Fighting Coronavirus Feels Like Fighting a War. That Might Bring Us Together

Jamil Zaki: For decades, psychologists have wondered how far this can go. Can we stretch the diameter of “us” to include all of humanity? One difficulty is that groups are often defined by common enemies — many versions of “us” require a “them.” In economic experiments, individuals act more generously toward their own team when competing with another; in the United States, volunteering shot up following 9/11. Threats from outside remind insiders of their shared fate and deepen their commitments to one another. Call it wartime compassion. Wartime compassion seems to have a hard ceiling. The only way it could extend across our entire species would be for Earth to be invaded by hostile extraterrestrials. Or so it seemed. The covid-19 pandemic is the closest one can imagine to that science fiction scenario.

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