Flattening the Wave: US Technocracy in Action
I once knew a philosophy professor who would, deliberately, make the following “mistake:” He would say to his class that he had gone to McDonalds and had gotten a Whopper for lunch. Immediately, his students would correct him, telling him that he must have gone to Burger King because McDonalds didn’t sell Whoppers. Later though, when he tried to get his students to engage in discussions about philosophical or ethical issues, they were pretty much incapable of doing so. They were lost, most unlike their ability to navigate technical issues like the differences between Burger King and McDonalds.
This strikes me as apropos of the current US reactions to the pandemic created by the coronavirus. That is, we Americans seem perfectly content to address this as a technical problem, viz., how can we “flatten the wave.” And we obsess over what technical adaptations, in available medicines, in living styles, we should make to moderate the impact of this virus. Other, non-technical issues are not addressed and, hence, are made to seem irrelevant.
For example, I have seen very little written about how this virus’s impact is affecting the poor and what might be done to offset those affects. The virus is treated as if it were indiscriminate in who it affects, when this is clearly not the case. Moreover, people speak as if everyone can employ the same strategies to mitigate the virus’s affect, for example, as if everyone has “a place” to “shelter in.” “Stay home” the highway signs in my state of North Carolina are announcing but not everyone has a “home,” do they? And what about concerns with justice? That is, what about concerns about how some have the means to escape from those places most dangerous, while others cannot do so? And aren’t all small businesses “essential” to their owners? Why is Wal-Mart considered essential but a barber’s business is not?* Is that just?
By viewing the pandemic as a “problem” to be “solved,” the tendency is to embrace technical solutions while leaving the justice, the morality, and the discriminating character of those solutions unaddressed. We focus on the number of cases and the number of deaths, congratulating ourselves when those numbers first plateau and then begin to descend. Indeed, that is perfectly understandable. But what about the injustices, the unethical actions, and the discrimination that we embraced in our understandable obsession with mitigating this virus? There is, of course, no way to measure these phenomena as there are ways to measure the virus itself. But even though they are not measurable, they are still real. And perhaps we should try to say something about them, to address them even though, or perhaps precisely because we are in the midst of a crisis.
*Just to let you know: my computer corrected my spelling of Walmart to Wal-Mart! My professor friend would be pleased with my ignorance.