-flight. We feel threatened. You may feel threatened specifically by the virus and experience fear of interacting with others. You may feel threatened by the restrictions that are being imposed, that in the U.S. at least, amounts to just-shy-of-martial-law. You may feel threatened financially, emotionally; the list goes on and on.

Here's the thing about fight-or-flight though: We weren't designed to live with constant adrenaline running through our systems. More than 10 years ago, I read a book at the recommendation of a friend, Why Zebra's Don't Get Ulcers by Dr. Robert Sapolsky. The overall point of the book is that in the natural world - the world we all used to be a part of - fight-or-flight is vital to survival, but in the world we've created, so much more triggers it than the leopard chasing us.

With the current high adrenaline situation surrounding Covid-19, this book has some very good points to consider. On the one hand, we all are on a heightened fight-or-flight state, but on the other hand - nearly everyone has a little more time on their hands & a lot less social interaction. Take some time to reflect on how you can reduce the continual fight-or-flight in your own life. Your health will thank you for it. And probably your family and friends too.

Here's the thing about actions that are taken under fight or flight (I would also add to this 'or freeze' because its a similar reaction that also needs to be considered- especially in the current crises - the action to do nothing at all also carries its own baggage): They are vital to survival, but should ultimately be considered after the fact with the same examination as any other more 'conscious' decisions. This is why, even if most of what happened post (and pre) 9/11 has been swept under the proverbial rug, there was a 9/11 commission that investigated what was known, what was not known & what good & bad policies came out of it (some of which still have yet to be repealed). Right now, we are in the crisis, whether you feel its a health crisis, a media crisis, a policy crisis or so on, I don't think it can be argued by anyone that there is no crisis. But the time will come when the crises are past & then the real finger pointing will begin, and there should doubtless be some investigations, some better plans made for the future, and hopefully some corrections of some of the bad moves that have been made in reaction to the current crises.

But I'm not confident about anyone's decision making abilities right now. So what are some of the knee jerk reactions that have already come about? Restrictions on travel, public gatherings, entire industries shut down at least temporarily. Businesses essentially forced to shutter their doors. Some that may not return. Churches closed. These were all reactions to help slow the rate of transmission, and hopefully allow the medical community the space they need to come up with a solution that will reduce transmission and mortality rates. I hope and pray that it works and that people increase a little in common sense about sickness in general.

Then, you begin to see more knee jerk reactions in response to a fast retreating economy. I make no claim to be in favor of partisan politics & feel that the destruction of our current 2 party system might be a very beneficial thing for the USA. But when both parties in both houses have the collective knee jerk reaction to throw as much money as possible with the promise that it will be paid off with "future tax revenues," my libertarian, somewhat anarchical mind has some pretty stern fight-or-flight reactions. Remember what I said about 9/11 and the knee jerk reactions set off there? Part of what should make us human is the ability to learn from the past. Who today thinks that the Patriot Act was a good idea? Or the revisions and replacements for it that have ensued in 20 years? (OK, Rhetorical here. If you actually think it was a good idea & should still be in place... well, you might want to find a different blog to read). The 2 trillion dollar "emergency funding" package that passed near unanimously in both houses is right up the same avenue. I hesitate to support any legislation passed by:

  1. Exclusively 1 party or

  2. Unanimously passed by both parties.

Both are pretty good indications that there's someone pulling some strings somewhere and that your civil liberties are about to be trod upon. 2 TRILLION dollars. That equates to nearly 6,000 per man, woman and child added to the national debt. It's mortgaging your great grandchildren's future, because there's no way that come ten years down the road raising taxes for anyone will be something that an elected official will want to do. Which brings up my opinion on what this vote actually is: the elected officials' collective knee jerk reaction to wanting to stay in power come next election.

Would there be some catastrophic economic fallout without it? Possibly. Indubitably for some and maybe not for others. The "Great Recession" for example, had very little actual effect on me personally. I was paycheck to paycheck before it, through it, and after it. The folks in power in Washington have had very little end effect on my bottom line. Most of my economic realities were created by my own decisions. But a spending bill that only about 1/5th will go back directly to those 350 millionish Americans, while propping up industries that have been grossly profitable & should have planned ahead themselves for something like this at the expense of what's bound to be some hefty inflation? There are undoubtedly better solutions. I thought of one right off the bat when they were debating just how much money to make everyone happy temporarily.

Everything (or an enormous chunk of it anyway) is shutting down indefinitely. Why don't we all just not bill, or not demand payment, on mortgage, power, etc for 3 months? If you can pay, great, the economy will thank you. But really, if 1/2 the country is temporarily out of work, why not let them have a reprieve on their payments as well? I'm not trying to claim that this would be a perfect solution either, but the fact that out of hundreds of lawmakers in DC, no one floated this idea... Well. So be it. Time will tell what the fallout from this will bring. There should surely be a 'Covid-19 investigative' commission to investigate it. There should be at least a billion or so available from the spending package to pay for it.

I'm not advocating going against the recommendations to social distance. I'm not saying we should have some kind of overthrow of those in power (though to me the mass electoral eviction of the lot is and has been called for over this and so many other things they've done).

What I am advocating is taking this time where we're all forced to be inside our own heads a little more, to reflect on your own personal fight-or-flight reactions. And also be willing to view what is going on as part of a natural global fight-or-flight reaction. It is essential for our current and our continued survival as a species. As will be the lessons we will glean from the experience.

I count myself as providently blessed to have timed my personal exit from the rat race to being self employed out of a little office at my home to coincide with this mass quarantine. I know there are millions, probably even billions, not so blessed. My heart & prayers go out to you.

And to my brother, who bore the brunt of my knee jerk reaction last Friday. Thanks for keeping a cooler head than I did. I hope we all come through the other side of this thing as better human beings than we were before.

Stay healthy. Physically, and emotionally.

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