COVID and culture: countries with strict social standards fare better

Throughout the COVID pandemic, many Americans have complained that our culture makes the spread of the coronavirus much easier. More specifically, they opposed the flippant attitude of the Americans, disregarding expertise and the law, and their refusal to cooperate.

As we will see, they are probably right. But they probably wouldn’t like the conditions to have the kind of culture they think they want, either.

The law can only go so far

As the pandemic progressed, a common refrain from those who lamented American culture was, “If only everyone could stay home for two weeks, this crisis would be over.” “

Let’s set aside that (1) this is wrong because people would still need food and supplies delivered to them, a war-like mobilization that would likely require millions of essential workers (most of them not. vaccinated) who would continue to spread COVID; and (2) it goes against our social nature as humans, and a policy that contradicts human nature is more likely to fail. It is also cruel. There is a reason why many view solitary confinement as a violation of human rights.

What those who complain about the spread of COVID in the United States fail to realize is that the problem is not unique to us. As soon as Europe let its guard down, the virus roared back.

So, to regain control, many European countries entered another strict lockdown and forced people to obey by imposing severe penalties. According to the Wall Street newspaper, people caught breaking various rules may be fined € 250 in Belgium; € 400 to € 1,000 in Italy; € 135 to € 3,750 in France; and from £ 200 to £ 6,400 in the UK. Spain has bet everything on this strategy: the scofflaws can be fined from 100 to 600,000 €. Prison is also an option on the table in some countries, such as Spain and Italy.

Did the tough penalties work? They seem to have had an effect in most places, but not all. Perhaps some countries did not have the capacity or the will to enforce them. Whatever the reason, they certainly weren’t working everywhere. Note the following chart (based on data from the European CDC) which includes the main countries in Western Europe. UK and Spain are doing as badly as the US

If forcing your compatriots to follow blockades doesn’t work, what works? New research in The Lancet’s planetary health suggests that culture might.

COVID and culture: countries with strict social standards fare better

Led by Dr Michele Gelfand, the team examined the relationship between what it calls “cultural narrowness” – by which it means countries that have strict social standards – and the severity of COVID. Cultural narrowness / looseness is obviously a subjective quality, but the authors used data from a system that tried to quantify it using statements such as “There are very clear expectations about way people should act in most situations. Using this method and plotting COVID cases and deaths based on cultural narrowness, the authors found that countries with ‘loose’ social norms had five times as many COVID cases and more than 8, 5 times more COVID deaths than countries with stricter social standards.

If the authors are right – and their results certainly confirm what many of us suspected – it suggests that the best way to fight a pandemic is to have a culturally tight society, which likely leads to more cooperation. . But, of course, there are major drawbacks to a culture with strict social norms. These cultures tend not to be particularly friendly towards women or various minorities.

So while we lament the lack of cooperation and cultural closeness in Western civilization that allows a virus to spread, we can simultaneously celebrate the cultural looseness and the entrepreneurial spirit that comes with it that uncovers a remedy.

Source: Michèle J Gelfand et al. “The relationship between cultural tightening and loosening and COVID-19 cases and deaths: a global analysis. Lancet Planetary Health. Posted: 29-Jan-2021. DOI: 10.1016 / S2542-5196 (20) 30301-6

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About Marjorie C. Hudson

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