We’re so close to being out of the woods. People are getting vaccinated and more and more governments are adopting “first doses first.”

All we have to do is to behave ourselves for a few more months.

But we’re not.

Well, some of us are. But many of us aren’t.

People in places with community spread are going on vacation.

They’re ignoring health guidelines.

They’re flouting restrictions.

They’re lobbying political leaders to relax restrictions.

What seems to be missing for so many of these people is the reason for the restrictions.

For people who are not at high risk in terms of this pandemic, the health guidelines and restrictions are not for us. They’re not to keep us safe.

Well, they will help keep us safe, but the vast majority of us healthy people will not die from this.

Rather, the restrictions and guidelines exist so we don’t spread it around. So we don’t kill other people.

But a whole bunch of us seem to be okay with killing other people, either because we can’t conceive of how we could potentially be spreading COVID – especially if we’ve never had symptoms!!! – or because we don’t believe we could be responsible.

Why is this?

The Just World Fallacy

For a couple of years, I’ve been writing about the “just world fallacy,” the fallacious belief that the world is actually fair.

The universe punishes bad behaviour and rewards good behaviour. And anything that disproves this must be explained away. (For example, victim-blaming is a way of explaining why people suffer for no reason in a fair universe.)

One of the things I’ve discovered about it is that it’s not exactly a belief in the objective fairness of the world.

Rather, often it is a belief in the subjective fairness of the world.

People who tacitly believe in a just world don’t quite believe in a just world for everyone. Rather, they believe in a world that is just in favour of them, and their friends and family, or their tribe/in-group.

So the world is fair. But it that fairness bends towards us and ours.

And that’s the prism through which I feel like I can make sense of people being okay with their behaviour potentially resulting in deaths.

It’s All Abstract

Of course, the main reason is that because the pandemic is still an abstraction for most of us.

Approximately 22,000 people have died in Canada in the last year from the coronavirus.

But it’s really easy to reframe that as “only 22,000 people” because I don’t know these people.

I know one guy who definitely had it (he was tested) but he was asymptomatic, and I know people who know people who had it.

I don’t know anyone who has died.

So it would be really easy to decide that it’s not a big deal.

And it’s really easy to choose to believe that my behaviour cannot possibly contribute to the problem.

But that’s not all of it. The perception of unfairness is a huge part of it.

Masks and Restrictions are Just Unfair

They’re unfair because I didn’t do anything. I didn’t cause this problem and I’m not sick.

When I fail to follow health guidelines, or when I protest or violate or complain about restrictions, this doesn’t actually hurt other people because I am not sick.

I am not the problem. It’s somebody else.

This is where the Just World Fallacy comes in.

I’ve behaved myself. But those other people, who got sick, did something to deserve it.

So why should I have my freedom restricted?

And why should the businesses in my town go out of business?

I’m a good citizen, I care about my community. I don’t want economic problems. And, again, I’m not sick.

We can reframe this as someone else’s problem: a problem of those who are sick and should have known better. Or a problem of governments not doing enough earlier or not doing enough in the right places. We can reframe it as a problem that only affects others because we’re hale and hearty and understand the risk.


Of course, we don’t understand risk. We’re quite bad at understanding risks and the last year provides an absolute ton of evidence for that.

But, millions of deaths later (yes, millions), that’s not why many of us are still behaving badly. Rather, it’s because we think it’s someone else’s problem. And we think that because we think the world is fair, and we haven’t done anything to deserve any of this.

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