covid19, values

What Now and Where To?

26 March, 2020

In these two episodes of The Minefield podcast Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens tackle some of the biggest questions being asked as the outbreak of Covid-19 (coronavirus) unfolds – what now and where to? With guest Paul Komesaroff, a practising physician and Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University and Director of the Centre for Ethics in Medicine and Society, they explore what our reactions to the outbreak say about who we are. With Stephanie Collins, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Australian Catholic University, they consider what communal life might look like post-Covid. The scale of the outbreak’s impact means that choices need to be made when life begins to return to ‘normal’. Will we do things the same way and just press the start button, or will we choose to make changes and operate differently in the future? Life at the end of 2020 will certainly look different to life at the beginning of the year, but how?

What now?

Iris Murdoch had an unusual but compelling understanding of the nature of moral action. By the time the moment of decision arrives, and we are forced to make a choice or to take a particular action, all the morally relevant activity has already taken place. Which is to say, we become moral agents outside of moments of crisis  in the casual choices we make every day, in the descriptions we employ and the attention (or lack of) that we practice  and we simply enact that way of seeing the world when the crisis is upon us.

This understanding of moral action was meant to shift the emphasis away from moral decision-making and toward a greater attentiveness to the moral significance of the seemingly insignificant practices and decisions of everyday life.

What happens when we apply this to the social and political response to the coronavirus pandemic? What if we assume, not that this crisis has caught certain nations unprepared, but that we have been preparing ourselves in very particular ways to respond to just such a crisis? In other words, perhaps the most pertinent question is not, ‘What should be done in response to the coronavirus?’ but, ‘What does the coronavirus reveal about us?’

What does it say, for instance, that federal politicians are publicly relying on the advice of specialists, scientists and senior public servants now, even as they have largely demeaned or ignored the advice of such figures on climate change, bushfires and the allocation of public funds (as in the ‘sports rorts’ affair) in the recent past? What does it say that the public response to the crisis in Australia began with conspicuous displays of outright anti-Chinese sentiment, and reached their apogee with panic buying of food, face-masks and toilet paper? What does it say that we respond so badly to the prospects of scarcity and sacrifice, even as we demand that sacrifices are borne by those least able to manage them (the elderly, the socially isolated and impoverished)? What does it say that we are prepared to suspend certain democratic principles and practices  not to mention certain ethical safeguards in order to accelerate clinical trials of possible treatment  in the ‘state of emergency’ ushered in by the coronavirus pandemic?

All of which is to say: Is there a way of responding to the coronavirus that is both effective and ethical? That contributes to the tasks of social cohesion and mutual concern?

Listen to the full episode here.

Where to?

The following episode looks, however tendentiously, into the future: What might the experience of the coronavirus produce among us? What new forms of life together — of modesty, prudence, simplicity, mutuality, sociality and cooperation — might we discover under the conditions of scarcity and social isolation imposed by the coronavirus, that perhaps we didn’t envision in more ‘normal’ times? Alternatively, are the real needs, or genuine necessities, that are being laid bare by the character and severity of the political response (by the current ‘state of emergency’)?

Listen to the full episode here.

via The Minefield, ABC Australia, 18 & 25 March 2020

Photo by CDC on Unsplash