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  • Writer's pictureCrone

Streams of inspiration

Anthropologists who study hunter-gatherer tribes use the term 'social distancing' to describe the punishments meted out to those who fail to adhere to cultural mores. Cheat in a hunt or try to assert authority, murder, steal or perform socially disruptive sexual acts and the other members of the tribe will 'send you to Coventry' as it were, with the further threat being exclusion from the community. Because people cannot live alone or in very small bands, the community is crucial and 'social distancing' is a real danger. It is one of the ways tribes have of enforcing their values. It just struck me that this original use of the term sheds light on the potential damage of our current enforced unsociability. I've been smiling and waving and saying 'hello' on my daily constitutional, when I have seen people. And their returned smiles do help me to feel that though separate, we are still in this togather.

On the Intelligence Squared podcast, Jonathan Sacks was discussing his new book, Morality, which focuses on the move from 'we' to 'me' that has taken place in Western societies. He describes this as occurring in three waves - the 60s, all about liberation and the freedom of the self, the 80s-90s and 'greed is good' and the current technological phase of social media and the like. You know my limitations on the WiFi front here, so please forgive inaccuracies! Anyway, at the start of the interview, the subject was, unsurprisingly, coronavirus - social distancing and lockdown, stockpiling and volunteering. He spoke much wisdom and the podcast is worth a listen. He recommends reading the Psalms, surely we must all have a Bible somewhere?

Another podcast, The Psychology Podcast, featured at interview with Roy Baumeister about humans' natural tendency to focus on the bad - he too has a book out. The first half is about the replication crisis in psychology, but then they get down to the book and Baumeister offers some useful advice on the current situation. Firstly, it takes four 'goods' to combat a 'bad' - so if you upset a family member during this time, you need to do four equally potent good things to get the relationship back on track. He calls this 'the rule of four' and real research backs it up. Another habit to practice is taking the bigger picture. The Stoics perform this as a meditation (listen to Massimo Pigliucci on my emergency kit link) and I think it's also part of Buddhist practices. The point is that it's all too easy to catastrophise about something (like not having adequate WiFi), but consider the greater scheme of things. Put it in perspective. Recall that all of us born in the US and Western Europe after the Second World War effectively won the lottery - no war, famine or genocide. And in terms of Covid-19, chances are, we will come through OK. It might be shit, but it's not the worst shit. He also recommended us to bear in mind 'The Reverse Golden Rule'. The Golden Rule states that we should treat others as we would wish to be treated - and that's a great rule. But Baumeister says that as bad things are more salient, it's wise to state it as 'do not do to others anything you would not wish done to you'.

I subscribe to The Conversation, and there was a piece today about how Sweden is tackling the pandemic in a far less restrictive way than other nations. The make-up of the nation plays a part in this, but it seems that the Swedes are considering more seriously long-term consequences. So, they are factoring in the loss of life in the future that could result from a substantive economic crash and the effect that would have on the health provision in the coming years. It's an interesting balancing act. Is the life of those in the future worth more, less or the same than the lives of people now? One of the reasons we are so bad at combating climate change is that we struggle to value the lives of those (even older 'us') in twenty years' time, and we value our freedoms now more highly than their survival. This struck me as an important moral consideration. As our circles of empathy move outward in geographical terms, do we have a duty to expand them temporally as well?

I have been trying to upload more audio resources from interviews that I have done, but it seems that I cannot do that. My little world is shrinking and I hate texting. I'm not that great at emails and phone calls either, if I'm honest. You are in my mind, though, and I hope to stay in yours. The thing that keeps me going is the wide world of ideas. The streams of inspiration that come from minds in the distance.

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Mar 28, 2020

All interesting points. I try to wave & smile when I am out for my walk too and for the reason you mention :-) And the reverse-golden rule makes a LOT of sense! And yes, you are always in my mind. Thanks for your posts x

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