Shared Narratives and the Coronavirus

When expressing oneself, there are two problems: getting facts wrong or having bad opinions. Shared narratives appeal to the internal value system that unites intellectual-web, which tends to to be invariant of facts or ideology. It’ a sort of ‘hack’ that bypasses the difficulty of having correct facts or good opinions, as shared narratives are implicitly understood to be true. As all the disagreement and debate over the virus has shown, having correct or ‘good’ facts is hard, let alone good opinions. In spite of how biology and epidemiology are considered ‘hard’ sciences, resolving factual disputes can be intractable. Someone can cite a study or model showing how things will get better or worse, and then someone can counter by finding methodical flaws that cast doubt on the veracity of the aforementioned study or model, or by finding an opposing study or model. Although additional information is exchanged, neither side gets any closer to the truth.

An opinion, unlike a shared-narrative, does not directly appeal to the internal value system and hence opens the possibility for strong disagreement even if a majority agrees with the opinion, as options tend to be prescriptive and predicated on facts that may be wrong (as shown above), whereas shard narratives are descriptive and implicitly understood to be factually true. Two weeks ago, the prevailing opinion was that things were going to get worse. Now sentiment has a taken on a more optimistic tone. The pendulum of sentiment is always oscillating whereas internal values and share narratives stay anchored. Whereas the average-IQ left are in agreement that urgent action must be taken to contain the virus or things will get much worse, there is disagreement among conservatives and smart people, in general, about how much of a role the government should play in stopping he pandemic, whether or not the government is under or overreacting, but also disagreement about the severity of the pandemic and projections, with or without further action.

The problem is, people are holding strong opinions about the virus for which information is incomplete and or are viewed through the lens of politics, as opposed to a more objective or dispassionate approach. Because it is so hard to separate politics from the virus, if the expectation is for an apolitical, unbiased discussion, I don’t think that is possible, at least not on most communities.

There is the agreement:

That politicians and institutions have failed their mission to serve the public. Both sides have plenty to dislike about how the virus situation has been handled, whether it’s conservatives opposing the shutdowns, or liberals blaming Trump as usual. But the smart-left has less faith in politicians and the political process than the mainstream-left does.

That social distancing is a lifestyle. People are sharing memes about having pioneering social distancing before it became newsworthy or fashionable. As one comic goes, “Social distancing? I have been doing that for years!”

That the rich and powerful, including even liberal celebrities, are insulated from the struggles facing the less fortunate. Such acts of solidarity are cast with cynicism as being self-serving or contrived.

That democracy is part of the problem, or at the very least, is ineffective as a means of change. You don’t have to be a reactionary or anarcho-capitalist to oppose democracy; plenty on the left do, too. People fighting over toilet paper and hand sanitizer is perhaps the best evidence yet against democracy. These are the same people that are choosing our elected officials.

That the so-called ‘Puritan work ethic’ and Protestantism, in general, are to blame for many of society’s ills, including careerism and social envy. The need to always compete and one-up your neighbor means never being satisfied with what you have, but always seeking more.

That consumerism and consumption are cancer. If you read a Roosh column about ‘lifestyle creep’ or about nightclubs being ‘Santanic temples,’ by removing the overly right-wing parts such as opposition to homosexuality, even liberals can agree that nightclubs are a ripoff and that America’s consumerist culture and need to always upgrade one’s lifestyle, is an illness at both the individual and societal level.

That big societal problems and issues such as college tuition , healthcare costs, and affordable housing are complicated and cannot be reduced to a good vs. evil dichotomy, but rather have to be analyzed from the perspective of stakeholders, who have conflicting interests and incentives.

That governments seem to serve large corporations and special interest groups over its citizens. Small businesses are getting hit hard by this virus, while airlines and large companies get generous bailouts and or have enough money and name recognition to survive.

That the American dream is more like the American suckers. Entrepreneurship and small business has high costs and low odds of success.

How the media , especially recently in regard to the virus, distorts the truth or outright spreads fake news (such as CBS getting caught using footage from an Italian hospital as if it were broadcast from New York) in the pursuit of clicks and views. In spite of the media narrative for the past month of hospitals being overwhelmed and law and order breaking down, footage uploaded to YouTube of empty hospitals frequently goes viral, with tons of up-votes and and comments excoriating the media for being wrong and trying to spread undue panic.

That society is irreparably and irreversibly damaged, and that this virus only accelerates the inevitable collapse that has long awaited us. This collapse is punishment for the excesses, and or reveals the weaknesses, of a consumer and profit-driven society and economy.

Whereas the smart-left and smart-right can find common ground through such shared narratives and shared internal values, such commonality does not exist for the mainstream-left and mainstream-right, which can explain why political discourse such as on Facebook or Twitter is so heated and personal, not because of disagreement on political issues (external values), but due to a lack of shared internal values. For example, Eric Weinstein, Bryan Caplan, and Tyler Cowen, despite being of the ‘left,’ are respected as intellectual equals by the smart and dissident-right, because of shared internal values even though their politics (the external values) diverge greatly. People of high intelligence would rather spend time with other smart people even if they disagree on external values, because of shared internal values.