I have borrowed the following from an article in Psychology Today by David Rock. Headed “A Hunger for Certainty” and dealing with brain processes, Dr. Rock wrote: “A sense of uncertainty about the future generates a strong threat or alert response in your limbic system. Your brain detects something is wrong, and your ability to focus on other issues diminishes. Your brain doesn’t like uncertainty - it’s like a type of pain, something to be avoided. Certainty on the other hand feels rewarding, and we tend to steer toward it, even when it might be better for us to remain uncertain.”
The crisis, it hardly needs saying, has generated enormous amounts of uncertainty. However well (or not) we are dealing with the crisis, we are all experiencing it, and it is an uncertainty which is compounded by a lack of clarity as to the way forward and by what can often seem like contradictory statements, observations and reports. There is contradiction, and this is itself a consequence of uncertainty.
Based on what Dr. Rock had to say, there are inevitably situations provoked by the crisis when individuals will wish to avoid the pain of uncertainty. They wish to be rewarded by certainty. They don’t want contradiction or lack of clarity, but when they get this, the response is to lash out or criticise, neglecting the obvious but painful truth that we are all - you, me, governments, businesses - operating according to a rule book of uncertainties. Give me clarity, give me certainty. Don’t give me contradictions and maybes. It would be lovely not to have to, but these are extraordinary times, for which uncertainties dominate for the glaringly simple reasons that these are times which have not been experienced before and thousands of people have been dying.
Let’s take one issue - that of air travel for tourism. It has been rife with contradiction and it still is. The Spanish government has supplied its own contradictions. There was, for instance, the employment minister, Yolanda Díaz, who suggested that there wouldn’t be any tourism until December. At roughly the same time as Sra. Díaz was making this observation, the transport minister was talking about moving tourism ahead as soon as it would be safe to do so and about the creation of so-called health corridors from Germany. The implication, if not the certainty, was that this would be tourism well before Sra. Díaz was contemplating it, as in some time in the summer.
There is one thing that can be stated with certainty regarding air travel to Spain for tourism or indeed any other commercial purpose - there is no date. The assumption is that there will be from July, but assumption isn’t certainty and nor does it provide clarity in respect of where this travel might be from and under what conditions. But within this assumption come the apparent contradictions, at least one of which has been permitted by the Spanish government. Regions, the Balearics in particular, may be able to request that this travel is earlier. May be able to; it is unclear. But as there is no actual clarity regarding air travel to Spain, how can it really be possible to speak about travel to a specific region being in an advance of a date that hasn’t been clarified?
On top of this, there are contradictions provided by the likes of Lufthansa. The airline has said that it is preparing to fly from the first of June and that Majorca is one of the destinations. Lufthansa may well be preparing, but preparation is not the same thing as doing. How could Lufthansa do this, when a general ease of mobility within Spain will not be permitted by the start of June? There is nothing in the de-escalation plan phases about a lifting of air travel restrictions.
Some weeks ago now, we had the Balearic tourism minister, Iago Negueruela, intimating that there would be a very moderate start to tourism in August. He is now arguing the case for there to be no difference between national and foreign tourism. Because restrictions on travel between Spain’s provinces will be lifted when Phase 3 ends, national tourism could in theory commence as early as 22 June. The Negueruela view is that foreign tourism should coincide with it, subject to protocols, health situation, etc. But is this not a contradiction of what he had said about August? Yes, but then the uncertainty and the fluidity of extraordinary circumstances are bound to generate contradiction.
We should today learn about the European Commission’s roadmap for tourism. This may give some certainty, and while this certainty will feel like a reward for those who want the pain of uncertainty removed, as Dr. Rock shrewdly observed, it might be better for us to remain uncertain, if this certainty were to inflict further pain of a more damaging type.
Still, fourteen days of self-isolation might avoid this further pain, though for how long or how short this provision will last is of course uncertain, while there are likely to be reciprocal arrangements which remove the need for quarantine. Contradictions, contradictions ...