Covid: Overly Cautiousness Versus Ideology

Ian Mitroff
4 min readFeb 22, 2024

I’m publishing this series of articles to share and discuss my ruminations on coping with a troubled and messy world. You can “follow” me to never miss an article.

Pamela Paul, with whom I generally agree, has written an Op-Ed with which I find my self in only partial agreement[i]. Indeed, I disagree on several major points.

If I understand it correctly, the gist of her argument is that Partisan Ideological differences between Progressives in mainly Blue States versus Ultra-Conservatives in Red States were responsible for how they reacted to the Pandemic. If anything, she accuses Public Health Officials for bowing too much to the ill-advised pressures exerted by Progressives. Thus, it was not necessary to have children not attend School in person, to be overly obsessed with wearing Masks, etc.

The point is that where she views the Splits as due to Ideology, I see them as due to mainly being overly Cautious, the side on which I lean.

One of the things on which I strongly agree is her calling attention to the narrow Mindset of Public Health Agencies:

“Last summer, Francis Collins, the former head of the National Institutes of Health, admitted that the ‘public health mind set’ had been too narrowly focused, which he now calls a mistake. ‘You attach a zero value to whether this totally disrupts people’s lives, ruins the economy, and has many kids kept out of school in a way that they never quite recovered, he said’.”

Later-on she writes:

“Scientists should have made more nuanced risk assessments and revisited them regularly. They should have taken into account the consequences and the disproportionate effects of strict lockdowns on lower-income workers and at-risk youth. This zero-sum mode of thinking — neglecting to take into account one’s own biases, succumbing to groupthink, operating according to one’s expectations of one’s ‘side’, discouraging good-faith debate — persisted as the pandemic eased.”

This is where I both agree and disagree. Of course, better and more comprehensive Risk Assessments needed to have been made and revisited regularly. But as I’ve written about so often, those in the Public Health Sector are not particularly good or equipped to consider all of the Social Factors and Consequences of their actions and decisions. Still, it’s unfair to lay the blame entirely on them. To be sure, they are the prisoners of their narrow Education. And, we all suffer greatly because of it.

While I agree that it does us no good to see things in strict Black and White terms, with Good Guys on one side, and Bad Guys on the other, Ms. Paul needs to have an understanding of the Phenomenon of Splitting, especially why it’s an accompaniment of virtually all troublesome events.

First discovered and formulated by the eminent Child Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, Splitting results from the fact that very young Children Split the image of the Mother into a Good versus a Bad Mother. The Good Mother is always “there” to cater to the Child’s every need. The Bad Mother is she who cannot always be there as the Child desires. Eventually, the Child grows out of the Split between the Good and Bad mother. But in times of great stress, Splitting rears its ugly head.

To be perfectly honest, I’m no more free of Splitting than the next person. Thus, I don’t fault Progressives for being overly cautious when it comes to the Pandemic, but I do blame Conservatives for not being cautious enough. Indeed, I see Conservatives as mainly concerned about themselves and not the Greater Good.

[i] Pamela Paul, “Public Health Officials Can’t Risk the Public’s Faith,” The New York Times, Friday, January 19, 2024, P A19.

Ian I. Mitroff is credited as being one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management. He has a BS, MS, and a PhD in Engineering and the Philosophy of Social Systems Science from UC Berkeley. He Is Professor Emeritus from the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Currently, he is a Senior Research Affiliate in the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, UC Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Management. He has published 41 books. His latest is: The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons from Covid, Springer, New York, 2022.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash