Remote, Day 55 - Humility

Welcome to the Spring of 2020. The Coronavirus pandemic is less than six months along. The economic system is reeling. The US government has responded incorrectly in just about every way and called it a win. And because all that wasn’t enough, everything is political, there’s no room for nuance, and reality is whatever you want it to be. As usual, this will be one of those times where I advocate for understanding the different sides and attempting to solve the problem with pragmatism rather than ideology. This approach is also known as understanding nuance and being a reasonable human being. I wish more people would try it, but here we are.

There is a scientific reality, the coronavirus, and two sets of systems that have opposing operational forces. Public health (for now) requires some measure of distance and separation, the economy requires connectedness and integration. Anyone that tells you we must focus solely on one at the expense of the other is wrong. Poverty kills just as much as sickness does. Going into full lockdown to the impoverishment of multitudes is no more of a moral solution than doing nothing and letting thousands die.

The proper response in the face of high risk and high uncertainty is not fear or brashness, it’s humility. Put resources into better understanding the problem while at the same time making small moves in a well-considered direction and then evaluating the impact. We will get this wrong, but the goal isn’t to be perfectly right in one dimension. That is impossible because we are working in a wickedly complex environment. The goal is to be less wrong along multiple dimensions.

This means the solution isn’t to throw the doors wide open and attempt a flawed return to normalcy. Nor is it to keep everyone separate and just hope that we have some sort of functioning economy in two years. It isn’t to declare victory while there are still so many unknowns about an enemy that kills thousands every day. Nor is it to cower in our homes with low-level anxiety and expect the world to continue to work. Instead, we need to improve our knowledge, ask better questions, massively scale up testing, isolate the most vulnerable, work to shore up a dysfunctional system, and accept that wearing masks in crowded places and limiting interactions is both prudent in the face of the unknown and a way of being considerate to each other.

Reality is complex and nobody knows anything. There is no guide book here. Instead we have an abundance of naive moralizing with an absence of information. Throwing caution to the wind and considering the problem solved might kill millions. And it might be that we can operate in a less limited capacity and we’re incurring massive economic damage when we don’t have to. We just do not know. We need to experiment responsibly, make informed decisions, proceed with caution, stop screaming at each other, and prepare for a difficult few years.