When this whole thing started, it felt wonderful to be fighting something together as a global group. It’s like the story from the cold war when Reagan and Gorbachev were in tense negotiations. During a private conversation in a break, Reagan said, “If aliens attacked the United States, would you help us?” Gorbachev said yes, and after they went back into the room, negotiations went much better. Sometimes there’s a common enemy we can all fight and it brings us together.
That was nice while it lasted wasn’t it? On a recent episode of his podcast, Mike Rowe said, “A couple months ago I said, ‘For the first time in a long time, we’re all in the same boat.’ I take it back. I don’t believe we are. I think we’re all in the same storm. Our boats are different for sure.” When I open up the news, it’s full of tension and anger as each political side beats the drum and rallies the troops for another screaming match. How can people be so different when the data is so clear?
Data like this is far from clear. While this virus was expanding rapidly, the population had to learn how to understand the pace indicated by an upward line on a logarithmic scale. Now that we’re coming back down, a better metric seems to be the “R-value” or the transmission rate. An R of 1 means that for every one person who gets sick, they share it with 1 more person. If the outbreak is at that level, it means that we’re going to hold our ground. Go above 1 and we end up with a mess. Keep it below 1 and we will solve the problem. The trick is figuring out what R value we’re currently at and how that varies by region.
Uncertainty in models showing the impact of various social distancing rules combined with the fires being flamed in politics lead to a situation where everyone can find a “statistical report” that reinforces their bias. I don’t know which point of view this report backs up, but I’ve been keeping tabs on the ones that my company is involved with and one of the best is the Centre for Mathematical Modeling of Infections Diseases. Their estimates show that R is probably at or above 1 in most states. The Institute for Disease Modeling also has a very detailed dive into transmission characteristics in Washington State.
The media thrives in the uncertainty of these models. They can twist the statistics and wording, but if you skip over the media and look at the raw data, you can get a better idea of the situation and the level of confidence you can reasonably gain from it. Are we out of the woods? No way. Have the changes in restrictions over the last couple weeks taken us immediately back to huge increases? Nope. Yay for now, but this virus is pernicious. The time between being infected and having measurable symptoms is long, so the task of finding a good balance between lockdown and a return to normal is going to take a very long time.
It’s hard to know how much of this anger being flamed up around the country is legitimate and how much is an effect of being influenced by bad actors in the system. Other countries love targeting the US and feeding the frenzy. The media makes their money on eyeballs. People love to have their biases reconfirmed. It’s a lot of dry tinder.
It’s easy to get depressed with all the fighting and the numbers that arent’ trending down as fast as we’d like. But there’s hope too. There are other polls that show that we’re not really as divided and angry as it seems. I enjoyed this comic (with sources cited) from Randal Munroe:
Even if the country really is divided and angry, it doesn’t mean that I have to participate. Tyla and I were talking about good things to come out of this This list will continue to grow for decades as gain more perspective, but here are a few of the things we came up with:
- We have an amazing digital library that keeps our eyeballs full of good books. A couple weeks before this all started, we had decided to get Elijah a tablet to help with his reading. So not only can we use our awesome library, but now there are floods of educational apps that have free periods. Elijah’s reading skills have skyrocketed!
- We haven’t been sick for two and a half months! That’s unheard of during school season. It’s usually a non-stop merry-go-round of viruses and bacteria flowing around.
- I do most of the cooking at dinner time and it’s challenging to keep dinner interesting on weeknights. The removal of my commute means that I can plan just about any meal on any day.
- What a perfect time for me to build a new computer! It has been a joy to work on this thing every day, and the enormous horsepower has come in very handy with all the video editing that I’ve been doing for church.
- I’ve been wanting to learn Davinci Resolve for video editing and all of this editing for church services finally pushed me over the edge. While I don’t really have any extra time to learn things since work is busy, I was forced into the situation and after a couple weeks of struggling, I’ve burst through to the other side where now I’m more productive than before and I have an endless list of new features to explore. (It’s like learning to swim the Stennis way!)
I could go on and on, but the point is that while there’s still a lot of uncertainty and we’re being encouraged to fight with “the others”, keep calm and carry on. Good things are happening too. And even if you can’t see those good things when you read the news, you can find them in your own life. Celebrate them and thank God for them.
17 Every good act of giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the lights, who does not change or shift like a shadow. 18 Just as he planned, he gave us birth by the word of truth so that we would be a kind of firstfruits of his creations.
19 Remember this, my dear brothers: Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. 20 Certainly, a man’s anger does not bring about what is right before God. 21 So after getting rid of all moral filthiness and overflowing wickedness, receive with humility the word planted in you. It is able to save your souls.