COMMENTARY / Luis Ángel Díaz Robredo*.
It may seem sarcastic to some, and even cruel, to hear that these circumstances of a global pandemic by COVID-19 are interesting times for social and individual psychology. And it may be even stranger to take these difficult times into account when establishing relations with the security and defence of states.
First of all, we must point out the obvious: the current circumstances are exceptional, as we have never before known a threat to health that has transcended such diverse and decisive areas as the global Economics , international politics, geo-strategy, industry, demography... Individuals and institutions were not prepared a few months ago and, even today, we are dealing with them with a certain degree of improvisation. The fees mortality and contagion rates have skyrocketed and the resources mobilised by the public administration are unknown to date. Without going any further, the Balmis operation -mission statement of support against the pandemic, organised and executed by the Ministry of Defence - has deployed 20,000 interventions, during 98 days of state of alarm and with a total of 188,713 military personnel mobilised.
In addition to the health work of disinfection, logistics and health support, there have been other tasks more typical of social control, such as the presence of the military in the streets and at critical points or reinforcement at borders. This work, which some people may find disconcerting due to its unusual nature of authority over the population itself, is justified by atypical group behaviour that we have observed since the beginning of the pandemic. Suffice it to cite a few Spanish examples that reflect how at certain times there has been behaviour that is not very logical for social imitation, such as the accumulation of basic necessities (food) or not so basic necessities (toilet paper) that emptied supermarket shelves for a few hours.
There have also been moments of lack of solidarity and even some social tension due to the fear of contagion against vulnerable groups, such as elderly people with COVID-19 who were transferred from one town to another and were booed by the neighbourhood that received them and had to be escorted by the police. Also, infrequently but equally negative and unsupportive, there have been cases in which some health workers suffered fear and rejection by their neighbours. And lately, the sanctioning and arrest of people who did not respect the rules of social distance and individual protection has been another common action of the authorities and State Security Forces and Corps. These events, which fortunately have been limited and dealt with quickly by the authorities, have been far outweighed by many other positive social behaviours of solidarity, altruism and generosity among citizens.
However, since national security must consider not only ideal scenarios but also situations with shortcomings or potential risks, these social variables must be taken into account when establishing a strategy.
Secondly, the flow of information has been a veritable tsunami of forces and interests that have overwhelmed the information capacities of entire societies, business groups and even individuals. Official media, private media, social networks and even anonymous groups with destabilising interests have competed in this game for citizens' attention. If this status has shown anything, it is that too much information can be as disabling as too little information, and that even the use of false, incomplete or somehow manipulated information makes us more susceptible to influence by the public.
This poses clear dangers to social stability, the operation of health services, the facilitation of organised crime and even the mental health of the population.
Thirdly and finally, we cannot forget that society and our institutions - including those related to security and defence - have their greatest weakness and strength based on the people who make them up. If there is one thing that the pandemic is putting at test it is the psychological strength of individuals due to the circumstance of uncertainty about the present and future, management fear of illness and death, and an innate need for attachment to social relationships. Our ability to cope with this new VUCA (Vulnerability, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) scenario that affects each and every social and professional
social and professional environments requires a strong leadership style, adapted to this demanding status , authentic and based on group values. There is no unilateral solution today, except through the efforts of many. It is not empty words to affirm that the resilience of a society, of an Armed Forces or of a human group , is based on working together, fighting together, suffering together, with a cohesion and a team work properly trained.
That said, we can understand that psychological variables - at the individual and grouplevels - are at play in this pandemic status and that we can and should use the knowledge provided by Psychology as a serious science, adapted to real needs and in a constructive spirit, to plan the tactics and strategy of the current and future scenarios arising from Covid-19.
Undoubtedly, these are interesting times for psychology.
* Luis Ángel Díaz Robredo is a professor at Schoolof Educationand Psychology at the University of Navarra.