Living in Society

Low Information Consensus

Lilacs leafing out, April 15, 2021.

An administrative law judge ruled in favor of a bar and grill employee who quit and filed for unemployment because supervisors would not follow protocols for operating their business during the coronavirus pandemic.

She requested the workplace follow COVID-19 guidelines, they didn’t, and she quit and filed for unemployment, according to Clark Kaufmann at Iowa Capitol Dispatch. The judge ruled that a reasonable person would have believed that the working conditions were unsafe and detrimental. She was awarded unemployment compensation.

Owner Kevin Kruse’s quote in the article is telling:

“I think this whole COVID thing was blown out of proportion for no worse than what it was,” Kruse said. “To me, this virus was not scientifically identified and the media just ran off with it like they did. People that would have had it — it would have been no different than having a bad case of the flu. And that is the common consensus of everybody that has come into this place throughout this whole last year.”

Clark Kaufmann, Iowa Capitol Dispatch, April 13, 2021.

This bears repeating: “the common consensus of everybody that has come into this place throughout this whole last year.” While not an example of scientific methods, this is the way many Iowans make decisions. A majority that includes folks like Kruse elected Republicans in the 2020 general election.

There is a utopian impulse in American life in which groups seek to separate from broader society to survive and thrive on their own. It shows itself in the manifest destiny myth, in our outlook toward business startups, and in things as simple as setting up a home. We have a fundamental belief in systems and our role as chief actors in them. The example of Iowa’s remade landscape and the farms and businesses that now populate it offers no more perfect example of utopian creations. I don’t know Mr. Kruse but it sounds like his business was founded on such a utopian impulse, whether he recognizes it or not.

Utopian impulses are commonplace, yet utopian projects or communities, for the most part, have not been enduring. While people continue to make life decisions based on the “consensus of everybody that has come into this place,” the inherent denial of the rest of society will bring with it a reckoning. The insular nature of enclaves like a single business or social gathering, especially as it excludes tolerance of diverse beliefs and adaptations based on scientific inquiry, will reduce the longevity of such groups. In the meanwhile it can be hell to live where such views dominate, as the judge affirmed.

The freedoms of living in the United States include the freedom to be poorly informed about society writ large. To the degree I respect and tolerate low information consensus, I hope its hegemony will be suppressed. I trust society can and will shake off such views.

I also hope my trust is well placed. As English theologian Thomas Fuller noted, “the darkest hour is just before the dawn.”