We need a mass deprogramming from COVID psychology

Once the truth-caution-virtue circuit was fused, we found it much harder to introduce good news and new information. We lost the capacity to acknowledge the provisional nature of our judgments. The fact that a huge portion of the vulnerable population in America has been vaccinated — in many counties well over 70 percent of people 65 and older are now fully vaccinated —doesn’t change behavior as fast as the news about the virus altered our behavior last spring. This is made worse because the “costs” of much mitigating behavior are mostly diffuse. They are in the depressed business environment for entertainment, food, and tourism. Or we see them in the heightened levels of depression that people experience because of prolonged social isolation. Many people who had the financial option of making their lockdown super-tight simply don’t go out enough to realize how free and sociable most people in their community have been. They have become unused to the risks and the pleasures of life that the less fearful or the more essential workers never could get away from. And this faulty equivalence of truth, fear, and caution doesn’t afflict only individuals or the environment of major cities. It afflicts our institutions. It is why the Centers for Disease Control can get bullied by the teachers’ union into delaying its recommendation to fully reopen schools. The teachers’ unions have no public-health expertise, no special knowledge of epidemiology. What they had on their side was a pervasive reflex that more caution can never be wrong or harmful.