Monday, July 13, 2020

The Pathogen of Isolated Worldviews

       Photo credit: Jim Pennucci from Hope, USA / CC BY (

By: Alex Kack

Scrolling through what feels like an endless deluge of conspiracy laden Facebook posts downplaying or flat out denying the existence of the Covid19 pandemic, one question gets posed over and over again. - “Do you actually know anyone who’s had the coronavirus?”

Many of us would be quick to answer yes, a friend, an uncle twice removed, a colleague overseas or someone we’ve never met but regularly video games with half a world away.

A lot of people, including one assumes those posing the question, would answer no, no one in their life has fallen victim to this insidious new pathogen. To some extent we each exist in our own version of reality, a way that we’ve learned to understand the world that’s shaped by what we know, how we feel and possibly most importantly who we know. It becomes easier to doubt what you’re seeing in the news if it’s not touching your own bubble in any immediate way and the existence and severity of the current pandemic is not immune to that questioning.

In his 2000 book, ‘Bowling Alone’, political scientist Robert Putnam argues that the decreased social activity and interconnectedness was harming American’s ability to accurately engage with the world and thus harming the way that American democracy and society was functioning. If you’ve ever sat and had a beer with me more then three times, you’ve probably heard me mention this book, partially because I love bowling and hate being alone, and partially because I witnessed the detrimental affect Putnam described grow over the two decades since he released it.

In many ways American’s are more connected than ever before, social media allows us to keep up with old high school classmates we otherwise would’ve lost touch with and email means our bosses have lost all reason to not ask us to do one more thing at 11 o’clock in the goddamn evening. Yet you can’t help but also notice that for many, many people their actual worlds are smaller and more siloed than ever before we’re participating in fewer civic and social activities, we don’t attend churches, belong to unions or as Putnam points out, bowling leagues, to the extent we used to. We live in a time where people exist socially, almost entirely in a variety of fully developed subcultures, each full of people that tend to already share our views, these are reinforced as we continue to go drink in information from wells poisoned with partisanship. (This blog, for the five of you that read it, is arguably no different)

There are a litany of systemic reasons that people and American’s in particular are so susceptible to misinformation. The fact that we’re hanging out less and with fewer people isn’t the entire reason that we’re awash in viral particles and bat shit ideas, but living a fuller life is one of the easiest levels of civic engagement we can all do. And living a fuller life means having more people in it, caring for more people, inviting them into your world and being a part of theirs.

Alex Kack  does nothing of note, regardless please follow him on Twitter @alex_kack or on Instagram @alexkack

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