Posted on May 2, 2021
To look at the political supporters today as an objective outside observer, the immediate description would be a deepening polarization from those opposing, fueled by a new ability in the form of computer algorithms to deliver only content that fits and supports an existing view. Furthermore, it is seen that this polarization has turned violent from both sides and general discourse along with points of agreement has all but disappeared. If this state of affairs was seen in a developing country, it would rightly be said that the path to civil strife and internal conflict has begun with there being only signs of it continuing and escalating.
Both the right and the left are culpable in this polarization. While the right has ignited historical prejudices as a means to garner support and only fanned that anger to enact their sweeping reforms and policies, the left has by-and-large for many years ignored the right and belittled or pushed outside politics, the views that differ from their own. Examples of both include President Trump’s hate filled rhetoric during rallies, and late-night televisions decision to satirize and ridicule the rights views rather than try to engage in qualified discourse. It is easy to say in support of the left that to engage in discussions with clearly bigoted views provides those views with credence. That response however is not productive and furthers the division. To those who support the right, some proponents would argue that these are indeed elitists who care nothing of the common person and only their set agenda. Those on the left might say these views are compassionate and inclusive of everyone and therefore there is an element of universality to it. The problem is not that someone aligns themselves with the right or left, it is that no longer are the other party’s values and beliefs considered valid and even more worrisome, safe to hold.
What has happened in just the past five to six years is that the polarization has become not a matter of values and beliefs that may differ, but many of those turning violent in protest are in the mindset that it is fundamentally dangerous for the country for the other party to lead. This is an extreme but real view of many from both sides and perhaps the most frightening aspect of the political supporters today. Boiling down to the rights of the individual, both sides have strong beliefs, and perhaps not unfounded, that the other side will at the first opportunity take away strongly held and desired rights of the individual. No longer therefore is politics simply a passive matter that many once believed held no affect on their daily lives. It is quite the opposite now, with far more taking part in voting having been told by talking heads from either party that the very future of one’s existence depends on it. With more at stake and less dialogue the elements are ripe for significant conflict.
Neither the right nor the left are innocent from taking matters into quasi-vigilante actions both large and small through which political inclinations are expressed and a sense of belonging and having served a greater purpose are felt. We see this in the activities of far-right groups, along with the far-left groups both of which frequently display action that support a political side although do so in a legally questionable approach. These actions which are far from what could be said to be political rallies rather than outlawed protests, are now becoming the norm in terms of how to show support for political views. The time where political ideas were debated in clubs and amongst friends is disappearing. The views which were once not radically different have slowly become so by means of algorithms only showing supporting media from the last few clicked on, which is increasingly more radicalized media that is cheap to produce. The idea now that someone could talk to the opposing party and come to see eye to eye, is worryingly becoming improbable. More radicalized and emboldened elements in both parties with strong passions to seek large and quick changes in policy are influencing and drowning out moderate positions pushing the two ideological needles further in opposite directions.
Everyone who has seen the immediate actions of the past two incoming President’s of the United States should be concerned. Whereas President Trump set the example with sweeping unilateral Executive Orders, President Biden has followed suit and to a greater extent. The mechanism of Executive Orders is being used in a manner for which it was not intended and the discontinuation of this approach to its use should be a top priority for both parties’. If in four years Donald Trump returns, will he again sign countless Executive Orders undoing Bidens work and creating the beginnings of a disastrous cycle?
Perhaps most problematic in this arena is that those with moderate voices living everyday lives are having to safely navigate between the radicalized elements on both sides and are unwillingly being pulled into the conflict between the more radicalized elements. These individuals want a return to sanity in politics today and general society who feel they cannot be outspoken about how matters have gone too far and politicians are catering too much to the loudest supporting voices not the most rational supporting. The average worker today does not want to be told they are damaging and hurtful of another person merely for not being “woke”, or from the other side do not want to be seen as not onboard the team by not standing up for some hate filed agenda that pits populations against one another. A balance between the two must made be possible. Achieving this requires a dialogue that does not involve accusatory language as a start.
In the past when politics was an activity for just a few and wide engagement from the population was scarce, passions about political parties was not at the level we see today as for example only ten years ago. It was not seen to the same extent that a political party newly taking power could shape in significant ways parts of your everyday life. However, with the advent of social media news reaching people on an hourly basis if not more so, political stories and views easily find themselves becoming dominant news stories followed as if it were entertainment. Coupling political alignment with strong emotions is a tactic used to keep power as it creates strong allegiance. It does today, however, also cause a side effect whereby all to often the individual takes on responsibility for continual advocacy of the views and beliefs of the party. Facebook posts, Tweets, replies, have become a daily chore of radicalized and fervent supporters taking it upon themselves to do in order to respond to opposing views. While several years ago effort was made to teach people that online is the same as offline, offline has now become reflective of the dialogue that was online. It is divisive and at times very derogatory.
When supporting your politician used to mean taking her or his side in the off discussion you would have once a week, there was little worry someone would get “wrapped up in it”. Today though discussion and dialogue via social media is continuous. We receive notifications that we respond to frequently. This level of engagement has not yet before been seen and is causing strengthened alignments and emboldened supports who border on the obsessed. This continuous discussion and dialogue though is not comprised for the most part of inputs from both sides. Someone who is on the left no longer gets media from the right, and the opposite is equally true. There is now a continuous indoctrination of sorts into either political camp. This indoctrination is not regulated in anyway, contributors can be any random person with a few dollars, time, and an internet connection, and is rarely if ever done by a moderate voice from either side. To avoid further division between supporters of the right and the left today, increased dialogue that begins without accusatory language should be initiated and regulation of independent media should be greatly expanded to include online sources.
Looking at political supporters today a polarization that is only deepening is seen. With emotions involved far more than in the past, and the continuous social media indoctrination of those into ridged political camps, a real fear is that a cycle of swinging policies will become a normal practice until this division, polarization, ends.
Posted on April 8, 2021
Hello Ethic Nutters,
I hope everyone is doing well as we get through the tail end of this pandemic. Thanks for all the visits from around the world. It’s nice to see so many people enjoying my writings. I apologize for not allowing comments but I don’t want to spend time moderating.
A common comment that would come up during my undergrad and a little still today when talking about it, is that Ethicists, and Bioethicists just sit around and say this is good and that’s bad. Clearly this is the opinion of someone who is ill informed about decision making processes and just how complex achieving the right outcome from a decision is in many fields. Some examples of this thinking i.e. radical simplicity, would be to say a financial advisor tells people to buy low and sell high. A family physician to tell the patient to go see a specialist or take Tylenol then call again. Or, a sales person simply telling the person you should buy this product.
None of the above examples are true and it is equally as true that simplistic deconstruction of the field of study of ethics is simply a matter of finding out what is good and bad. That’s not even scratching surface, its a rude and derogatory/dismissive comment and people should understand it is as such.
That’s all I wanted to say in this rare personal post. I believe many who read my articles will understand this post very well.
Posted on April 4, 2021
The action of making free decisions through free will on matters that affect one’s well-being is a core component of liberal democratic societies and what makes them so compelling and desirable for those without these freedoms. Whether it is the freedom to decide who to marry, what to do as a profession, all the way to choosing to have pint of beer or cigarette, the freedom of choice is a fundamental right. However, our rights to decide have outside pressures that shape those decisions as they are made, shape what choices are available, and shape consequences of those decisions. This short post explores our free will and right to decide within democratic societies, shares thoughts on outside pressures and influences that affect our choices, and asks what obligation there is to provide options to choose from and what might create those options.
When looking at our right to freely decide matters that bare importance to our lives, it is the hallmark of this right that we decide who governs over us. Many people migrating to Canada and the United States or Europe, are fleeing countries that do not have this structure to governance over the citizens and are therefore dictatorships of one kind or another. In the absence of the right to choose who governs over you, failed states happen time and again with the population usually left to their own devices when it comes to daily life which becomes daily survival for some. From this core element of the right to determine and decide who governs, we see the importance of free will and free choice in Western civilizations unlike that of countries in other parts of the world. It is the right to decide that permeates through governance where it starts, down to daily life.
The effort given to establish a democratic society is increasingly seen as intrinsically good in nature and has become now an unquestionably focused priority for the global community. Perhaps a good sign and indication of group validity is the number of people taking up the cause within fledgling democracies and externally from foreign supporters, even though the journey is not entirely guided with precision and an at times blurry vision of the goal exists. Some semblance of a democracy will result, but with what influences and reflecting which democracy in practice is unknown. People involved realize that this shift from dictatorships to democracies has growing pains in the form of rebellion, as old intrenched structures are uprooted and replaced by new liberalized and free ones. Pushing the envelop in change is the hope, or knowledge, that there is more good in the end than the harm caused during the shift. Those harms are well known to be clamp downs on protestors, silencing of journalists, and as we see with Russia, attempts to execute political rivals. It is not an easy transition and there is fear that it is only becoming harder with the multi-polarized global power structure in place today.
When looking to democratic societies and the freedom’s of choice within them, it is entirely true that they provide an equality through freedom of decision unlike undemocratic societies. The main factors at play in this equality, is the free capitalist market in tandem with a strong support of positive and negative liberties. Combined, those two elements both provide choice, and more importantly allow for the freedom of choice. These freedoms of choice and to decide that the average citizen takes so casually and pays no attention to, are the dreams of many in other parts of the world. It is also true though that pressures and influences can limit the equality of choices in society. Should we strive to make all options available to everyone and is that even attainable? Presuming the quest for equality is valid and ought to be done, are there limitations on our abilities to fulfill leveling the playing field of equal access, wealth, and riches, or would in doing that lead to a greater evil. That greater evil, a dictatorship of its own as history has taught.
We are free to decide what we want to do in our daily lives but of course there are limitations as with everything. If a product is not available, choice is limited. If a person cannot afford a product, again choice is limited. If two people in a diner party want appetizers or to pick the restaurant, the third person will have no choice at all. We can further these examples to any number of items that are purchased or accessed. The point made is simply that even if you have freedom of choice not everything is accessible to everyone. Causing these limitations are pressures and influences that impact the choices we can make. Immediately it appears as though limitations are a bad thing. However, is that true? It seems to depend on the source of that limitation.
In liberal society, decisions that are counter to a stable society are not supported, limited, and actively disrupted before they are made or during the actions that result. The Capitol Hill insurrection is an example of free will on decisions such as joining a Far-Right group, and to engage with anti-establishment ideologies and conspiracies by large portions of the population that went unfettered. It is a difficult question to answer in terms of whether these groups should be allowed to make the types of decisions that precipitated the insurrection. After the insurrection the answer was made clearer in a unified no. Pressures and influences inform observers of what action is deemed appropriate and right, versus inappropriate and wrong. These allowances can be eye opening in what they reveal about the directions and values of the groups and political parties with the most power in a society.
While it is often thought democracies are bastions of freedoms when compared to foreign governments, they are not without complaint from those living within them. Shifting from the Capitol Hill example to those protesting for action on the environment or equality under the law, recognition of protestors as those essentially fighting for their rights to have input on decision making should never be dismissed lightly. Dismissal can entail stronger actions from those who are most radicalized and whose vision of what needs to be done is an absolute. Taking a subjectivist approach, it seems clear that the pressures and limitations through regulation is neither good nor bad objectively but merely what the majority want to have happen. This restricts freedoms of the minorities in a way that leads to protests and causes civil strife and is closer to a true analysis of its moral validity than other theories. Other ethical theories would hold that the regulatory rules that we currently have are what is objectively good. However, anyone who has had a decision made for them that they disagree with, their decision forbidden, or limited, knows that it is not good. It is a struggle to think the individual is somehow less moral and it is impossible while seeing them as equal and without holding a dominating position over the individual.
From an importance on the ability to make choices/decisions, and governments being formed through the decisions of the people, it is logical to extend the importance of choice to providing citizens with options in terms of where to go to school, what products to buy, where to work, and so on. People do not want to be left alone with no options and will actively advocate government, civil organizations, and corporations for change if that situation persists over the years. While Government intervention plays a role in both limiting options and providing them in terms of schooling, and many other elements of daily life, what gives rise to choice in terms of products is of course not some government intervention but rather the lack of it in market regulation. Perhaps the most difficult challenge is to know what to intervene in and what to leave unrestricted and free. Presuming the Government has been in place over the course of ones life and not recently established, a limitation of choices outside the market is indeed attributed in part to Government actions and dialogue.
While Conservative parties would seek to reduce Government intervention in all areas in favour of the market, those leaning Liberal and further left, realize that unchecked disparities arise if the invisible hand is left alone. Potential actions can include further advanced dialogue to determine a course of action that makes available options, can include incentives to guide decisions, and reassurances of unhindered freedoms to make those life choices so many do. Partnering with the private sector can strengthen in the long run cooperation and avail citizens of options in so far as it leads to win-win scenarios that ensure continued cooperation and dialogue.
The freedoms of choice and the rights to make those decisions it seems are taken for granted today by many living in the Western developed world. Those who have travelled other parts of the world realize that these freedoms to choose everything from who governs to which pint of beer to have, is not something everyone else enjoys or is free to do. Even though we are all free in democratic societies to make these decisions Government continues to play a role in both creating pressures and influence on what decisions are permitted and easier to make than those that are not and are made illegal. There are no radically free choice environments where we can decide to do anything and nor should there be or a state of nature would form. Even with regulations Governments and the private sector play an important role in providing as many options as possible. Our freedom to decide is as important as any other freedom in so far as it includes freedom to decide what laws govern you and who governs you.
Posted on March 27, 2021
During the COVID pandemic I found out about Thomas Sowell and his ideas on economics and politics. As someone who has studied social and political ethics, I find his views very insightful and generally agree with much of what he says.
This video is just one which I like because it uses gratitude with how well things are for those in North America and Europe when compared to the other countries in the world as a starting point for a deeper critique on hollow campaign slogans such as the simple and common “change” promise.
“Nothing is easier than to take for granted what we are used to and to image that it is more or less natural so that it requires no explanation. Instead, many Americans demand explanations of why things are not even better and express indignation that they are not.”
Posted on March 20, 2021
Hello Ethic Nutters,
In search for a simple and easy to remember way to distinguish between Law, Morality, and Ethics, I found this interesting video from The Ethics Centre. I’m not sure who the presenter is but the clear definitions of Law, Morality, and Ethics are easy to follow, understand, and share. Enjoy!
Posted on March 13, 2021
Today is unlike any other in the ability of those living in other countries to communicate with individuals thousands of kilometers away, and to attack them through malicious actions including Spam, Phishing, and other harmful hacking tactics. The propensity of foreign actors to influence citizens in another country such as Canada and in negative terms, appears to only be growing. Well known examples include Spam pushers in Africa and India, while Russian actors have gone so far as to attempt and in fact succeeded in foreign influence of election outcomes in the United States.
The question now is what measures must be taken to stop these attacks on our citizens and political bodies? Should it be that we increase restrictions on internet usage, curtail internet freedoms, in an attempt to prevent harmful attacks? Alternatively, must we keep all our freedoms including online freedoms, with the answer lying with enhanced foreign cooperation in policing of these hackers and influencers? Is that possible with Russia, China, North Korea, and criminal elements in other countries that are behind these attacks? This short Armchair Ethics Post brings up the discussion through an ethical lens on what to do about international internet criminals.
Let’s first look at the problem. In everyone’s daily inbox, spam from foreign countries is being sent to Canadian citizens that if successful create a criminal action including loss of money, can create a situation of extortion, and numerous other possible crimes. These criminals, however, are not in the jurisdiction of Canadian courts. If the originating source is North Korea, Russia, or China, then there is no recourse on these daily attacks on Canadian citizens that aim to steal, extort, and otherwise harm. If it were not done online, surely international conflict would have broken out much sooner. It is time to see online criminals as having no distinction between those offline. It is unclear to the common citizen given the high level of occurrence, that this distinction is anything but well in place today despite its clearly erroneous delineation.
Similarly, foreign state actors are coordinating malicious actions abroad through simple online social media platforms, message boards, or known communication points. While foreign influence into elections has generated a reaction from the likes of Facebook, and Twitter, more sophisticated attempts to exert foreign influence through smaller, more precise actions are far more difficult to stop and curtail. In the common example of a foreign actor subverting political or corporate strategies, messages can easily be shared on how to act, when to act, and on what, through a small degree of preparation and sharing of messages on even the simplest of online communication features such as the comments section of an item for sale, or YouTube video as examples. While we can rely on Facebook and Twitter to protect against widespread election tampering, precise attacks would be considerably more difficult to detect and prevent, while at the same time potentially having a greater impact.
When we think about how to stop foreign influence through online communication, the decision balances on curtailing freedoms, by perhaps limiting free speech and its method of expression, versus the potential damage of this foreign actors, and its subsequent outcomes. With the near total inability to police from a far and into another sovereign nation, this poses a unique challenge in the twenty-first century for global security forces. Resorting to international sanctions for crimes of this nature has not happened in the past. Typically, international sanctions are for state actors e.g. Senior Politicians, and Military Personnel, not the criminal who is stealing $1000 from a citizen online. Perhaps the times must change. If these perpetrators are seen to be going without consequence while harming Canadian citizens on a large-scale, international sanctions should be used as a tool to push foreign Governments and their police to act.
It is not suggested that internet freedoms be curtailed to stop foreign criminals from performing international criminal acts. That would be defeatist and is punitive to the victims rather than the criminals while at the same time likely to do little in stopping the problems in the long term. A joint international criminal action agreement for online crimes should be developed and funded as the solution. This agreement would be signed by those whose citizens are the perpetrators and should have both a national response plan implemented locally, while including international measures for non-compliance in these enforcement plans. Agreements on timelines and outcomes should have real benefits for compliance that can sufficiently encourage the likes of Russia, and China to cooperate. To be effective, what these benefits entail should originate, to as high a degree as possible, from those whose cooperation is needed in the enforcement of international crimes carried out online.
While not all online crimes can be prevented, it is past-due for foreign criminals who routinely and on a daily basis attempt to steal from Canadian citizens, be given a spotlight in political and national discourse. It must be known that actions are being taken to stop these criminals rather than nearly filtering as best possible. Everyone seems to know someone whose fallen for their tactics which shows the extent of these crimes. We must see them for what they are, criminals, and not just mere annoyances. Their intent is to steal, extort, and otherwise cause harm. The Canadian Government must reassure its citizens something is being done. The time when it is said to a victim “little can be done” is past and is wholly unacceptable today.
Posted on February 15, 2021
Perhaps the main aim of the study of morality and ethics is to understand complex decision making processes and enable those involved to choose the most ethical and moral of actions from a choice of several. It is not sufficient or desired to have people know what is right or wrong but to choose, regardless of knowing, to do what is wrong. There are many ways we can calculate what is right and wrong. Two of the most well-known of course, maximize utility, or act in a way that can be made into a universal law. After we have made our calculations of utility or run our potential actions through a maxim, is there a way to reflect on whether that calculation was accurate. Or to say that the decision was a good decision. This short article is about decision making, looking back on our decisions, and asking whether we made those calculations correctly.
A lot of moral theory is actually about decision making i.e. making the right decisions, and predominately asks us to make these decisions as impartial and removed to a degree from the environment itself. Quite a bit of it relies on almost an inhuman ability to be distant from emotions that may sway an individual to be anything less than objective. A good example of this are those who argue for saving the lives of five people rather than a friend of yours. The right decision for many ethicists would be strangely not to save your friend but to save the lives of the five strangers because in terms of utility, five lives and their potential outweighs the lives of just one. That it is your friend, some would argue does not carry sufficient weight as to allow the lives of five other lives to be lost. Whether we can actually make these impartial decisions or should will not be discussed here. There are good reasons to think that they cannot or should not but that is not the focus of this article.
When we make these impartial calculations we are using frameworks of decision making that we believe reliably provides the right decisions. In general terms, this is true. Under Utilitarianism we make decision that maximize utility or what is said to be good. Under Deontology we act in ways that we agree could be universal law. Both have aspects of impartiality and both have criticisms. As we see the need to add specifics and details, often what is right becomes increasingly blurred with each new layer of detailed information and context. I believe this blurring is due to the true nature of morality as a subjective mechanism for governing which can be applied universally in only the most general statements. How to accurately measure utility is a known criticism of Utilitarianism and I believe the necessary generality of the categorical imperative is a weakness of its ability to calculate actions in a manner that is not dogmatic, broad, and wide-ranging rules. With the problems of calculation in detailed and specific actions for everyday or common use, the need to be reflective and ask whether a decision already made was the right decision or a good decision is ever more important.
For many years now people associate the right objective to our collective existence is for human flourishing. In short, it means people are doing well in the areas that are important to humans. Examples from Harvard, The Human Flourishing Program (https://hfh.fas.harvard.edu/measuring-flourishing), include being happy and satisfied with life, good mental and physical health, having a meaning and purpose, and several others. These measurements if applied to those involved in a decision and taken years after, can provide some information on whether the decision was a good decision. Of course we cannot go back and make the decision again and then provide a comparative analysis, however, we can know if the decision, as made through these less than perfect calculations, was good. We know we are doing good when those involved in the decisions made are flourishing. I would add that this flourishing should not diminish the flourishing of others and be at their expense. Although we cannot go back and make a different decision, if we learn the decision made was wrong, we can always attempt to undo what was done and begin down the path that should have been taken initially.
Even though moral theory asks we be impartial despite its difficulties, and even though the calculations used to decide right action are often general and intended for rules rather than individual actions, we can look back and know that we made the right decision if it lead to human flourishing. These are the best tools we have to make important decisions on matters that may lead to difficult outcomes such as the loss of life. While we can always seek to strengthen them and improve upon their understanding, another aspect which can be examined is the reflective determination on whether the decision was good. Human flourishing offers this measure as a fundamental and universal human need.
Posted on December 12, 2020
The idea that we should not harm one another, and certainly not ourselves, can arguably be said to be a universally accepted normative claim. Certainly we know that it can cause both negative physical and emotional effects depending on the type of harm experienced. It could be said that this normative claim is in fact the most basic root of our moral reasoning. We do not for example allow for robberies because of the harm, and we do not allow for physical violence and bullying because of the harm. In its antithesis, we promote actions that heal and help others and ourselves. There are examples however, where helping people result in a negative outcome, and harming people results in a positive outcome. What is it therefore, that we can say changes the moral correctness of doing no harm, and being benevolent. This short post shares some thoughts on the topic of when harm is okay and is not only allowed, but the right course of action to take.
“First, do no harm” is attributed to the Hippocratic Oath although is more clearly written in Of the Epidemics by Hippocrates. Today, it really means that when performing surgery, drawing blood, and similar medical procedures, the benefits must outweigh the harms. A difficult calculation at times with Clinical Research although arguably not so difficult in mainstream medicine. We know now what is done in hospitals is for the good for the patient and Bioethicists working at hospitals throughout the world ensure a degree of compliance to this normative statement. Stemming from this historic normative claim, we have the Bioethical Principle of Non-Maleficence, and indeed also a Principle of Beneficence. So not only should we avoid doing harm, but we should active seek to benefit those being treated. This I think is a good foundation for other fields of study when applying ethical standards is required. We can say for example to the Political Scientist, when you govern, do no harm and only seek to benefit those you serve.
So we know there is a long standing tradition in medicine, but also in religion and morality in general, that we should not harm other people, physical or emotional, and we know that it is important to seek to help people and be benevolent. Is there a difference though of allowing something harmful to happen and causing it? Put another way, am I doing no harm if I just allow for actions to continue that I know will cause harm, or must I intervene. And if I cause harm, is it always wrong. On the face of it, it is clear that there is culpability when harm is directly caused, but some argue that allowing it to happen is different and should be seen and analysed differently. I would agree. In fact there is a clear dichotomy between passive and active when we allow for something to happen, instead of causing it to happen. This does not mean that both cannot be held responsible and share important consequences (if considering this action happens within a legal system) although there seems to be an intuitive diminishing of responsibility when it is passive. Is this always the case? I would say no. The reason for this, is when an individual can easily intervene, however, decides maliciously not to. I am of the mind that the all-important factor is maliciousness. Both passively allowing something to harm someone, and actively doing so, is wrong only in so far as the harm is the intended goal. This is how we naturally arrive at the Principle of Double Effect.
If there is a good end that can be accomplished through minimal harm, and the good end outweighs the harm that is necessary, the Principle of Double Effect allows for us to take action and cause harm knowing that the aim is not the harm itself but is an effect of achieving the good end. A classic example is if a person is confronted with violence, many agree that that individual can cause harm, up to killing the aggressor, because they are taking action to achieve a good end, that being self-preservation. The Principle of Double Effect, is not just some theoretical construct to avoid moral culpability. It is a recognition that intentions matter, and that some good ends require a lesser harm to happen. It is not of consequence whether this lesser harm is allowed to happen, or is directly caused in achieving the good end, as the intention is non-malicious. The person who is not the one who initiated the events into action can rightly do harm to achieve a good end and resolve it. What is of importance in terms of the Principle of Double Effect, is the known need to assure the actions taken are proportionate.
Harm, therefore, is okay when it is done not as a primary action, but as a side-effect of attaining a good end. The way we weigh the good end with the harm is not a simple matter and is subjective. This fact, however, does not mean we can arbitrarily say without careful reasoning and inspection, that the good end outweighed the harm. Through debate, discourse, time, and agreement, we can weigh these good ends as a society and make solid judgements on whether a harm was justified and “okay”.
Posted on November 15, 2020
At the moment the globe is still wrestling with the novel coronavirus. There is now new found hope that the promise of a few vaccines that show efficacy in early analysis will come to fruition and life can return to a certain level of normalcy. Early on numerous Bioethicists were being consulted on the matter of triage, enforcing health measures onto populations, and even human challenge trials that have now been approved if only just one trial of this kind. In this short article, I would like to just share my thoughts and opinions on a few other elements beyond the classical Bioethical issues just mentioned. Those include to begin highlighting the widespread disparities in society that have long been known and its impact on health. Then I would like to comment on the widespread behaviour of citizens expressing racial hatred and discrimination to those of a visibly Asian descent, and its distinction from requesting national action from China to address its role in this pandemic. Before finishing, I will also comment on collective decision making and limitations on consequences for non-compliance. I will end with a look at the local provincial and municipal level and the question of blame for economic loss.
The global novel coronavirus pandemic has not only taken far too many lives, but it has also shined a bright light on economic disparity at nearly all levels of society and its toll on health outcomes. While it has always been argued that there is a relationship between low levels of income and illness, the pandemic as we now face it, is showing us a direct causal relationship. We know that those who rely on public transit, in blue collar workforces, and shared living arrangements, are being exposed at a greater rate, and therefore contracting COVID 19 more often. Those who own a motor vehicle, can work remotely, and can live independently or where the living arrangement has greater space for each occupant are far less exposed. It is an unashamed reminder of the interests of those in power, that two main bits of health advice to follow is to stay at home and work remotely and to distance yourself at all times by 2 meters. This is not an option for low paying jobs and requires for some expensive equipment, and the distancing is not possible on public transit or if you are the public facing component of a company. This type of messaging is harmful in a number of ways to those who cannot follow it. The first being an affirmation that their situations are not shared by those who govern, otherwise they clearly would not be made knowing the impossibility of it, and secondly, that their situation and voting voice, is not of a primary, perhaps even secondary, concern. Both of these facts result in a further distancing of the economically disadvantaged from the political establishments at nearly all levels of government.
As with all crisis, either man made or otherwise, there has been a psychological drive in some of the population to find an outlet for their anger at the situation. Unfortunately time and again that outlet is often of a group people who are of a minority population with minimal political power and involvement. As everyone has heard in the media from Public Service Announcements urging acceptance, and perhaps witnessing firsthand accounts of discrimination on Asian citizens, Asian Canadians are entirely wrongfully and illegally being discriminated against as an outlet for ignorant, hate filled, despicable portions of the population. The pandemic has truly shown the ugly side of humanity again, as discrimination and public verbal abuse, sometimes physical, of a scapegoat has reared its insidious head. Although recognizing this widespread hatred is entirely wrong, I do not think we should not ask of the Government of China to take measures that would mitigate a crisis such as this from happening again. For this, we can rightly demand cooperation with a multinational effort to understand the cause of the pandemic in Wuhan, China. This will allow for measures to be enacted that ensure to the highest degree possible, another pandemic of this scope does not happen again. The enactment of measures to ensure safety will not happen overnight, but it is essential that it does happen.
In the post-pandemic relationship between Canada and China, it is important to know whether China will be advancing relations with those in the West who do not cast blame on them as I believe they no doubt would be. It would be wise to use leverage from a relationship formed from this crisis, to apply pressure on causes such as human rights, which have long been no go areas for discussion with China but are yet of global importance for Canada and the West, as recognition allows for much needed moral clout. That clout is what allows for international actions for our interests to be taken.
An interesting faucet of the pandemic is with collective decision making and consequence, or lack thereof, for non-compliance. Throughout the response to this pandemic, health authorities have asked the population to follow certain guidelines which it is said will lead to the needed outcomes and a flattening of the curve whereby the capacity of hospitals are not overwhelmed. People at the ground level are frequently asked and expected to distance, wear masks, and wash hands. We can see why compliance of washing hands after opening a door is adhered to, similarly the wearing of a mask at an airport, for just one example, is something that we understand completely. The question that follows, quite naturally, is what stake do I have in being compliant? It is important to show benefit at the individual level for the outcome of the collective decision making to be harmonious. Not just that I am protecting some abstract senior citizen or vulnerable person. A healthy individual may say you are wrongfully imposing restrictions on me when I know full well what I should and should not do. This would indicate an independent decision making process which cannot be managed at the macro level. At the macro level there is an assumption of ignorance by the authorities that ask for adherence despite context. My opinion is that if one group of people show non-compliance, it is wrong to then impose on all people restrictions for their non-compliance. A bar that enforces complaint behaviour, and therefore has had no cases of COVID 19, should not be asked to shut down because a bar 15 km away did not care to follow the rules. It will always be true that a person should not bear responsibility for another’s fault. We are not unable in this time to enact specific closures due to non-compliance. A simple unit of enforcement officers would suffice.
On the matter of blame for loss of business, will, after the pandemic is over with the widespread administering of a vaccine, companies turn around and demand compensation for loss of business and mountains of debt? While the event of the pandemic was undoubtedly a natural disaster of sorts, lawsuits often stem from poor Government responses that leave those most affected at the curb. If it is seen as the number of people who lost their lives is low, it may bolster claims that the lockdowns were too heavy handed. On the other hand, if the number of people who lost their lives is high with restrictions, they can easily claim that the restrictions on them were unfair because it would have been the same regardless. As we have seen in Toronto with what bar owners and gym owners are claiming, essentially being unwarranted targeting. We can attempt to mitigate this risk, in the first scenario by strongly making assertions and comparisons with other localities in the United States or other countries where the outbreak was unhindered, and show what could have been. In the second scenario, it must be shown what that industry would have contributed to the case count and loss of life. This proves difficult in the example of the airline industry when no baseline information is available. It could rightly be said, they would have effectively mitigated the risk of spread, had they been given the chance. Few news stories if any, are the result of a plane ride turning into a “super spreader event” although airline travel continues albeit drastically reduced. Weddings as an example of many available, were known to be “super spreader events” yet allowed to continue. This could lead to the argument that the restrictions on certain industries were heavy handed, without just cause, and warrant a review and compensation due to the resulting necessity of mass layoffs and loss of revenue. The question will be how much the Government can insulate themselves from lawsuits that are of this nature which are bound to come forward. Planning it is undoubtedly sure has begun on both sides.
The above is just a few of my thoughts on this pandemic that is gripping the world today. Please take it as such.