Why Our Stability, Reliability, and Safety Are Now at the Precipice
What if every year, plane crashes killed more people than the entire population of Salt Lake City, Utah, a city of over 200,000 people?
Would we as a nation be angered, if not outraged, and not want to fix a problem of this magnitude?
The reason why the aviation industry does not face this staggering death toll is because it has achieved what is needed to become a High Reliability Organization (HRO). HROs strive to eliminate catastrophic errors, focusing on safety checklists and protocols being developed, remembered, and — above all — enacted. Teamwork and scientifically proven technology have been the keys to aviation’s enviable safety record. However, what if the passengers constantly bang on the cockpit door? Or worse, disregard all protocols and barge through? That is the analogy we confront in public health and public safety today.
We would think that an HRO would be the goal for both healthcare and for public safety in the United States. However, what we are facing in the nation currently can be considered a mass casualty event, one that evidence shows was avoidable to a significant extent. In terms of a 200,000+ level of preventable deaths in this pandemic, based on a recent study from Columbia University , the U.S. public safety response is far from approaching an HRO — and in fact is going in the opposite direction.
Our own study was to understand why people will allow — and even enable — catastrophic failures by their leaders which ultimately bring them harm, rather than opting for a scientifically proven means to public safety embraced by the Department of Defense such as a High Reliability Organization. Research has suggested that this is due to the allure of, and addiction to, psychopathic leaders. Tragically, leaders that can bring out the worst in people, rather than the best, can negatively and tremendously impact the eventual number of lives lost from preventable deaths, especially during mass casualty events.
The consequences of this inability to deal with dangerous problems even when they are mass casualty events are what some would call willful negligence. But that is the legal perspective. From a scientific and engineering viewpoint, our research has shown that there must be crucial factors addressed to overcome a growing phenomenon that could become an existential threat to every citizen in the nation.
The factors that are too often neglected when creating a High Reliability Organization are the psychosocial factors. These factors can be barriers to, and thus be make-or-break for, the successful security offered by an HRO. The chief reason is because they impact the perception and performance of critical steps necessary for people to save their own life, the lives of people they care about, and, if they stop to think about it, preserving the society on which they rely to support their way of life.
Being both willing as well as able to execute protective measures are crucial to safety and well-being, and also Americans’ quest for the U.S. Constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. However, we here in this nation seem to be experiencing not only apathy but, alarmingly, even hostility to measures intended to serve both society and also the individual. Balancing the freedom to with the freedom from has never been easy, but since the advent of pioneering scientific discoveries during and after World War 2, when American ingenuity was necessary to defeat the genocidal Nazi regime and to help rebuild the world, it has never seemed so difficult. Cooperation to solve extremely challenging and life-threatening problems requires relying on one another to do what is best for both the individual and the group. That notion now seems distant, and getting farther away with each passing year.
Perhaps one reason for this breakdown can be found in the psychosocial factors. They can adversely impact a given population’s compliance with public health and public safety measures (e.g., mask-wearing during an epidemic), and lead to large-scale unnecessary deaths or debilitations of individuals, and other associated calamities, such as economic collapse and social unrest.
When viewed from the vantage point of public safety, the fact that members of society can behave against their own long-term interests, even when checklists and best practices that are given to the public have been shown to prevent catastrophic outcomes, significantly reduces the ability to achieve an HRO. And this consequently negates the value of any HRO initiative, as one might expect.
But why is this? Would people not want to learn and remember what to do in a crisis, and then want to do that when the time comes, such as when a hurricane is approaching, or when flooding is predicted, given their lives are at stake? There are several reasons for this failure to act toward self-preservation, but there are some that have not received enough attention.
The Key Psychosocial Challenges in Humans
A recent documentary that is currently popular on Netflix is “The Social Dilemma”. It details the phenomenon associated with mental and social decline that can be traced to social media and smartphones  and “dopamine hits” users get, which is a vulnerability the technologies exploit. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter produced in the brain that is also known as the motivation molecule.
Based on our research, the ability to detect and process data has been crucial to the evolutionary survival of humans since our inception. On the prehistoric plains and savannahs we roamed in our earliest forms, data stimuli was valuable for finding food, finding mates, or avoiding predators. Dopamine helped motivate us to pursue those goals. At that time, the more data we had and harnessed, the better we survived. During that prehistoric period, our stimuli were perhaps once a day. Now, however, technology can make it once a minute…or more. The problem is our minds have not kept up, so we can’t process the data fully nor harness it as effectively.
Yet we are drawn in to overload on data (for the dopamine hits) like a moth to a flame. One result is too often we are no longer patient for self-reflection and self-evaluation. Another consequence is that it lowers the mental capacity for creative problem-solving (i.e., “connecting the dots”), and also the willpower needed to use that capacity and execute toward solving a problem. So in the context of HROs, people won’t be able to avoid nor extricate from a crisis. We become blocked from careful thinking and judgment by the human trait of craving information and stimuli all the way to the point of information overload (or, technically, cognitive overload). This beneficial trait from our past is now a serious flaw.
So humans, as constructed today, are simply wired for data addiction. Data curiosity that originally led to our species’ survival and carried forward by natural selection has now led to the burnout that sustained levels overload do to our minds (actually harming a key part of the brain that encodes memories called the hippocampus). This means we can’t retain nor process new data well, and can’t recall past data to enhance the meaning and connect the dots for the data received. This ultimately reduces our ability to reason, and this burnout also leads to a loss of impulse control that comes from mental exhaustion (e.g., it is often harder to diet and exercise after a mentally draining workday).
This inability to reason, critically think, and filter is also leading to an epidemic of dangerous misinformation being spread throughout society, eroding the ability make informed decisions and good choices. Everyone has heard of how something that goes viral can become a feeding frenzy of anger, and can lead to actual lynch mobs in nations like India. Also, how social media can promote harmful misconceptions, or outright lies (such as the QAnon theories of large major portions of a population being pedophiles and cannibals) until they become pervasive thinking in segments of the nation.
One could consider these vicious and false rumors as a way to dehumanize opponents to justify any perceptions of and actions against them. Eventually it leads to mutual hatred, as occurred in Hitler’s Germany, as Nazism took hold. In some sense, it can be viewed as societal self-destruction or a “suicide cult”, but before that, it becomes each individual’s “kill the enemy before they can kill you” axiom, even if the “they” are neighbors that could assist in a crisis or even become greatly beneficial in other ways in the future. The bottom line is that it is usually self-defeating, as past nations’ implosions have shown.
Ironically, this may not occur during “things are bad” periods (i.e., what Germany experienced in the wake of its loss in World War 1, its economy reeling), but perhaps even more so during periods of relative peace and prosperity. This was noted in the Behavioral Sink  experiments of ethologist John B. Calhoun on Norwegian rats. Essentially, the experiments showed that once a well-fed population of rats, protected from external threats, attained a sort of “rat utopia”, they began to turn on one another. One possible conclusion that can be drawn is that rats are social mammals and cooperate when there are threats where “strength in numbers” as well as coordinated responses to those threats. However, once a utopic state is achieved, then ”selfish” genetics may take over — one that is geared toward competition for resources, invariably leading to conflict and violence. This rather rapid self-destruction is the obvious, most dramatic culmination of psychological and social decline in a nation.
However, a more gradual, insidious way that this Social Dilemma problem can manifest is more of a slow burn, both in degrading quality of life and deteriorating relationships. This can be seen first in the impact on families. Husbands and wives fighting because of political views and actions, to the point their children want to literally escape the family (as recently occurred with a Washington political family in the news). Or a brother and sister arguing to the point of straining their sibling bonds beyond repair. And most have heard about the “drunk uncle” and his rants.
Returning to the Social Dilemma, the effects of social media on children, such as girls’ depression and suicide, were poignant. Yet, it is data addiction’s poor choices’ take tolls on family structures in general that make those tolls on children nearly impossible to solve. For example, there are numerous anecdotes of adult children saying to their parents, “You can’t see the grandkids because of who you support politically.” And yet these grandparents may still persist in touting this support vocally (as opposed to keeping their political views, and votes, private), in spite of the costs to their family relationships.
The willingness to sustain this sort of significant loss should be viewed as the result of tragic addiction, one that is consuming families and tearing them apart. They require self-reflection to determine consequences more thoroughly, weigh trade-offs, and choose less costly outcomes. All of this requires cognitive capacity and intellectual energy — an effort impeded by dopamine-driven cognitive overload, which was caused by our own addiction to data.
The Catalyzing and Aggravating Factor
There is another significant dopamine-driven human trait that can lead to addiction. Self-reflection and self-restraint can be derailed, and the aforementioned addiction tragedies exacerbated, by what we term a Psychopathic Leader (PL). A psychopath is typically defined as an unstable, aggressive person, and one with little understanding or concern for what is right or wrong. Furthermore, a PL is typically a charismatic but polarizing figure that appeals to the base instincts and primal urges of individuals, rather than their reasoning capacity and tolerance that would result from greater empathy. And too often the outcomes are destructive rather than constructive.
Is the U.S. in the midst of leadership from a Psychopathic Leader? One can view the response to the current pandemic as a straightforward way to assess whether this would be a reasonable conclusion, based on objective criteria that can be used in an “apples-to-apples” comparison, albeit not a perfect match (most situations are indeed unique snowflakes that are difficult control for all variables). Still, this comparison of the situations and outcomes of the U.S. relative to Germany could be one means for evaluation.
Being basically 5 times worse in most outcomes above provides a stark contrast between an effective leader (Germany) and a PL (U.S.). In addition to the comparison above, the U.S. also fares substantially worse against Norway, Canada, Australia, South Korea, and especially Taiwan during the Covid-19 crisis.
Given the unfavorable outcomes that result from the PL, how are they able to maintain their grip in a representative democracy and the society we all work to protect? There are multiple “needles”, as we term it, that enable the PL to inject the dopamine-driven, self-destructive behavior into individuals and the society on which they depend. This motivator gets people to violate the rules needed for not only the long-term health of a citizenry, but also the immediate lives saved from an HRO focused on a specific outcome, such as reducing deaths and debilitations in a major public health crisis, and leads the individual to act against their own interests over the long term, not to mention society’s as a whole.
Foremost, psychopathic behavior (such as inflammatory words used in rhetoric) is one of those needles. As Facebook has shown, and also exploited, humans get a “rush” of dopamine (so yes, dopamine is the drug intrinsic within all of us that drives these addictions) when certain social interactions occur and certain data is presented, such as a like on a Facebook post, leading us to want to go back for our next data fix. Once again, humans get a high from certain data, and can thus get addicted.
However, there is another addiction beyond data. Dopamine release can also occur when people witness psychopathic behavior. The peer reviewed articles suggesting this link include “Brain chemical is reward for psychopathic traits” , along with the “Role of Serotonin and Dopamine System Interactions in the Neurobiology of Impulsive Aggression and its Comorbidity with other Clinical Disorders” , and also “Looking for Reward in all the Wrong Places: Dopamine Receptor Gene Polymorphisms Indirectly Affect Aggression Through Sensation-Seeking” . In short, it is psychopathy addiction.
Most importantly, dopamine as the motivation molecule supports the notion that motivation is injected into the audience simply by hearing words or seeing actions of the PL. And these words and actions are to some extent accompanied by a euphoric high, which translates into the strong and positive “feelings” experienced by supporters of the PL, ones that can’t be rationally understood or dissuaded. Thus, facts and evidence-based merits of safety measures get ignored, even ridiculed, by significant portions of the population, and thus coordinating responses during mass casualty scenarios becomes nearly impossible.
What must be factored into any HRO scenario, and the population it intends to protect, is that some persons are affected more than others by these addictions. We believe it is those that have dopamine deficiencies that are most susceptible to this manipulation toward the PL’s self-serving objectives that harm their followers, and they must be identified and micro-targeted in order to help them.
There are some associations that show this potential root cause. Those with ADHD have dopamine deficiencies, making them challenging to motivate and impairing their ability to delay gratification. ADHD patients are also significantly overrepresented in opioid abuse cohorts . So the PL’s impact can be revealed in intersecting areas, such as those having a serious opioid addiction and also having sizable electoral support for PLs, as the graphs below suggest. Note that most red areas are shared in both graphs. The Great Plains seems to diverge from the trend, but has less “depth” given the rural nature of the electorate, and a low population density that result in low numbers of opioid deaths generally.
Lethal Opioid Overdoses by Area (Deep red areas, most notably Appalachia)
Electoral Support for A Psychopathic Leader (Deep red areas, most notably Appalachia)
An international example of psychopathy addiction can be found in a large portion of Nigeria’s population. Ironically, in spite of America’s PL insults to their nation and banning its immigrants, Nigerians “love” him for it, even as the harmful behavior directed at them works against their own interests. 
How else can this harm our own nation? Impulsiveness and rash decisions are other ways, especially in socio-economic factors. Delayed gratification is a cornerstone to human progression to more resource-intensive goals and their rewards, as was shown in the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment (which asked children whether they wanted one marshmallow now or were willing to wait in order to get two). 
Unfortunately, the PL can exhaust citizens of the dopamine necessary for impulse control and the motivation toward larger, more positive goals. In fact, this applies not only to supporters, but also to detractors of the PL. One anecdote is a colleague that noted she felt so angered and exhausted by the psychopathy of the nation’s leader that she “goes shopping and buys something” to feel better. Another anecdote, this one a male but with equivalent behavior, is not having the motivation to help prepare food at home during the pandemic, and instead going out to eat, even if it is being tapped from savings, and also risks the contracting of Covid. This indicates a lack of impulse control to weigh risks and delay gratification, getting benefit now but for high risk, versus less risk (i.e., of financial depletion and Covid infection) later by simply preparing dinner at home. The reasoning is that a PL can so upset the population and mentally deplete them that they exhaust their dopamine reserves. Thus, they would lose their impulse control that is required to properly manage impulse buying. This leads to excessive spending (typically debt-financed) as a consequence to the PL’s psychopathic behavior, giving the PL another “win” of a seemingly healthy or growing economy, building temporary support, all while the long-term health of the society deteriorates, and long-term damage is on the horizon.
As the previous section indicates, both information overload and psychopathic behavior are the key needles employed by the PL. Both provide direct stimuli to the audience. However, the indirect effect of PL behavior is to deplete dopamine and, ergo, impulse control. This leads to a sort of “bank shot” benefit to the PL of manipulating consumer behavior (e.g., having people go into more consumer debt, which last year were the highest since the Great Recession , from the lack of financial self-control), increasing the purchases of products, services, equities, etc., and thus the advantage of touting a growing economy. All this while productivity in the society actually declines and debt levels become unsustainable. It is important to understand this phenomenon, since economic activity is often cited as the Faustian bargain to accept all the disadvantages associated with a Psychopathic Leader.
However, the core problem today that affects once again our citizens’ right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (the Economy included) is the lack of compliance to safety measures that in a perfect world an HRO model could achieve. Yet, there are examples of HRO levels of compliance and outcomes that do exist in today’s world. The nation of Taiwan has had only 7 total Covid deaths for the entire nation  through Oct. 29, 2020, thanks in large part to the population’s willing and strict compliance toward safety measures that are based on scientific evidence and their past experiences.
In contrast, the United States is currently seeing its Coronavirus cases hitting record daily highs, and experts warn the U.S. is facing the prospect that daily death rates will triple by mid-January . What many may not understand is that with this level of cases, Intensive Care Units in hospitals will overflow, and almost certainly shut out new patients, such as those having heart attacks or traumas. And given the emergent nature of all these conditions, many, if not most, will die without adequate care. In addition, because of not wanting to confront the horrible choice of how to ration care, many cities and towns will shut down, harming the overall Economy as well. Even without shutdowns, the pandemic has made clear that Healthcare and the Economy intertwine. Too many people (the majority actually, according to polls) believe the pandemic must be controlled over the Economy getting back to normal. Otherwise, demand will stay low from fear, which harms the economic activity in the long run more than short-term shutdowns, as businesses will be operating at lower, likely negative margins for much longer than if a focused, brief shutdowns blocks the spread in the community, like the other nations mentioned for comparison are able to do relatively successfully as compared to the U.S.
There is an impact not only on emergencies. National decline and disintegration are typically viewed through the prism of what happened to the Greek and Roman empires. But there are much more abrupt declines, happening within just a decade. For example, within 6 years of becoming chancellor of Germany, Hitler forced many minorities into ghettos and launched a blitzkrieg military offensive against neighboring countries. Six years after that, 20 million people laid dead in Europe, and Germany itself was attacked by most of the world until it culminated in Hitler’s own suicide in 1945.
Yet how could the German people, who have arguably the strongest Democracy in the world today, have been lured into a trap that resulted in their almost complete decimation? Our argument is that both data addiction and psychopathy addiction were the main drivers of this road to ruin for the German people in that era, given Hitler’s constant firehose of dangerous rhetoric.
Similarly, on our side of the Atlantic, and in today’s era, the trajectory of our behavior during this crisis does not bode well for how we handle future crises. Being that the U.S. is the only developed nation to see its actual life expectancy decline , longevity loss for our citizens is likely predictive of decline in our nation’s own ability to survive. Reasons include our apparent intent to disregard safety, reject science, and possibly advance on our own path to ruin as our society fragments between people not willing to tolerate the risks and costs associated with a PL versus those who do. PL supporters appear to accept, if not seek, the poor behavior and poor choices in a way that bewilders those wanting a more safe and sustainable society. But just as the gambling addict is willing to bet it all on “a feeling”, even when the odds are against the gambler, just to get that vicarious thrill, followers of a Psychopathic Leader will bet that the benefits will outweigh the costs in the end from their loyalty to that leader.
However, there is a problem in the risk versus return trade-off. Given the deadly consequences of the Covid virus, social unrest, violence, falsehoods from fringe groups (which have led to people not leaving their houses in fires and floods), etc., one risks their own lives and that of their families. Moreover, there are quality of life issues such as job losses, educational degradation, and loss of social safety nets — including ability to get healthcare during this pandemic. So there are a number of high immediate and future tangible costs, big and small. And all that risk is undertaken — similar to the gambler — for a “feeling” that the person has about the PL that there will be a reward, likely at least a large series of dopamine hits. It will thus almost certainly appear that the risks being taken and costs being incurred are not well-informed, nor seem reasonable. The root causes, once again, are that data addiction allows in too much noisy information and misinformation, and because cognitive overload clouds foresight and the person’s ability to navigate the decision tree of “if this, then this…”. And this will almost certainly leave the person worse off (as many addictions do to their victims).
So, objectively, it appears these feeling-induced choices are actually more of an addiction-driven gamble. And as those who faced opioid-abusing family members know, the problem with addicts is that, when unchecked, eventually the victim enters a downward spiral that often drags down family members and partners with them. Addiction seldom puts those affected in a better place.
Returning to how this affects High Reliability Organization initiatives in public safety, the challenge with data and psychopathy addicts are that they often rationalize the irrational, leading to difficulty in their own lives, as well as those who rely on them in society. They are not reliable co-workers, reliable family members, nor reliable citizens. Their inherent instability based on poor choices in turn destabilizes communities. Finally, it also makes constructing an HRO infeasible without compensatory solutions.
A key to HROs is the harnessing of layered security, wherein the current situation is monitored and then layers of typically personnel or technology monitor whether corrective or preventive measures need to be taken to prevent catastrophic failure. For example, in aviation, most are familiar with autopilot — what they may not know is there is layered security involved. Autopilot actually consists of three autopilot computers . All three should normally be in sync, but if one fails (i.e., is a different reading than the others), then the overall system chooses the instructions from the other two computers. This is called technological redundancy, and is quite cost-effective. And then there is also the human redundancy we all know well, which are simply the pilot and the copilot.
Layered security in data and psychopathy addicts could involve technology-based solutions in various forms. For example, the relationship between dopamine and going against one’s own and society’s interests implies that medications that manage these dopamine deficiencies, such as Ritalin, may also be beneficial to the cohorts that are most challenging when we strive to attain an HRO for a various protections. This could be the first layer of security in a population for those with diagnosed conditions.
Since these addicts are susceptible to manipulation toward a PL’s self-serving objectives that harm their followers, they must be identified (i.e., detect conditions) proactively and micro-targeted to help them manage data, in terms of what data they receive, what they send, and when that exchange of data occurs, to reduce a downward spiral for both their own well-being and for those around them. This second layer of security could be machine learning / AI and smartphone-based technology.
There would also be societal as well as individual benefits to a medication treatment and data management approach. Data and psychopathy addicts will rely more heavily on first responders and healthcare workers in order to survive their higher risk lifestyle, which often defies health and safety precautions, and involves more anxiety and depressive disorders. For instance, they may smoke, drink more alcohol, eat unhealthy, but they may also engage in risky behavior that can lead to conflict or unlawful acts. One need only look at the chronic health and substance abuse issues affecting those in Appalachia and see the population’s higher mortality and morbidity rates.
These individuals at higher risk may not have been put at risk solely by a Psychopathic Leader that they support, but the PL does bear significant responsibility, as they manipulate to their own ends these addicts of data and psychopathy, instigating behaviors that are detrimental to many. The addicts are a demonstrable risk to others — for instance, doctors such as Anthony Fauci have received actual death threats in today’s environment for trying to save people’s lives with his expertise (after Fauci was praised as a hero when he helped save so many from HIV/AIDS). But in the age of Covid-19, they also put nurses in ICUs at risk when patients overwhelm a hospital due to community spread. And it can impact the emergency personnel rushing to locations in the community, the essential workers such as police and firefighters, and the military personnel and grocery workers that help prevent disruption to our way of life and maintain our society. In short, those that save us when we are sick, injured, in peril, and ultimately reduce our worries. Yet, we increase their stress and worry when they must face people unwilling to follow safety measures intended to keep them, their loved ones, and even these addicts that they serve safe and well.
This brings us to a third potential security layer, which is the legal approach. Part of the need is to ensure these addicts and their families understand personal responsibility, and, if liability can be enforced, require payment from those consistently abusing those trying to aid them. If that cannot be done, we must factor into the overall costs the high cost of not only protecting addicted populations, but the higher costs of those frontline teams helping them, and the greater harm to a larger radius of casualties around these addicts with the costs incurred there as well. Referencing the Germany vs. U.S. table, this could help explain to some extent why Germany’s costs for stimulus were much lower and its economic rebound more robust, and thus how enabling this sort of HRO (that would address psycho-social factors) could actually have up to a 500% return on investment when viewed in that context.
The fourth security layer is just like in aviation — the copilots take over. These are the family members that can intervene in some way to have people understand the addiction path ahead, and its logical conclusion. Why should they care? Addicts will almost certainly continue their habits, even at the risk of alienation from large groups of people or disruption of the family or social fabric. Doing what’s in their interests, knowing they won’t agree (or may even vehemently disagree), is the ultimate stabilization of a plane that is in a rapid descent. Otherwise, it only becomes more difficult to save later.
Failing all else, the final question is to the addict themselves: “Is following a Psychopathic Leader, who is manipulating you toward his own interests and against your own, worth it? Especially when your loved ones’ lives and your own livelihood are involved?” Perhaps posing that question is the last line of defense. But for others it could in fact be the first. The addiction to a Psychopathic Leader is above all a tragedy, for society as a whole, but also for the families involved. The question everyone needs to ask themselves is would you rather you and your family suffer the life of an addict, or is there something better within your control? Given that Psychopathic Leaders typically are masters of using media to manipulate (in today’s world, their key tool is social media, such as Facebook and Twitter), it may be wisest to go back to a recommendation made in the Social Dilemma documentary, which was to simply delete, or at least take a long break from, social media accounts. The reward from breaking the addiction may not be heavy doses of dopamine, but rather of keeping your grandkids, friends, income, and even life.
The most unsettling part of what we are witnessing is the query: “Do people really want to hurt the people trying to help them?” If the answer is yes, then it must be understood that this is all the more indication of the depth of the addiction to psychopathy. It also reveals the dangers posed by the addicts in a public safety HRO, since the public has to actually want to be saved, universally, in order to realistically adopt the “zero tolerance” for errors, which is a basic principle of HROs. Thus, solutions are necessary for addicts to data and psychopathy, or else the HRO endeavor will become wasteful exercise in futility.
However, without action, we can simply expect to continue to lose the equivalent of Salt Lake City each year, and perhaps much more, as we hurl ourselves willfully toward catastrophes, rather than preventing them, determined to become a nation of addicts. To accept this is to accept a society where people are not actually in control of their own destiny, but rather are at the mercy of the world, and placing others at risk in the process. This is the national equivalent of parents overdosing with their child photographed in the backseat.
It is important to realize that these addictions are fed by competition and conflict, two things that social media technologies as well as psychopathic leaders stoke. This appeals to a base instinct in all of us. And the more you feed it, the hungrier it gets.
So only by breaking the cycle of conflict and psychopathic behavior can we again tame these dopamine-driven flaws found within all of us. Our one potentially saving grace as a species is that cooperation is more important than competition and conflict when survival is at stake. In the midst of a global pandemic that could kill more people moving forward than have already succumbed to the illness, the value of cooperation has been higher only a few times in this nation (given the scale of deaths, illness, and societal disruption). So perhaps this is can also be viewed as a window of opportunity to halt and reverse our course toward this cliff we are fast approaching.
As the images from the “Parable of the Long Spoons” depict below, in each location, the inhabitants are given access to food, but the utensils are too unwieldy to serve oneself. In hell, people cannot cooperate, and consequently starve. In heaven, the diners feed one another across the table and are sated. 
In other words, hell can be viewed as being selfish and unable to fulfill ourselves on our own, while heaven is reached by serving each other. Why should the loved one of an addict to data and psychopathy care to intervene? Or, ultimately, why should the addict themselves care? It is because the addict’s world grows smaller and lonelier over time — not able to serve themselves, nor able to find anyone to serve them.
When that happens to enough of us, we will realize too late that the goal of a stable, reliable, and safe nation is no longer at the precipice, but falling into the abyss, taking all of us with it.
The author, Terry Rajasenan, is a scientist and engineer, and an expert in task saturation and cognitive overload. An inventor of the High Reliability Organization model known as a Cooperative HRO, and of the safety-focused Military Acuity Model, he has also been a principal investigator for multiple Defense projects. He focuses on cognitive science, process improvement, healthcare models, and machine learning / AI development to improve cost-effectiveness of patient safety and public safety initiatives.
Sources of Data for Germany / U.S. Comparison Table, and Opioid and Electoral Maps: