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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/29/20

The Costs of Limited Awareness

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From To Ihe Point Analyses

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Part I -- Trying to Understand

In 2009 I published a book titled Foreign Policy Inc. in which I tried to answer the question, among others, Why do Americans pay so little attention to foreign policy? Here is part of the answer as quoted from the book: "Most Americans do not pay attention to foreign policy issues except when they appear to impinge on their lives. This " is because, under normal circumstances, a person's consciousness is acculturated to a particular place and time. Localness [which here we equate with a limited awareness of the broader world] is, if you will, a natural default position. " As to our immediate daily environment, we can be responsible for assessing things accurately. Beyond the horizon, however, the issue of information and its reliability lies in the hands of others."

We can apply the reality of "natural localism" or limited awareness, to much more than popular disinterest in foreign policy. The same observation goes a long way to explaining at least some of the popular disregard for Covid-19, and the success of the misinformation campaigns underlying the popularity of Donald Trump and his Republican Party. Let's first look at public uncertainty over COVID-19.

Part II -- Uncertainty over COVID-19

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently (12 October 2020) published a detailed article -- about public ambiguity over COVID-19. It is titled "Don't know any COVID-19 patients who've died or been in the hospital? That may explain a lot." The gist of the piece is as follows:

"Seven months into the pandemic, it's no secret that plenty of people still downplay the risks of COVID-19, scoffing at mask-wearing and social distancing."

Contributing to this skepticism are Republican disbelief, pandemic fatigue, and threats to livelihood (i.e., restaurant business, etc.).

"But a more fundamental reason for the uneven support of COVID-19 prevention measures may lie in simple math: Despite more than 200,000 deaths and 400,000 hospitalizations in the United States, an Inquirer analysis suggests that in much of the country, the typical person knows no one in either of those categories."

"Human beings are notoriously poor at evaluating risk, particularly when the threat in question is more abstract."

Actually, people are quite good at risk assessment when the issue is local and concrete. We can think of this in Darwinian terms. In the course of evolution the human mind developed primarily to master the local environment. Paying attention to our local arena supplies us with the knowledge necessary to make useful and usually successful decisions and predictions, secure sustenance, and avoid danger. In other words, a natural concentration on what is local has survival value. There are hardwired biological aspects to this orientation, as well as environmental knowledge acquired through personal experience and the amount and quality of the information available to us day to day.

Thus, in terms of the Covid-19 pandemic, taking the threat seriously and adopting safe behavior can be roughly correlated t"ccccccccal circumstances, a person's consciousness is acculturated to a particular place and time. Localness [which here we equate with a limited awareness of the broader world] is, if you will, a natural default position. ... As to our immediate daily environment, we can be responsible for assessing things accurately. Beyond the horizon, however, the issue of information and its reliability lies in the hands of others."

We can apply the reality of "natural localism" or limited awareness, to much more than popular disinterest in foreign policy. The same observation goes a long way to explaining at least some of the popular disregard for Covid-19, and the success of the misinformation campaigns underlying the popularity of Donald Trump and his Republican Party. Let's first look at public uncertainty over COVID-19.

Part II -- Uncertainty over COVID-19

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Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign
Policy Inc.: Privatizing America's National Interest
; America's
Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli
Statehood
; and Islamic Fundamentalism. His academic work is focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He also teaches courses in the history of science and modern European intellectual history.

His blog To The Point Analyses now has its own Facebook page. Along with the analyses, the Facebook page will also have reviews, pictures, and other analogous material.

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