Tribalism Comes for Pandemic Science

Yuval Levin at The New Atlantis: “he Covid-19 pandemic has tested our society in countless ways. From the health system to the school system, the economy, government, and family life, we have confronted some enormous and unfamiliar challenges. But many of these stresses are united by the need to constantly adapt to new information and evidence and accept that any knowledge we might have is only provisional. This demands a kind of humble restraint — on the part of public health experts, political leaders, and the public at large — that our society now finds very hard to muster.

The virus is novel, so our understanding of what responding to it might require of us has had to be built on the fly. But the polarized culture war that pervades so much of our national life has made this kind of learning very difficult. Views developed in response to provisional assessments of incomplete evidence quickly rigidify as they are transformed into tribal markers and then cultural weapons. Soon there are left-wing and right-wing views on whether to wear masks, whether particular drugs are effective, or how to think about social distancing.

New evidence is taken as an assault on these tribal commitments, and policy adjustments in response are seen as forms of surrender to the enemy. Every new piece of information gets filtered through partisan sieves, implicitly examined to see whose interest it serves, and then embraced or rejected on that basis. We all do this. You’re probably doing it right now — skimming quickly to the end of this piece to see if I’m criticizing you or only those other people who behave so irresponsibly….(More)”.