Is Social Distancing Destroying Our Moral Fiber and Culture?

This topic is very a complicated and difficult matter to discuss. I did not realize there was so much data out there. What I have tried to do is comb through this morass and cherry pick some pertinent information. Any conclusions made are by no means final, for this is an ever evolving situation. It involves countless cultures and countries and political views and political systems. I pulled information from multiple sources, including quotes from these sources. I feel that I can do this because, first I make no money from these postings, Second I am not trying to publish an thesis or dissertation and I am not trying to obtain any advanced degrees. These articles in this blog serve the purpose of acting as forum for the dissemination of information involving current events and historical events as they apply to our present circumstances. Again they are not meant to be the last word on the subject. In many cases they reflect my views and in many cases they do not. I try to be as accurate as possible. I do a great deal of research on these articles. The following is a list of sources I used for this posting: http://www.sciencemag.org; news.IIu.edu; medicalxpress.com; news.usc.edu.

“The coronavirus spreading around the world is calling on us to suppress our profoundly human and evolutionarily hard-wired impulses for connection: seeing our friends, getting together in groups, or touching each other,” says Nicholas Christakis, a social scientist and physician at Yale University. And social distancing also tests the human capacity for cooperation, he adds. “Pandemics are an especially demanding test … because we are not just trying to protect people we know, but also people we do not know or even, possibly, care about.” Over long periods of time, social isolation can increase the risk of a variety of health problems, including heart disease, depression, dementia, and even death. A 2015 meta-analysis of the scientific literature by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a research psychologist at Brigham Young University, and colleagues determined that chronic social isolation increases the risk of mortality by 29%.

The human need for connecting with other humans is rooted in our psychology and evolution. Our brains are wired to seek human interaction, including subconscious behaviors to promote bonds, Kaplan explained. For example, the brain sparks unconscious behaviors and body language to promote connections between people. “Being in social groups is central to us as a species for as long as we’ve been a species,” he said. “One of the very top things that make us human is being social.” Other cultural forces cause Americans to chafe at restrictions. They transcend the economic losses suffered.

That may be because social contacts can buffer the negative effects of stress. Lab studies by Holt-Lunstad and others have found that having a friend present can reduce a person’s cardiovascular response to a stressful task. There’s even a correlation between perceived social connectedness and stress responses. “Just knowing that you have someone you can count on if needed is enough to dampen some of those responses even if [that person is] not physically present,” Holt-Lunstad says. What effects, if any, might be caused by social distancing in response to the coronavirus is an open question. “I have a couple competing hypotheses,” Holt-Lunstad says. “On the one hand, I am concerned that this will not only exacerbate things for those who are already isolated and lonely, but also might be a triggering point for others to now get into habits of connecting less.” People of all ages are susceptible to the ill effects of social isolation and loneliness, Holt-Lunstad says. But a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences (of which she was a co-author) highlights some reasons older people may be more susceptible, including the loss of family or friends, chronic illness, and sensory impairments like hearing loss that can make it harder to interact.

Can technology help compensate for some of the downsides of social distancing?

Texting, email, and apps like Skype and FaceTime can definitely help people stay in touch. “We are fortunate to live in an era where technology will allow us to see and hear our friends and family, even from a distance,” Christakis says.

Even so, those modes of communication don’t entirely replace face-to-face interactions, Segrin says. “When we interact with other people, a lot of the meaning conveyed between two people is actually not conveyed in the actual words, but in nonverbal behavior,” he says. A lot of those subtleties of body language, facial expressions, and gestures can get lost with electronic media. “They’re not as good as face to face interactions, but they’re infinitely better than no interaction,” Segrin says.

An early draft of a study by researchers at The University of Manchester and Swansea University shows social distancing and isolation is having significant impacts on people’s mental health and emotional well being.

The study has been submitted for publication to BMJ Open and published online as part of an open science initiative. It found that:

  • Social distancing is leading to heightened feelings of anxiety and depression amongst the general public.
  • People in low-paid or insecure occupations experienced the greatest impact.

There’s enormous individual variation in people’s ability to handle social isolation and stress, adds Chris Segrin, a behavioral scientist at the University of Arizona. It’s important to remember that not everyone is going into this with the same level of mental health, he says. “Someone who is already having problems with, say, social anxiety, depression, loneliness, substance abuse, or other health problems is going to be particularly vulnerable.” Isolation and barriers to harm reduction services could increase overdoses and new HIV infections among homeless people who use drugs, experts worry. To prevent Covid-19 according to public health mandates; avoid public places and stay 6 feet away from other people. However, people facing homelessness and living in a shelter setting social distancing is nearly impossible. For people struggling with substance abuse social distance protocols are directly at odds with harm reduction recommendations. It may also be interfering with their substance supply chain. This could problem withdrawal and increase in overdoses. There is also an uptick in HIV cases. Drug users are having a interruption in the supply in syringes and injection equipment. There is an increase in sharing of needles. Sharing cigarettes, or bongs or drug pipes increases the spread of covid-19 as well, because of close proximity to the other person and the potential to pass saliva and respiratory secretions.

For a brief moment earlier this month, it seemed as if social distancing might be the one new part of American life that wasn’t polarized along party lines. Schools were closed in red states and blue; people across the political spectrum retreated into their home. Though President Donald Trump had played down the pandemic at first, he was starting to take the threat more seriously—and his media allies followed suit. Reminders to wash your hands and avoid crowds became commonplace on both Fox News and MSNBC. Those who chose to ignore this guidance—the spring-breakers clogging beaches, the revelers on Bourbon Street—appeared to do so for apolitical reasons. For the most part, it seemed, everyone was on the same page.

The consensus didn’t last long. Trump, having apparently grown impatient with all the quarantines and lockdowns, began last week to call for a quick return to business as usual. “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” he tweeted, in characteristic caps lock. Speaking to Fox News, he added that he would “love” to see businesses and churches reopened by Easter. Though Trump would later walk them back, the comments set off a familiar sequence—a Democratic backlash, a pile-on in the press, and a rush in MAGA-world to defend the president. As the coronavirus now emerges as another front in the culture war, social distancing has come to be viewed in some quarters as a political act—a way to signal which side you’re on.

Terry Trahan, a manager at a cutlery store in Lubbock, Texas, acknowledged that a certain “toxic tribalism” was informing people’s attitudes toward the pandemic. “If someone’s a Democrat, they’re gonna say it’s worse,” he told me, “and if someone’s a Republican, they’re gonna say it’s bad, but it’s getting better.” As an immuno-compromised cancer survivor, Trahan said he’s familiar with commonsense social-distancing practices. But as a conservative, he’s become convinced that many Democrats are so invested in the idea that the virus will be disastrous that they’re pushing for prolonged, unnecessary shutdowns in pursuit of vindication. Among experts, there is a firm consensus that social distancing is essential to containing the spread of the virus—and they warn that politicizing the practice could have dangerous ramifications. “This is a pandemic, and shouldn’t be played out as a skirmish on a neighborhood playground,” Dina Borzekowski, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health commented.

One cultural aspect influencing the human behavior is political polarization. Some countries might think that the popularization of information seems to cause lower political trust.  Therefore, people in these societies might believe in the misleading information, which induces the wrong decision-making in the pandemic period.  Thus, the political opinion will gradually transmit to the human behavior through one of cultural dimensions.

Australians, along with US and UK citizens, tend to fit within what is known as an individualist culture. This is one that values independence, individual freedom and the pursuit of personal goals more than social relationships.

In contrast, the collectivist cultures in countries like China and Japan value interdependence and social relationships more than individual freedoms and goals. This framework for cross-cultural communication was developed by Geert Hofstede, an academic and researcher for IBM.

A government appeal asking people to practice social distancing because it will protect everyone in the community may work very well in collectivist cultures, but may not be as effective in individualist cultures.

Both appeals requested citizens to stay home and practice social distancing to contain the COVID-19 crisis. But one asked them to do this in order to protect and preserve the freedom of the public. And the other focused on doing this in order to keep their community safe.

The responses showed that participants were more willing to comply with the appeal that asked them to practice social distancing to preserve their long-term personal freedom rather than an appeal which focused on keeping their community safe.

Australians, like Americans, tend to be individualists. So the results of our study extend to Australians, who would also place greater value on their personal freedoms and individual goals. Culture plays a critical role in effective communication. Message content that takes into account the cultural values of its audience should be more effective compared to one that does not. In the current situation, appeals need to remind the public to take the lock down measures seriously so the spread of COVID-19 can be contained but also so people can get back their freedoms and return to their way of life sooner rather than later.

“America’s national identity is about political freedom. Our identity is we don’t stay still long, we go conquer things, like the American conquest of the wilderness,” said Renteln, an expert on U.S. political culture, constitutional law and human rights. “But now nature, and the coronavirus, control us when we are used to conquering nature, so it goes against the grain and is contrary to American mythology.” Americans tend to share a worldview that is future-focused, energetic, youthful and prefers happy endings, which doesn’t jibe with pandemic-driven lockdowns and social isolation, Renteln noted.

But Cannon — an expert on COVID-19, HIV, Ebola and other viruses — warns that a virus has its own behaviors to ensure its survival and spread. “It’s simple math: If more people go out, people increase their risk of being infected, and nature will return the favor and have more people infected,” she said. “If people act as individuals, versus what one should do as a member of our community, it can undermine the hard work we’ve done to control the spread of the virus.”

The data I have presented shows that our people, cultures, political systems and countries have taken a major hit from this pandemic. Not all countries have responded the same to this global event. Some actions taken have been more effective than others. Demographics, culture and population densities, and many other variables have effected these outcomes. The US overall falls somewhere in the middle. We could be worse off, but we could also be a lot better off. Our biggest problem is that we are putting our political agendas before our people, economy and country. If we worked together, instead of against each other we would be much better off. Our country has been through a lot in the last several months, however I fear that our struggle has only just begun. This is in part because of the covid virus, but it is mostly due to rampant dissension in our political arena. We are going through some very troubling times. Our very culture and moral fiber are being torn apart. I firmly believe that social distancing is having a lot of adverse effects on us as a people. The human species gains a lot of solace and strength through social interactions and spiritual interactions. We are being limited in these interactions and as a result we are all the weaker for it. If this country is going to survive we need to find a way to put aside our differences and beat this pandemic or we will face anarchy at an unprecedented level.

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