This is not a post about disinformation. This is not a post about the way information is consciously targeted at fear and dissension. If you are interested in that work I can highly recommend the Conspirituality podcast.
I want to talk about how the slant of information shapes our thinking and how people co-opt that to cushion themselves from what’s happening.
Patriarchy and the media.
Ok before you switch off hear me out… traditional media is fast paced big business. It relies on attracting “consumers” and has come to be, in many cases like fast food information; shallow, lacking in deep nourishment and harmful to us in the long run. It’s reflective of our culture; very production oriented, valuing hierarchical processes and narrow measures of success, a force for dominance over, versus engaging collaboratively.
Media focuses on very masculine lead pursuits, by that I mean archetypally masculine; production, outer world action, measurable, hierarchical type processes. We have business news, reporting on the stock exchange and currency markets (I know the word FTSE for God’s sake, I have no idea what it means but it has come at me so many times my brain has kept it as an oddity…) which takes up a whole section on the national news and things like health and education are lucky to get any airtime unless it’s to criticise some failing in their overloaded systems.
We have developed systems that favour the quantifiable, the logical, the scientific and thank heavens for that because that part of human thinking matters hugely and has made immense contributions to human life. But to imagine that numbers and facts are all there is neglects a large part of what it is to be human.
We are thinking creatures. We are creatures with a big frontal cortex that helps us plan, strategize, prioritise and create new solutions. We are also feeling creatures. We are creatures with trauma who have had to create coping strategies that are not always good bets long term. We are creatures who learn not only from facts and figures but have been much more shaped by story. We are creatures who can create, learn, love, destroy, heal, grow, change, be a bridge between the world and play. We contain multitudes. How do we know that?...
Story is the way we learned to instruct; “I ate the red berry. I was sick. Don’t eat the red berry.” To comfort; “Yes this stage of childbirth hurt me too- I suffered in my time and I am here to help you as I was helped. To mend; “When my mother hurt me I felt so very sad. I don’t want you to be hurt like that.” With story, we reach into the life of another and notice our suffering reflected, feel ourselves open to the possibilities of what may be available from their experience and try on how it might fit for us. With story we learn, change, soften and grow.
Jungian psychology works on the premise that myths help us to understand what it is to be human; the universality of them instructs someone in the veld of Africa in the same way it instruct me in suburban Aotearoa; it goes to the heart of what it means to be human.
Story, whether it be the archetypal power of a myth or the retelling of what happened at work over the dishes, story is a deep connector of humans, to each other and to life.
SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH THE BUSINESS REPORT?
Well I think the weighting of our media on business, production, economics, dominance etc. shapes us to see those as the most valuable facets of the world. When we soak in a bath of this kind of thinking, we come to value quantitative over qualitative, it seems like a natural thing. Numbers count. Thoughts and feelings don’t.
How does this impact us around Covid19?
I have seen many people retreat to numbers in order to contend with the challenge we face as a species. Today I read someone saying something ageist, fatist and ableist. (it’s in the bottom of the page if you want to look but consider this a trigger warning.) They talked about "30k cases and 2% death."
They recounted these numbers like they were cans of baked beans. Like this was some new stock issue that had gone down on the FTSE (no idea if I did that right but you get the picture). But they are not beans or stocks. They are People. People with lives and families, fears and loves, gifts and failings are getting sick. It’s a lottery that’s stacked against you if you have disabilities, have pre-existing conditions like asthma. It’s a very, very human experience being explained away, defended against by the distancing power of numbers.
If I make you into a number I don’t have to face you. If I make you into a number it’s easier to pass by the discomfort of seeing you suffer. If I make you into a number I can keep it theoretical and not have to accommodate the immensity and natural fear of a pandemic.
How do I know this is happening?
I see people shaming others for “living in fear”. If the threat of a pandemic doesn’t give you the willies I would say there’s something wrong with your neurobiology. We are supposed to react with fear to a threat, and use that fear to take action, come up with solutions to mitigating the threat.
These statistics don’t hold the truth of the suffering underneath and all around them. The distress of dealing with a potentially life threatening illness. The isolation. The time away from loved ones. The sheer physical cost of dealing with a powerful virus, one that has been proven to have unpredictable and often long lasting effects. Perhaps, having to be in hospital. The stress and distress of the hospital staff. The exhaustion they are facing. The threat to their own lives, their families’ lives with continued engagement at work with a population who are in no small part, cavalier about what they are facing. For all the people who make up that two percent, there are grief stricken families, broken communities, scarred workplaces. The ripples are immense.
This doesn’t count the proportion of people who have long tail covid. Three of my friends in the US are still dealing with quite debilitating symptoms a year on. Yes, they are lucky they didn’t die and their lives have been altered to become much more difficult.
When we leave people to only exist on the plane of broad brush statistics we excuse ourselves from the distressing truth of what covid19 actually does.
I am hearing people say “The Spanish flu killed more. This will just be another virus, we’ll adapt.” It’s offered up like a trump card. Like a call to get over hysteria. As if we were playing some team building game that was theoretical, that could technically be true, but we are talking about humans. Does it justify a whole lot of people dying because humans have been here before and will be again? Does it justify the levels of suffering and trauma inflicted on people?
Sadly, it seems, that unless we know someone well, someone we care about, whose story we are intimate with, these statistics are actually a bolster and protection to some people. They seem to become a barricade about odds and how invulnerable we still are. It’s the bravado that these numbers seem to inspire that perhaps would start to unravel in the face of another human telling the story of their suffering.
It’s my hope that we who hide behind numbers and othering, like the “it’s only old people” that I believe would crack in the face of my friend’s story about 12 months of inflammatory problems, brain fog affecting her work, pain, breathing issues etc.
Stories hold us in our discomfort alongside another human. Someone with families and fears, work and communities, hopes and dreams just like us. Stories help us stay with each other, even when it’s hard. That’s where we are meant to be in times of crisis, with each other. Not hiding behind piles of seemingly reassuring numbers. Those numbers are cold when they are the face of your best friend’s suffering. Stories keep us on the side of humans. And that matters.
SO WHAT’S POSSIBLE.
“When women speak, the story of human history changes.” Elizabeth Lesser.
Does this quote mean only women get the mic now? No. It means that all people willing to talk about and value story, connection, meaning, feeling need airspace, need to be placed in positions of influence. These voices and stories are not the ones we currently see in a vacuous stream on social media. Not the “look at my shiny life” stories. These polished-surface stories are the ones that are keep us on the treadmill and contribute to hierarchy.
We need the real stories. The truth of the feelings and challenges people navigate. The impact on their lives of their conditions and experiences.
It’s my hope that if we began, and continued to understand the experience of others through this new illness* that we would re-humanise our response. We wouldn’t be so ready to say it’s just 2% because we would see the faces of those 2%. They would have names. They would have families. They would have gifts and contributions and connections. They would leave legacies and challenges. They would become part of us that we would have to engage with and care about. They would matter.
To use statistics to describe and quantify is one thing, but to use them to distance ourselves from the harm that is being done minute by minute in our communities is something we can consciously change.
Human Stories soften. Human Stories connect. Human Stories mend and heal. Always have done. Always will.
“30k new cases and only 2% death. Don’t know how many are elderly, obese or have other conditions.”