We’re now at the dawn of the biggest social disruption ever

Yossi Sheriff – 19th March, 2020

Corona is a social crisis, and I am not talking about COVID-19 as a disease, but about it’s social consequences. The crisis is not the Corona virus, the crisis is the automatic visceral reaction of communicated amplified individuals.

SARS-CoV-2 is an anomaly. It’s been many years since humanity had to process such a communal surprise and right now, middle of March 2020, processing is going on, consciously and automatically, at full speed. This processing is amplified by our interconnectedness and the visibility of things happening far and near. News that would be local and could be digested in months and years in the early civilisations are now processed in a matter of days. The speed at which humanity and society are meeting this anomaly, is a huge factor in what is going to happen now.

Anything more complicated than a fruit fly deals with anomalies in the same way, it freezes.

In a sudden and big enough anomaly the reaction is almost always freezing to digest the information and to avoid possible harm. This happens not only in fruit flies, it happened to our society. Freezing should not always be taken literally, sometimes it is the vacant stupor of complex automatic daily activities.

Not every sudden phenomena is an anomaly. When someone attacks a soldier it is sudden, but it is a category of surprises he grew accustomed to. For these kind of surprises, we have a set of reactions that have been wired into the system.

This COVID-19 is a surprise on another level. Few countries have been preparing for this pandemic, and even if those that did, are not prepared for the scale of this one.

‘Fight, flight, freeze’ reactions are not limited to individual organisms on the micro level, these reactions appear on the macro level of societies too.

On the Corona crisis, the first thing many societies and individuals did is freezing, some for weeks, some for months. So many advanced countries chose not to prepare that it is astonishing. The Fight, Flight, Freeze reaction only played its first part – freeze.

As we all know, it take two to tango, but one is enough to start a fight. This street wisdom works on the personal, regional and global scale.

When the surprise is bad, but it has been dealt with before, we can sometimes use pre-learned reactions to deal with it. When a ‘once in a century’ anomaly like Covid-19 hits, and is combined with hyper connectivity, the reaction it will elicit is lunacy.

I expect social deterioration in many fields. No doubt that the fear potentiated startle reflex we are having as a society will reverberate for years. The Fight part of the unholy trinity ‘fight, flight, freeze’ will take precedence to higher, rational, thinking.

If a good and cheap cure, and later on a flexible vaccine, will not be found then the visceral reactions of individuals and societies will cause greater suffering than the virus will.

19/03/2020