Why are we even more polarised now than before the pandemic? — a short note

At the beginning of the pandemic a thought crossed our minds: would Covid-19 bring us closer together? Would the spiral of polarisation fade? The past two years have taught us the opposite: it is tearing us further apart, and we are more polarised than before.

What are the mechanisms that interact here?

It has mostly to do with the state of the so-called Zoom class and how far removed they are from normal people.

It is the Zoom class that is deep in a crisis of meaning, and many of them had already turned to wokeism as a substitute for dwindling religiosity.

The Zoom class had already lost touch with most ordinary citizens before the pandemic, living geographically separated in large metropolises. The last 40 years of deindustrialisation have created a huge cultural gap between the postmodern values of the academic (now Zoom) class and ordinary people, who have not changed that much. The Zoom class just doesn’t understand the values of ordinary people anymore and thinks they are stupid, racist and misogynistic.

When the virus started circulating in the Western world in February 2020, the Zoom class found a perfect moral ground in social distancing and wearing masks, and later in vaccination. Those who were already woke now became medically woke and other members of the elites who were more conservative and opposed to wokeness now joined the cause of medical wokeness. While they sat alone in their comfortable homes, medical wokeness and teaching the rest of the world how to behave gave meaning to their lives.

The Zoom class could easily move from pre-Covid life to lockdown life because they sat in their comfortable homes with mostly secure incomes, while ordinary people had to continue their normal work in the physical world, often to serve the Zoom class in their homes with goods and services while wearing uncomfortable masks all day.

Lockdowns were only possible because the Zoom class was comfortable, could afford it and could impose it on the rest of the world.

Social media algorithms polarised us before the pandemic, but during the pandemic we became even more isolated from other people and even less exposed to viewpoint diversity. Our ideological bubbles became even tighter and the absurd moralising crusade of the Zoom class even more intense.

Ordinary people understood early on that the official narrative had many cracks, and they saw how socially unjust the lockdowns were. Some of them have certainly fallen for crazy conspiracy theories, but most are guided by very common sense. They know that lockdowns and masks don’t do much positive, and they have learned that vaccines are not the magic bullet.

They have had enough of the self-righteous behaviour of the Zoom class. As a result of all this, the loss of trust in the elites and the institutions they run is immense and will be difficult to heal.

These developments make it more urgent than ever to create spaces where honest conversation can happen about the world we want to inhabit. We have to grow beyond our ideological bubbles if we want to meet the considerable challenges we face in our societies. When we question our preconceptions, we tap into new ways of seeing and new insights that can make a significant impact. This is why we have founded the Protopia Lab. Check it out!

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Micha Narberhaus

Micha Narberhaus is a researcher, writer and founder of The Protopia Lab. protopialab.org. Twitter: @michanarberhaus