Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Friday, March 06, 2020

 The Pandemic Breakdown of Critical Thought
      As a career NASA Space Life Scientist and Bioengineer of Macro-Systems, understanding the behavior of microorganisms interacting with larger, dynamic living systems was my specialty. I was not a microbiologist, a virologist, or an epidemiologist. When I had specific questions concerning these oft-intersecting fields, I consulted the experts in these disciplines. It was prudent, professional reflex based on common sense. Outside my field of specialty, injecting speculation and my personal feelings – or politics - into the scientific equation was not just unthinkable nonsense, it was also career limiting and no peer reviewed publication would ever publish anything from in my laboratory.
     As I have witnessed the emergence of the novel coronavirus crisis (COVID-19) from the viewpoint of a life scientist and bioengineer, I have observed yet another much more dangerous social disorder in play – the pandemic breakdown of critical thought. I view the advancing global viral pandemic from professional eyes. But if one’s eyes are not those of a professional scientist, then by definition, your personal philosophy, worldview, and educational background discipline of thought drive the understanding of any event embedded in the culture – such as an unfolding pandemic.
     The most immediate and altogether surprising observation of the cultural breakdown that has preceded the arrival of the full wave of the viral organism is the wholly illogical and yet pervasively powerful overlay of politics onto the science of epidemiology. The culture is already thoroughly contaminated with the predominantly emotional illogic of political thought that has become so ubiquitous that it influences nearly every cultural interaction from individuals to vast population segments. Its powerful emotive dynamic nearly always leverages loyalty to the given political standard, and all other thought processes and philosophies are forced to conform. True critical thought thus becomes an anathema and sign of disloyalty to the brand. If the scientific discipline is lacking at the crucial moment of understanding, the inherent depth of the problem, decision making is easily corrupted by the political framework. And, like the malignant, perverse, living philosophic organism that it really is, this irrational, emotional nonsense is spread like a virus via social media.
     For example, in the current COVID-19 crisis, instead of the nation coming together to understand fully, prepare for, and fight the viral pandemic – the wholly polarized population is instead incredibly divided by never-ending political infighting. Both sides are struggling to defend their positions of pseudo-scientific nonsense – literally wasting precious time fiddling while Rome is about to burn to ashes all around them.
     The political Left has blamed the President for the pandemic. The degree of intellectual dishonesty is boundless and literally defies any logical description. They have all but called a news conference and provided evidence from a handful of whistleblowers that will testify that Donald Trump mixed up COVID-19 in the White House kitchen late at night with a CRISPR gene knockout kit he bought from eBay-Russia. The political Left has, in fact, called news conferences to announce that the President is dangerous and has left the United States absolutely unprepared to face what is coming. From there, the chorus of “Trump-Is-Going-To-Kill-Us-All” has been repeated in billions of imprints all over social media. The principal message from the Left is that many Americans will die from the COVID-19 epidemic. It will become known as the Donald Trump epidemic; therefore, he cannot possibly be reelected in the fall.   
     The overwhelming message of simplistic, infantile contrivance is astonishing to the extent of actual hilarity – except that it has elicited the expected backlash from the opposite political spectrum that, when coupled with the Left’s response, is overtly dangerous for the people of the United States.
     The political Right has responded to this finger-pointing by an equally infantile contrivance of their own: “COVID-19 is no big deal.” If the Left is going to serve up a panic, the Right is obliged to serve up an emotional counterpunch somewhere opposite to panic. The logical gymnastics to support this is both illogical and scientifically illiterate. There is an ongoing effort by the Right to compare seasonal viral deaths with COVID-19 current statistics, which is unthinkably irrational and clearly belies a wholesale misunderstanding of the individual class of disease organisms, and the most basic nature of pandemic virology. This cherry-picked statistical issue is designed to be disseminated to the faithful with a numerical anchor selected merely to defend a technically indefensible political position. Multiply this by any number of other cherry-picked “data-points,” and the political Right has attempted to disarm the American people simply in order to retaliate and offset the nonsense of the Left. Sadly, their followers are not scientifically prepared to understand the political machinations behind the scientific grandstanding nonsense, and thus unwittingly wind up spreading and infecting the rest of the population like a viral contagion.  It has not corrected the political imbalance – instead, it has significantly reduced our chances to adequately meet the emergent threat.
     For example, one has only to go to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 daily situation reports and add up the numbers of infected and deaths reported each day. A simple four-function calculator will easily and unemotionally reveal the mortality rate and the non-linear increase of the spread. And yet, the WHO information itself is not accepted by many on the Right as a valid source “because of the corruption of data by unfriendly countries.” They also cite that the current COVID-19 daily mortality rate is ‘so small’ compared to seasonal flu mortality rates, that it “proves the deep-state Left is deliberately trying to panic the public to defeat Trump in the fall.” The flat-Earth, fake-moon-landing style of reasoning inevitably springs to mind here.
     The former Director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Tom Frieden, stated on March 2nd, “We think it will be very difficult if not impossible to contain it … but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.” Frieden described it as an ”unprecedented situation. Never before have we seen a pathogen emerge and have global spread like this. That is scary.”
     The CDC warned on their website on March 3rd that, “More cases of COVID-19 are likely to be identified in the coming days, including more cases in the United States. It’s also likely that person-to-person spread will continue to occur, including in communities in the United States. It’s likely that at some point, widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States will occur.”
         Against this backdrop, both sides of the finger-pointing political argument are intellectually deceived and have no rational tools of critical thought available to them to reason through the pair of ruses they have created. Far worse than the danger of a viral COVID-19 pandemic to the United States is the pandemic breakdown of critical thought elicited by the ongoing ideological civil war – the key intellectual process we will need to adequately respond.
     An honest, authentic, critically thinking process for this and any other event would be to first examine one’s own worldview so that the process endpoint filters are at least understood. Then, when examining any given situation, to carefully filter the source, any biases connected to it, and the probability of information corruption. Presented conclusions must be subjected to a very critical assessment of the origins of the professional expertise associated with the conclusion. While most individuals are proud of their Google PhD’s, in a truly honest assessment, that reality is almost certainly merely virtual and disconnected to the real world. And, just like all other professionals, a reliance on a wide spectrum of experts in the fields is absolutely required before arriving at a final conclusion. This process of critical thinking cannot be compromised by personal opinions for a valid conclusion to be reached. Otherwise, we wind up with the social chaos we are dealing with today.
     What is the solution as the nation now faces the very real prospect of an incredibly destructive pandemic? It seems easy enough. But with the vitriolic, explosive backlog of emotional fuel stored up by both sides, we may not be able to recover a modicum level of critical thought even in times of unprecedented crisis.
     The cultural solution to this unwinding disaster in multiple dimensions is for the leadership of the political Left and Right to call a formal national truce before the cameras, united to face the oncoming pandemic, which may last two or more years as it cycles through, just as did the pandemic of 1918-1919. We must abandon our poisoned processes of intellectual reasoning and give the authority that is due to our experts.  We must follow precisely what they recommend without rendering their credibility to medieval alchemists simply because their political card has not been properly stamped. We must truly abandon the cycle of hysterical self-destructive partisan nonsense to make it through this time of adversity as a unified nation of people who are intelligent and desire a united society intent on surviving and healing what we are about to face.