Empty shelves and how we got here

As the saga of the “Corona Virus” continues to percolate throughout the world, a thought came to me as I was examining the empty shelves at one of Honolulu’s supermarkets.

Supermarket shelves in the paper goods aisles have been looking like this as of late
PC: Stan Fichtman/PHwSF

Outside of being irritated as all get out on how we went from calm to panic in the matter of hours, I was becoming more irritated about how people started interpreting messages about the virus, and its spread and its potential impact.

Those messages have mostly been coming from government. From the President to the Governor of Hawaii, every day there is some press conference, Tweet, press release or just a glib statement during a press gaggle. Through all of them, I have been listening very carefully as to what the officials were saying and what they were not saying.

But what I should have been paying attention to, instead, is the temperament of the people to even trust anything any government official says about this. Because as a good friend in social media in Hawaii, Ryan Ozawa, said in an interview in USA Today, and I quote: “ ’Local health officials told us not to panic buy and not to freak out,’ Ozawa, 45, communications director for tech firm Hawaii Information Service, said, ‘and that was enough to get us to go out and buy everything.’ “

And that is what is really bugging me about this episode of the virus – that it don’t matter what a government official says, no one trusts them!

So, my question is how did we get to the point where the word of a government official who says “don’t worry”, is translated to “we’re all about to die”. I have a few thoughts on that.

  1. After so many years, the idea of never trusting anything a leader says has finally penetrated into the core programming of people. The blame of who is responsible for this is so long that I could do a Ph.D. thesis on just some of them. But here are a couple:
  2. We have government officials who have only proven to the people that they are only performing the number one job of all politicians: to get re-elected. Especially for our local politicians in Hawaii, the amount of pandering for their all-important vote has broken the trust of more people than I think even our local politicians would like to admit.
  3. We have a punditry class that is so widespread and diverse – from keyboard warriors on social media to talking heads on the major news networks, that truly muck up any critical thinking on the issues. Everyone has an opinion. The amplification of those opinions along with a binary “agree or disagree” mentality is driving more people to give up and just “follow the crowd”.
Hording creates signs like this. But unlike a hurricane, this run on the stores is being caused by an electorate with zero trust in it’s government
PC: Stan Fichtman/PHwSF

What leads me from thoughtful questions to anger is the fact that the election is mere months away. I am angry because despite the fact that the people truly don’t trust anyone in power right now, there is no critical questions to the “new kids” running for offices – from City Council/Mayor to Legislature & Congress – of “what are you going to do to re-instill trust” in government.

Unless we start asking that question, and figure out what we really want in a trustworthy politician, we are going to face this same “panic attack” behavior in society again, and again, and again.

And that is something I don’t think we should look forward to, or expect, as a learned society of voters.