I call COVID-19 “the virus critter,” because it sounds nicer, and because I know that viruses are only half-alive in the sense that we humans think of life, not in any sense a critter, having no intentionality, motive or animus.

Epidemics, like wars, are catalysts for change in human history. And we have already learned some things from this experience.

Perhaps most importantly, we have learned that our economy is an ecosystem like the ocean, and that we’re all tied together, we all swim in the same water.

A few years later, a career government lawyer, a young feller, told me that he didn’t care if we taxed rich people. To him, it would have no effect on his life if we taxed someone who wasn’t him. But that view is clearly wrong. Someone is generating money with work to pay taxes, to pay his salary. Maybe he understands things a bit better now.

This raises the important issue of point of view (POV).

As kids, we were taught “do not judge another unless you have walked a mile in his moccasins (i.e., shoes).”

Native American moccasins for a young child. Do not judge unless you’ve walked a mile in them. Flickr: Kim Alaniz

More modernly, we know that a person gets out of things what they bring to it. What does that mean?

Here is an excerpt from Jens Zimmermann’s book “Hermeneutics: A Very Short Introduction.” He writes: “What is hermeneutics? A simple answer is that it means interpretation.”

And later: “Understanding is knowledge in the deeper sense of grasping not just facts but their integration into a meaningful whole.”

Observation Bias

We see the world based on our backgrounds, our experiences, including whatever brain differences might exist. We are always interpreting the world around us, even when we think we are seeing things as they are.

In addition, we have observation bias.

If I look at a clock from the front, it looks differently than from the side. If I see the Earth from where I stand, it looks flat, but if I see it from space, it doesn’t. All these things, taken together, is what I mean by “POV.”

We have seen an obvious POV difference with the recent shutdown between people who have jobs (or other steady revenue) and those that don’t. Those that do are generally probably not as worried about a rapid restart of the economy as those that don’t.

Hardship is easy when you’re not the one experiencing it personally; only talking about it and pretending to understand. It’s easy to do something to others; tougher when you’re on the receiving end.

I also imagine that the doctors who see the virus critter and the solutions offered for it are affected by their POV. Don’t doctors have a career bias towards the preservation of human life? Don’t they have a training bias in favor of waiting for data, evidence, studies?

On the other side of the coin, aren’t they insulated from economic hardship in a way that many business people are not because doctors sell something that is necessary and the demand is very price inelastic? And aren’t they used to getting paid with some certainty because almost all of their revenues come from an insurance company that aggregates money from the public?

Maybe that’s why many doctors see the virus critter and the shutdown differently from, say, a person running a business like a mom and pop restaurant or a landlord with a big mortgage.

And while I would never question the humanitarian motives of doctors, some folks might become accustomed to being at the apex of the medical care system and giving out their “doctor’s orders,” which tend to involve anything from discomfort to actual pain and suffering.

Has the virus critter changed folks’ view of the government?

My guess is: probably not for most, except for those who previously ignored the issue.

But here’s the thing with a complex economy which is a mix of government and the private sector: it is not easy to determine what is causing what, and so we often end up falling back on ideology.

We disagree because we don’t see the same facts.

Moreover, I’m not sure that we all even see the same mix of government and the private sector. How many lovers of government have read even one-tenth of the statutes on the books?

How many lovers of the free market have done a stint as government anti-fraud lawyers or investigators?

We don’t just disagree because we have different opinions; we disagree because we don’t see the same facts, the same world.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.”

Brilliant statement, but in truth, people typically use their own set of facts. Observation bias, POV.

Moccasins, try ’em out.

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