Elimination as a strategy

We all like to control our environment. It makes us feel safe. The problem is we all seek to do that in our own way, and by default no one can ever control our environment to the extent that they might wish. If collectively we were successful there would be no uncertainly, no risk, no competition, no challenge and therefore no meaningful life.

While we pursue elimination as a strategy, there is compromised life and a different form of uncertainty. Some of us hate flies and cockroaches, and we seek to eliminate them. Most hate rats, maybe because they carry Bubonic Plague, and we seek to eliminate them all.  And we have failed with almost all such eliminations which we planned.

Then of course we have thought control, or the elimination of contrary opinion. It is not acceptable to have a view on global warming that is contrary to the pack view, nor is it acceptable to have a view on gender bias, or diversity contrary to the common view, nor is it acceptable to have a contrary view on the worlds approach to managing Covid.

In past times those in ‘control’ sought to silence such minority views with physical force. For example, if you were opposed to the world wars of the last century, and if you were male and refused to engage, you were imprisoned, or worse. Many of the females (the ‘gentler’ gender) actively engaged in physiological means to force compliance. The ‘white feather’ (click here to view what a white feather means).

The communists in China had re-education camps, the Soviets had their own form of extermination camps. Stalin was the master of purges for those that he feared and despised. Intriguingly, one of his most feared class of humans were intellectuals, and in particular, doctors. 

Now elimination takes a different form, ridicule, fake news, science as a new religion, much of it delivered through social media, all used to discredit other views. The current equivalent of the ‘white feather’.

Covid, Delta, and lockdowns have all brought out these human responses. The Government doesn’t help with its own fake promises of elimination either. Humans have never been able to eliminate thought conflict, people that they don’t like or others that they fear, nor pests. 

Humans are a source of constant contradiction. While we seek to eliminate dissent, we carve diversity in workplaces, leadership, and governance.

Now to biodiversity, we seek to protect endangered species, yet we seek to eliminate bacteria and viruses. Are viruses and bacteria not part of planet earths diversity? Of course, they are. Is it right for us to aspire to eliminate these organisms while we want to protect others? Who are we to believe we have the right to alter our environment in this way?

Well of course we believe we can and therefore we should. This is the essence of aspiration and the desire to control. We have altered our environment for as long as we have had tools and fire.

That which we choose to eliminate, or preserve is based on our perception of desirability, and/or capacity for harm to ourselves. With Humans on humans, it is simply us and ‘them’, with the ‘them’ being those we fear or disagree with. 

In short, we only celebrate diversity when it is non-threatening. When it is threatening, we seek to eliminate. In a nutshell, much of human behaviour is contradictory and hypocritical. Let’s not beat ourselves up, it has always been that way.

With viruses we have pursued elimination strategies before. Think of Smallpox. In remote communities and third world countries, Smallpox exists. It is not eliminated. It is managed and contained. Because we seek self-preservation, it is of course appropriate to try and manage such threats. But false promises of elimination, are wrongly setting misleading expectations of what the future state looks like.

The current threat

Now to Covid. The current threat at the forefront of our minds. New Zealand pursued an ‘elimination’ strategy in 2020, and that ‘promise’ failed. So here we are again. Why is that?

It’s simple. Elimination as a strategy only works if everyone around the world agrees and adheres to the strategy. While we are still divided on global warming and carbon emissions, what do you realistically think the chances are of us uniting against a virus? The biggest impediment to pursing such a strategy globally is economics, aspiration, and poverty. The same issues that confront us in an accord on carbon.

Vaccination, well that is a different discussion. To be effective, vaccination rates must be above 80%, and that is not elimination, it is just management. The efficacy of the current vaccination is yet to be established fully and will likely become an annual event for all of us. Further the fear of this particular virus might actually make vaccination compulsory. For example, vaccination certificates might need to be displayed to travel, shop, or even walk the streets. Imagine a world where on each street corner you are addressed with ‘papers’. A world where anti vaccinators and those not vaccinated are compelled to wear a symbol on the sleeve of their jackets? Sound familiar? (Nazi occupied Europe).

When we are driven by fear, identifying ‘us’ and ‘them’ becomes an obsession.

The management

If we can accept that global elimination is improbable, the only way we can eliminate it in New Zealand is to close our boarders, and not allow anyone or anything in at all, until the virus is eliminated globally, or our vaccination rate is in the 90-percentile range, while ensuring that those not vaccinated are identified.

Why is that? Because half open borders and managed Quarantine requires humans to adhere to   transmission protocols and infection control standards continuously to 100%. Humans are not that good, nor that focused or robotically capable.

So, if we are to pursue elimination of Delta in New Zealand, we have to endure the short-term pain of this lockdown, then endure the long-term pain of closed boarders and/or we have to take the first step to a challenging society where we are continuously asked for ‘papers’.

As we know, our living standards and quality of life will drop considerably under this scenario, and that is the price we will pay for this strategy. This will manifest itself in massive costs of vaccination which will likely be continuous, a massive rise in security spending, a large supply chain disruption and stock outs and queues to enter shops without stock. It sounds like Soviet Moscow in the 60’s. Crown debt will balloon, and inflation will rise from printing money, until either the currency or the Government collapse. That of course will cause its own political and social unrest, or dystopia. While this won’t end well for the majority, we will save the few from death and illness. This is a debate we can’t have, without being ridiculed.

Or we continue with this half-way house scenario, accept the inconvenience of MIQ, and accept that we will be having these enforced close downs periodically. If it is once every second year it will be likely that 10% of our existence will be living like this for the foreseeable future. This is the cost that the majority are prepared to pay to preserve our loved ones, at least for the moment.

But this too, has a cost. GDP drops by around 6% pa. and to pay for it, Crown debt rises by $10b pa, or taxes do, or more money is printed. Then we have asset inflation, followed by price inflation, which causes harm to society, or we have a Crown debt crisis, similar to Greece in 2009. Pensions get adjusted downwards and probably while prices are going up. All ugly, but it takes a long while to play out.

Of course, we can expect depression to rise, suicides likewise, business and team cohesion to erode, and fear to become a more dominate emotion with humans maximising selfish behaviour. Think toilet paper on steroids! Trust will likely erode in both government and business institutions alike.

All of this is beyond individual or organisational control. It will be what it will be, and it is what it is. While being aware and realistic is important, don’t let fear of what ‘might be’ disable you.

The choice is yours

If we focus on caring for our small teams and giving them a sense that they belong to a tribe that will protect and nurture them, and from that, build loyalty and cohesion, we will have a better chance of survival and prospering.

If in our interactions with others we seek to collaborate and support rather than compete, and do so selflessly we will build trust, loyalty, and community. 

For example, if you have more work than you can do, engage with a competitor who does not have enough work, and partner with them. If there is a supply shortage and you have accumulated excessive inventory, supply your competitors so they can complete their work.

This is the gift that can come out of this new way of living if we choose it.

And not everyone will of course. If others choose not to behave in this way, but instead behave transactionally rather than relationally, we each have the choice not to deal with them. Let them deal with their own kind.

Isolation can damage and change identity

We are going to be working and doing business differently for a long time. We must get better at engaging and creating connectivity and identity when we get our people together. Telling stories and sharing experiences is a great way to do this.

While at home or in isolation, it is a great time to reflect on what matters to you, and your organisation and what you miss when you are with each other.

Take time out to reflect on the stories you have of belonging to your team and what makes it special for you. 

We can each control what we think, we can find a space where optimism trumps fear.

Focus on what it will be like in a years’ time in an imaginary future. Think about what you carry forward into that future. That which you value today making it better than it was before.

Keep walking, these things have all happened before and they do pass.

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