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Is Covid Denial in Our DNA?

I once worked as a HAZMAT Tech. Basic safety precautions, knowledge and PPE all allowed me to return home safely to my family each day.

Lemings don't actually jump off cliffs like this, yet some humans seem to want to. Why is that?

Lemings don't actually jump off cliffs like this, yet some humans seem to want to. Why is that?

What's Wrong With "Those" People?

The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), virus, is arguably one of the greatest single threats to human health since the Great Plague of 1665. It continues to rampage across the globe and is well on track to kill more than two million of our fellow humans in less than a year. If you disagree that this virus even exists, or believe that it's just "the flu" or that those who have died so far from it have done so from "natural causes", etc., we should probably part ways here.

If, on the other hand, you're like me and believe that this is an extremely serious and deadly virus, and that you've already seen real loss in your own family, friends or community, then we're both on the same page.

What's obvious to me, yet apparently not to all my fellow American citizens, is that while we can't let fear rule our lives, we can and should follow the basic, proven, paint by numbers recipe that's been used throughout the world and has been proven to slow and even stop the number of heartbreaking deaths.

Scientists and medical professionals have for months now begged us to follow the same basic rules that have been shown to slow and even stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2 so that fewer of our fellow citizens have to die.

For more of us to survive this, (not just you personally, because anyone can be an asymptomatic carrier), we simply must wash our hands, wear a mask when around others, socially distance, disinfect surfaces and avoid gatherings, among other things. It's a very simple and tested set of rules and it's allowed life in some places to return to a new "normal". Still, many of us here in the western world still refuse to follow these basic rules and more of us continue to die. Just this morning I received news that six people from a family that I know have died, all within a matter of just days, and that the principal of the nearby middle school, a healthy man in his forties, has passed within just two days of getting a Covid-19 diagnosis. It's simply heartbreaking.

At the time I'm writing this article, there are now mass gatherings and even pop music festivals in Wuhan China, in what was once the very epicenter of the pandemic. This is not to say that the people of Wuhan weren't as affected. Thousands died there and it's just now returning to a sort of new "normal" as people are still required to follow the basic step by step measures that are proven to keep the deadly virus at bay until a vaccine arrives. While I don't want to see draconian measures or live in a police state, still I wonder why some of my fellow citizens choose to openly refuse to adopt using the most basic of safety measures.

I tend to avoid writing about political or hot button topics, yet I struggle with my own frustration with what I perceive to be a lack of social responsibility and a shunning of social duty by some. It's a frustration that I share with many others, including my good friend who's a new ER nurse. During this outbreak she's actually treated patients who were shocked by the staff's use of masks and PPE, and who told her that the virus was all "fake news". Often these were the last things they said in life before being put on a ventilator. Some of my friend's fellow nurses have been interviewed by the local media, crying exhausted tears, as they beg people to please follow proper precautions such as wearing a mask. Perhaps some who weren't already following proper precautions do listen to them, but many others still refuse to acknowledge what's really happening continue to dig themselves in even deeper into denial.

To say that it frustrates me, my nurse friend and millions of others is an understatement and it is easy to think of all kinds of names for "these people", and to simply dismiss them all as just "bad people". It's easy to go down that road, as it is with people who hold opposite political views from ours, but there may be some explanation for why they think as they do. I really do need some kind of explanation right now, because I'm pretty fed up and disgusted with how some people are behaving in the face of this crisis. Perhaps being stupid is just in our DNA.

The Origin Of Our Contrary Species

I'm definitely not excusing the behavior of people who continue to flaunt heath guidelines and endanger the lives of my family, but I'm reaching for straws trying to process what I see as completely illogical behavior.

I might be wrong, but I think that the reason so many people choose the contrarian path in so many situations like the present one, is that it's been hardwired into our very human nature over millennia. In some twisted way, all this contrary and even openly defiant behavior may come from a kind of basic defense mechanism that our species has been programmed deep down inside of our genetic code. Whether it's humans or lemmings, during a time of crisis a number of the herd will often turn and run in different direction from the rest, perhaps even running toward the very threat the others are fleeing, slowing the safe escape of the larger group as they do.

Somewhere in our past perhaps, a clan of our cavemen relatives happened to run into a really nasty sabre tooth cat, one that may have already killed some of them. Instead of running with the rest of the group away from the threat, Og, lets call him, runs toward the beast. Or perhaps he chose to run and jump off a high cliff that the rest of the group has always avoided. But why? Why do our fellow humans sometimes seem to act so irrationally?

Recent scientific studies have shown good evidence for what's been called the "novelty gene".

If I were a betting person, I might wager some money that part the behavior right now might be due to this gene. The gene variant known as DRD4-7R has been shown by scientists to exist in many people who pursue adventure sports, exploration and extensive travel. The DRD4-7R gene variant is also correlated with drug use, risky financial and sexual behavior.

This gene exists, and it's a fact and the presence of it may even be concentrated geographically as areas were colonized by like minded folks. While it seems like a destructive element to our survival at first glance, it might be one of the reasons that our species is still here, and still able to make poor choices.

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DNA, The Great Genetic Bottleneck and Cranky Old Bob

Strands of DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid can form a simple, compact, efficient and highly portable storage device that can store not only the blueprint for everything from an amoeba to a humpback whale, but also the record of everything that has ever happened along the lineage of an organism. DNA is so good at doing this with its little biological ones and zeroes, (adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine,) that scientists are now able to actually store photos and documents onto strands of it, and then theoretically implant them into your body's own genetic code for transmission to your future descendants.

What this highly accurate code has told us about who we are as humans and how we got here is the subject of a large body of research today. There is compelling DNA evidence for the occurrence of a "genetic bottleneck" that occurred somewhere around two million years ago in our evolution, as we evolved from Australopithecus into Homo erectus. At one time in our past, the number of our direct ancestors may have been down to only a few hundred individuals. Another, more recent bottleneck may have occurred around 75,000 years ago.

Was the group of bottleneck ancestors a group of rule followers or were they some rogue band of nut jobs who did something completely off base to end up where they did? We'll probably never know the answer.

At some point perhaps the caveman who didn't run to safety, but instead jumped off the dangerous cliff, was the one who survived to reproduce, as stupid as his actions seemed to the rest at the time. Perhaps he landed in the water down below, swam off and lived to produce some offspring, including you, while the rest of his clan ran headlong into the rest of the sabre tooth tigers. Sometimes even a bad plan can work out and prove to be the best choice.

Another, not so small factor that is responsible for Covid denial, in addition to a resurgence in the "flat earth" theory or even skepticism that men landed on the moon, is the fact that we now live in "post truth" society. Although most of us now carry a supercomputer in our pockets, we are inclined to use it in ways that do not make us any smarter. Our caveman ancestors didn't consult their phones to see if sabre tooth tigers were friendly or made good pets, they followed their own instincts, for better or worse. We now live in a world where anyone can find anything that confirms their own belief and be validated by their own clan of online supporters. If someone simply doesn't like wearing a mask they can instantly find a website that tells them all about how "masks cause carbon dioxide poisoning" for example, and even if it is complete nonsense, they run with it.

These might be some of the reasons, if he's not simply just a jerk, that cranky old Bob at the hardware store says he'll "never wear a damn mask", or why that group of kids, (we all know who they are), are still gathering to party, unless they're simply just being selfish.

Along with the internet perhaps we can also blame some of their behavior on their adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine. I'm not excusing their behavior though. If contrary thinking is really embedded in our DNA, so are a lot of other behaviors. The instinct to kill for example, is one that we as a society use laws and norms to regulate. If we are to survive this pandemic, or rather if more of us are to survive it, and if you really care, we must take a hard look at deep inside of ourselves and look at what we're made of.

We're much more than the four little nucleotides that make up our DNA, and the evolutionary baggage that they carry. We can overcome whatever it is in our DNA as well as become more discriminating consumers of information. Our very lives depend on it. We have numerous resources available at our fingertips to fact check the information that we absorb into our brains. Most of us wouldn't dream of buying a car without checking prices at multiple dealers, yet many choose to run with the first information we see on a subject if some element of it dovetails with our own beliefs.

We have the capacity to be better than this and to do the right thing, to do the things that are proven to save lives. There are times when contrary thinking and going against the flow might be beneficial to our survival and this is simply just not one of them.

So go on all you Ogs out there, go ahead and jump off that cliff, but please just leave the rest of us out of it.

© 2020 Nolen Hart

Comments

MG Singh from UAE on December 08, 2020:

Interesting article. The problem is in a democracy one can't enforce anything including wearing of masks. I find so many people think its not a danger.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 08, 2020:

My heart goes out to all of the overworked and stressed people in the medical field who are facing first-hand the deathly ill and dying patients of this Covid-19 pandemic. They are literally pleading with people to wear masks, wash hands, and stay socially distant during this time of extreme stress in our hospitals and clinics. I wish the Ogs would do their part to help!

billips from Central Texas on December 08, 2020:

Very interesting and informative article. I just wish Og didn't have such a large family.

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