Jon Parsons has researched the ethical implications of the pandemic since it was declared by the WHO.
I initially thought that the pandemic, while obviously a serious crisis and heralding an era of disruption, was an opportunity for positive change, a moment people would step up, come together, and enact values of collective care … But all that stopped, and quicker than I would have imagined. Issues came up to do with financial support for workers. Forms of racism and stigma emerged, aimed at specific communities and related to the borders. With global shortages of personal protective equipment, there was a tendency toward forms of nationalism.
By the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, it became clear what was happening was a profound failure of ethical action. I can think of no greater ethical wrong that has been so obviously committed in such a short period of time in living memory in this country … For example, recent protests have many people questioning what is happening in Canada. As I argue, this is just a symptom of the underlying pathology and a direct consequence of the failure of ethical action.
Such a failure also raises serious questions about challenges coming in the future, such as the capacity to deal with the consequences of climate change or to authentically engage in a project of reconciliation. Given how Canada responded to the pandemic, it is difficult to imagine this country could adequately rise to such challenges. —Covid-19 Ethics in Canada
As a society, we learned nothing from the influenza pandemic of 1918. For example, there are no monuments to the medical heroes of that pandemic anywhere in the world. It was as if society had suffered collective amnesia. Today’s situation may be partially due to society’s inability to talk about and learn from the influenza pandemic. I once asked my father-in-law, a historian born in 1927, if he had ever heard the previous generation discuss the flu pandemic. He had never heard about it while growing up in Nova Scotia.
During this pandemic, health and infectious disease experts have worked hard to promote misinformation leading to disinformation, in order to protect their institutions and disciplines, and not to protect people.
Policymakers and politicians also have a natural bias against the idea that diseases may be airborne, says Professor Jimenez — @jljcolorado
“Droplets and surfaces are very convenient for people in power – all of the responsibility is on the individual,” he said. “On the other hand, if you admit it is airborne, institutions, governments, and companies have to do something.” —The Telegraph 2021-10-02
Florence Nightingale knew the importance of clean air 150 years ago, “The very first canon of nursing … is this: to keep the air [the patient] breathes as pure as the external air, without chilling him.” At one time, our hospitals were designed for air flow, but we became enamoured with technology and now have hospitals where contaminated air is recirculated and windows do not open. Our techno-centric healthcare systems, and those who run them, have lost touch with the reality of pandemics.
The past two years have witnessed a global crisis in leadership. We are still not distributing enough vaccines to poor countries because we are letting the market lead our pandemic responses. Public health officials are still holding on to droplet dogmatism in spite of overwhelming evidence that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is airborne. Schools have been kept open while many children have not been able to get vaccinated, and now many mask mandates have been lifted.
This pandemic highlights the crisis in network leadership. The digital networks that now connect all of us globally give us a new sense-making platform that most of our leaders ignore or use inappropriately. Effective leadership today is helping make our networks stronger, smarter, and more resilient. There are few cases where government knowledge sharing is making any of us smarter.
Knowledge flows at the speed of trust. The ethical failures observed by Jon Parsons have severely eroded trust in our institutions. These institutions are unfit for a digitally connected world. New approaches and forms of organizing are needed for a metamodern world. The major challenge for a metamodern approach to take hold is in politics, which is deeply rooted in previous societal forms. Lene Andersen concludes that metamodernism has the potential to enable us to clean up the messes we have made and pass on a better world to the next generations.
“If any of this is going to happen, we need to create the educational, Bildung and cultural institutions that allow us to be meaning making at a sufficiently high level of complexity. That anchor is locally, nationally, continentally, and globally. We also need to be at least bilingual so that we can enjoy both deep cultural roots where we grew up and the ability to have deep and rich conversations with people from around the globe. Politics must be about our understanding of the world, and money must be a means to increase our meaning making and expand our symbolic world and our horizon.” —Metamodernity
This ethical crisis is a wake-up call to build better educational, cultural, economic, and political structures. Clearly, our current structures have failed us.
Next: We have met the enemy & he is us
• Did you find this post useful? Check out the perpetual beta series
“For example, even in the middle of the fast-moving epidemic, the WHO dismissed field epidemiology reports as proof of airborne transmission because the evidence was not definitive, something that is difficult to achieve quickly during an outbreak. Other criticisms are that the WHO relies on a narrow band of experts, many of whom haven’t studied airborne transmission, and that it eschews a precautionary approach that could have protected countless people in the early stages of the pandemic.”