I recently found myself saying to my adult children,
“this is normal going forward and we might as well get use to it. Washing your hands, social distancing and wearing a mask are here forever.”
Now I find out there’s something called “Normalcy Bias”, which leads people to disbelieve or minimize threat warnings. Normalcy bias may be caused in part by the way the brain processes new information. Research suggests that even when the brain is calm, it takes 8–10 seconds to process new information. Stress slows the process, and when the brain cannot find an acceptable response to a situation, it fixates on a single and sometimes default solution that may or may not be correct.
There are many, many people who don’t believe threat warnings about the Coronavirus and have adopted their behavior from before the virus came about. Stress has slowed their processing of new information related to the virus. In many cases it has done more than slow the process it has completely shut it down.
The term Luddite came about because of workers in 19th-century Britain who destroyed machines in factories as a protest against modern working methods. In 1779, Ned Ludd is supposed to have broken two stocking frames in a fit of rage. When the “Luddites” emerged in the 1810s, his identity was appropriated to become the folkloric character of Captain Ludd, also known as King Ludd or General Ludd, the Luddites’ alleged leader and founder.
Edmund Cooper’s alternative-history The Cloud Walker is set in a world where the Luddite ethos has given rise to a religious hierarchy which dominates English society and sets carefully prescribed limits on technology. A hammer — the tool supposedly used by Ned Ludd — is a religious symbol, and Ned Ludd is seen as a divine, messianic figure. Those who refuse to accept the Coronavirus are much like the Luddites of the 18th century. They are more afraid of change than they are of the virus, a disposition that may cost them and others their lives.
It’s this refusal to admit that things have changed that causes Coronavirus deniers to behave like they did before the change occurred. They find comfort in what is familiar and discomfort in what is unfamiliar but that comfort can become deadly.
As Sir David Attenborough has written, “It is quite natural to carry on with what we understand to be ‘normal’ until there is a convincing reason not to do so…” COVID — 19 has not been normal. In fact that is why it’s known as a “novel” coronavirus. Much like workers in 19th century Britain were forced to accept modern working conditions, coronavirus deniers will eventually be forced to admit that things are no longer “normal” but the Coronavirus has become normal. There will be no going back to before the virus even if a vaccine becomes available. Deniers will either accept the existence of the virus and adapt their behavior, perhaps by getting vaccinated but at a minimum wearing a mask, sanitizing their hands and distancing themselves from others, or perish.