Category Archives: How China Controlled the Virus

Utilitarianism and Trust

The lens in which we Americans view China stems from anti-communist sentiments that can be traced all the way back to the 1940’s during WW2. We actively depict China as a ruthless nation that sacrifices its citizens for monetary gain just shy of slavery. A hypocritical evaluation on America’s behalf to say the very least. Communist governments are consistently grouped with Nazi Germany or North Korea – never taking into account the benefits of a system that consistently prioritizes the good of the majority, a whopping 1.4 billion people for China. And while the country does have its flaws, most notably the infamous Tiananmen Square protests and the restriction of family planning, their utilitarian attitude towards this virus was incredibly effective.

The story of Liu stood out as exceptionally utilitarian. He was forced to endure complete isolation for 65 days resulting in a clear disruption of his psychological health, but his sacrifice diminished the worries of an entire community – a community that worked incredibly hard to achieve control of the illness. The mental wellness of many exceeded the mental wellness of the individual (he was never physically sick!) and it resulted in something amazing: a near elimination of the virus in their area and a reopening within 11 weeks. This scenario absolutely would not happen in America without uproar. We don’t even keep our most lethal inmates under solitary confinement for more than 30 days. Equally so, America is likely to suffer through the new year with January marking our 11th month of quarantine. Utilitarianism simply fails to apply in America due to the divided nature of the country. There is no unified community to do good for. From the very inception of this country, communities were created out of the need to separate themselves from their oppressors – Native Americans, African Americans, and even Mexican Americans can attest to this seemingly voluntary yet necessary segregation. In America, Liu isn’t one person but instead a conglomerate of minority communities being psychologically and physically tormented at the hands of white greed and privilege. Can it be considered good for “most” if half of the country is suffering?

What struck me the most was Chinese citizens reporting a heightened trust in their government – a shocking contrast to American citizens’ current opinions on the state of our country. Racial tensions have resurfaced from viral documentation of police brutality, the BLM movement, and the rise of white nationalists. Simultaneously, an entire section of the country, unfortunately including our most powerful leaders, denies the very existence of science and insist on sickness being their American right. Our political system hasn’t been this openly polarized since the civil war and it’s become difficult to trust our neighbors let alone our government. So to see China find unity in the midst of America’s domestic crisis is jarring.

The truth is that America doesn’t trust itself. We don’t trust our government, we don’t trust each other, and we don’t trust ourselves to make the change we want to see. It feels like a lost cause but the diseased state of our country is curable with the vaccine of trust. When we dedicate ourselves to rebuilding trust in our communities we focus on creating a government and most importantly a country we can be proud of.

COVID Containment Policies: The Tradeoff Between Life and Freedom

In his article, “How China Controlled the Coronavirus,” Peter Hessler details the precautions taken by China to slow the spread of the virus. He makes an interesting point concerning the idea that Chinese value “life over freedom,” while Americans’ priorities tend to lie elsewhere.  

In China, a nationwide lockdown was issued early on to contain the spread of the virus. Any person who tested positive, regardless of their symptoms, was required to quarantine for two weeks, separated even from their families. The issue of a nationwide lockdown, similar to the issue of mask mandates, has become a topic of controversy in the US, with many Americans unwilling to give up these personal freedoms to protect the health of the general public. It’s also safe to say that most Americans would not respond well to the thought of a COVID-positive child being separated from their family for two weeks to quarantine. not respond well to the thought of COVID-positive children being separated from their families for two weeks to quarantine. 

While Americans’ value of freedom is typically justified, it cannot be prioritized over the health and safety of others. Personal freedom should not be taken away, but an issue like public health affects everyone around you, making it a community problem. In cases like these, it’s important to prioritize the safety of a large group over the freedom of any one individual. 

It’s also important to remember that the policies that would be enacted to contain COVID wouldn’t be permanent. A lockdown would need to have an end-date on it, and it’s unrealistic to expect people to continue wearing masks for the rest of their lives. People aren’t being asked to surrender their freedom forever: as seen with China, it would only take a couple of months of diligently following the implemented policies to contain the virus to a point where we could safely return to “normal.” While individual freedom is certainly a highlight of American democracy, asking people to temporarily surrender some small aspects of that freedom in order to save the lives of those around them really shouldn’t be so controversial. 

While some of the methods used in China may be viewed as extreme or paternalistic in other countries, they were clearly more effective than the route taken by the United States. While we are currently experiencing another peak of COVID cases and seeing a higher number of new daily cases than at any other point since the outbreak began, China’s numbers greatly improved as a result of their policies, allowing them to return to “normal life” much sooner than in the US. 

Many mistakes have already been made in the US handling of the coronavirus outbreak, but at this point, the real questions lie not in the past, but in the future: what comes next? With a change in our nation’s leadership approaching, how can we implement policies that will slow the spread of the virus without impeding on the personal freedoms that Americans hold so dear? Is there a way to effectively satisfy both the values of life and freedom? Or must freedom step to the side while we handle the immediate threat of the virus?

Conceptualized Freedom and the mismanagement of Covid 19

In the reading we were afforded the interesting perspective of Mr. Peter Hessler, who served as a teacher in the pandemic. Through his article, “How china controlled the coronavirus”, we got to see the management of the virus by the Chinese government. This point of view brings his American readership less biased insight to the way that the novel pandemic has been controlled in china. China’s actions in response to the spread of the pandemic was considerably stricter and more serious than that of the United States. In his article, he cites one of his students saying that the Chinese prioritize life over freedom. I found this statement intriguing, because in my mind, I do not see lock down and quarantine measures as an attack on my freedom. The concept of freedom is per individual interpretation, and is largely influenced by the society which one grows in. In America, the conceptuality of basic inalienable rights is carried by most of its constituents. We saw that in response to covid regulations, many Americans had issues with a mask mandate, business closing, and other implications of the lockdown. I believe this to be centered in a sense of individuality over unity that coincides with the spirit of free market capitalism. From my understanding, the prioritization of self over the communal health and well being of Americans is the root cause behind the conflict associated with mask wearing and quarantine advisories. Personally, I view these perspectives as a warped sense of freedom and have qualms with the mentality of self-interest over the health and wellness of the whole. We see the same trends translate over into the Governing of our nation, with many governing officials downplaying the effects, range, and legitimacy of concerns regarding the corona virus. It is the job of the governing body to enact plans to protect its citizenship, but at the same time, to preserve the livelihood of its people. In America, we see how the priority of the nation is much different from a country like china, who deployed many resources to condense and converge on the pandemic’s spread. Conceptualized freedom has much to do with the pushback associated with the arrangements made to battle the pandemic in this country. It brings into question the legitimacy of an American Paternalist government

A Vehement Critique of Authoritarianism

Peter Hessler, in his article “How China Controlled The Coronavirus,” provides an engaging personal narrative that describes his experiences in China with the thrilling subtext of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through this narrative he provides an accurate exegesis on the various methods that the Chinese government utilized to curtail the spread of the virus, and through deep personal, anecdotal evidence, he identifies the strengths and the successes of this method. He extrapolates on methods used such as strict lockdowns, health-trackers, and other severe, authoritarian measures, but Hessler goes further. He uses these strict measures and their success as a critique of liberal democracy, explaining that “those strategies could never be adopted in America.” The entire article seems to have the undertone of the ethical benefits of paternalism and beneficence, even when it curtails personal autonomy or individual freedoms. While I concede the undeniable truth that the United States and other liberal democracies could have bettered education efforts and been more stringent on public appearance and public health policy to combat the virus, I fundamentally disagree with the evident subtext of the article, which seems to be a critique of liberal democracy at large. While it may have failed us in this specific instance, liberal democracy has protected us from a plethora of evils that authoritarian regimes such as China actively use to subjugate their peoples. This virus should be considered the exception, and not the rule, to the efficacy and moral righteousness of liberal democracy.

The fundamental ethical dynamic of power largely influences my belief in this refutal. It boils down to a rather simple context: power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Of course I am cognizant of the fact that for national security reasons, people in liberal democracies often forgo power for the greater good, but there should always be systems in place to remove and reclaim it. I also acknowledge the argument that with regards to the virus, the federal government in America should have taken a more active role in pursuing nationwide. Concurrently, I understand the notion that the author does not support all the policies put forth by China and does scrutinize them to such extent. My main issue is not with the strategies of China that the author praises but that it elevates China as a model as to pursuing those policies. If the virus is used as a model to forgo more power to the federal government, in a system like China, there is no system in place to remove that power. The only way to pursue the kinds of reforms that Hessler praises with the expediency he describes is to move closer to such a system, and I believe that to be incredibly dangerous. Processes under democracies take time and require patience by nature, but that is not a weakness, but rather a cogent strength. I am aware of our Federal Government’s failure to pursue stringent nationwide reforms for the virus, but I believe a more conducive and productive means of such reform is incentivization. For many other public health crises, we have used economic disincentivization to sway the public to the side of health. A prime example is the economic sanction imposed on cigarettes. The government could have incentivized states to push for stringent health policies through funding, but the localization of power is incredibly important. Education and leadership efforts could have been much better, but these largely revolve around rhetoric. Legislatively usurping power from peoples is the practice of aristocracies. 

Various ethical dilemmas can be used as cogent lenses to view the philosophical questions within Hessler’s argument. His main strain of ethical principle seems to be derivative of utilitarianism, because he argues that more lives can be saved through this authoritarian pursuit. That is fundamentally true. I do concede that authoritarianism breeds “results,” but in doing so, it runs the risk of viewing peoples and entities as means to an end. Quality of life, mental health, autonomy: these things matter. I know it seems like I am rashly against the intention and the truth of the article, but this is not the case. I see much merit in what Hessler puts forth. Even though I disagreed with some of the premises of the article and in my adolescent immaturity vehemently derided even the slightest praise of authoritarianism, the article did indeed provoke me to be a bit more introspective about the flaws of the American system. I began to wonder how more stringent policies and a stronger federal government initiative could have benefitted communities of color. I think it is important to find a balance between the two extremes, but I still believe that balance should be approached and achieved democratically. Slow and steady wins the race, and good things come to those who wait. 

Airports and Aristotle

I recently traveled back home to Omaha, Nebraska, and was shocked at the way that the coronavirus was handled at the airport. When I approached the TSA agent and showed her my ID, she told me that I was required to take off my mask to ensure a “correct identification”. I grudgingly took off my surgical mask and struggled to get it back on before being shuffled to the bag check. I seemed to be the only one that was sanitizing my things after they had touched the security conveyor belts and the SkyRail was completely packed after security. With this experience in mind, Hessler’s documentation about the ways that China handled the coronavirus was shocking. On the college campus that Hessler taught at, there were gates at every entrance that were equipped with face scanners. Both he and the students did not have to take their masks off to use this technology to get access to campus. There were robots that roamed around campus, able to do certain tasks that reduced the amount of physical interaction between students and staff. China’s efficient and effective use of technology during this pandemic was incredible to me. Not only does it show massive technological advancement, but it also highlights China’s more collective approach to coronavirus. Instead of having certain individuals risking their health to deliver packages to students, Chinese scientists came together to find modern solutions to this new and common problem. They viewed the coronavirus as a communal project, emphasizing that it was a threat to the overall society, not just a personal one. Even if Americans would have treated the virus as more of a communal project, would the country have the infrastructure necessary to integrate newer technologies like these? 

China’s approach to communal freedoms and responsibility are very similar to Aristotle’s teachings. He argued that habits are rooted in our surrounding community, so having a well-functioning society leads to a more virtuous individual. Taking temperatures and sharing the results on chat platforms was the norm and allowed people to hold their peers accountable. Individuals were willing to participate in this system, even though it could be considered to be a minor time inconvenience. Contract tracers sacrificed their own sleep for the health of their community. Families had their own homes sealed by community officials but did not openly complain. With this value placed on life over freedom, China was able to combat the coronavirus in a more coordinated way that saved many lives. Even between the Omaha and Atlanta airport, the coronavirus was handled differently. In Atlanta, there were stickers on the ground reminding people to social distance. In Omaha, though, most people were wearing masks, but still standing incredibly close together. If American airports cannot even coordinate their coronavirus standards, I do not think that the entire country could come together like China did. Even so, it was inspiring to read about how well China was able to handle the coronavirus, and I hope that America will somehow find a way to follow suit.

How Paternalism Has Currently Proven Effective Outside of the U.S.

Peter Hessler’s recent article shined a light on the global differences in response to the coronavirus. Throughout the article Peter details the strikingly innovative approach taken by China, to combat the virus. The first eye-opening innovation mentioned was the completely robotic package delivery service put in place, on the streets, by the Chinese government. The robot is so COVID-19-specific, that it requires owners of the packages to have on masks in order to retrieve their goods. This is an example of the first major point Peter makes in his article-the Chinese government did not only enact rules and regulations, they enforced them, and also facilitated the transition into citizens following said rules and regulations

Although the Chinese government did a great job of helping citizens understand that the old way of life would not be sustainable for a period of time, it would be unfair to not mention the moments of extreme enforcement of those same rules and regulations. One way in which the paternalistic approach was negative, according to Peter, is how aggressively the Chinese government eradicated contractees of the coronavirus from their homes and the ways in which others were trapped in their homes for weeks. Aside from these issues, the Chinese government did something that could never happen in the U.S. However, it would also be inaccurate to not give recognition to the Chinese citizens who skeptically accepted the new way of life taught to them.

This acceptance of the “new normal” was highlighted throughout the article, from picking up packages to having to record and report one’s child’s temperature every single day before sending them off to school. Having a population that is willing to work together and make sacrifices is essential for paternalism to work during times like these. The people have to be able to trust the government while giving up certain freedoms. Once again, this is something that I doubt could ever occur in the U.S., due to its deep roots of defying orders and living freely. It doesn’t help that the leadership during the beginning of the pandemic to this very day, has put so much emphasis on avoiding the footsteps of the Chinese government. The effects of that can be seen in the strikingly different number of cases between the two countries.

Furthermore, due to how commonsensical the innovations of the Chinese government were, I’m beginning to wonder if the U.S. simply wasn’t thinking hard enough about stopping the spread of the virus. With every protocol listed in the article, the answer to that question is affirmed more and more. It seems that while China and other countries were working amongst themselves to educate and stop the spread of coronavirus, our country was focused on suppressing the understanding of the virus, which has caused division among our people. Division is equal to picking sides, and picking the side that supports not wearing a mask and showing up to every party has pushed us further and further away from the models that have proven to be effective.

Does American Society Value Freedom Over Life?

In “How China Controlled the Coronavirus,” Peter Hessler discusses his experience working as a teacher in China during the pandemic. Towards the end of the article he discusses how drastically less successful the United States was at limiting the spread of Covid-19. The vast difference in the number of cases and deaths was tied to China’s more strict policies in response to Covid-19. Hessler notes one of his students saying an additional reason was that “Chinese value life over freedom, whereas Americans take the opposite approach.” Hessler seemed to lean away from this idea, pointing more towards a failure of leadership and institutions. However, I can’t help but somewhat agree with the student on this view of American values. Students at my school laughed when someone suggested that the pandemic might prevent us from having prom or graduation. The idea that we wouldn’t have the graduation ceremony we had been planning to have for four years seemed absurd and, most importantly, unfair. 

The idea of an inalienable right to freedom is taught to children in the United States from as early as kindergarten. It is a core tenant of America whether or not the idea of universal freedom is truly upheld or not. So when people were told to stay home, wear a mask, and limit their interactions many began claiming their rights were being violated. We face restrictions of our autonomy daily, but these restrictions were new, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable. People protested the closing of states and argued for their right to get a haircut. Therefore, It does not seem like a stretch to suggest that America has in some ways come to value a sense of freedom and autonomy over life, largely as a byproduct of patriotic and nationalist teachings. The other day, my mother angrily showed me a Facebook post from a family member that almost explicitly reflected valuing freedom over life. He claimed it was unfair to require him to wear a mask because he had a right to put his life at risk if it was his decision (conveniently glossing over the negative health effects his decisions could have on others.) That family member recently contracted Covid-19. 

All this being said, it is still important to remember the individual and their rights while making policy decisions such as those surrounding Covid-19. Something that seems like the clear course to saving lives may unintentionally harm some. For example, many were concerned about the closing of the school system in my town because many children rely on school meal plans to provide them with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The rights of these children had to be considered and a plan quickly put in place to continue providing these students with food while school was occurring online. There must be a balance within society between valuing life and valuing freedom, somewhat similar to Aristotelian ideas. There can be no flourishing without a society taking the proper steps to protect its citizens, but society must also remember to promote flourishing.

COVID-19 Lockdowns: Necessary Evils?

The United States, more than any other country, might as well have been built to foster moral and ethical conflict between the private citizen and the government.  Whenever you have a country with its moral principles firmly cemented in personal freedom and autonomy such as the US, questions of paternalism and sociopolitical regulations are bound to arise, especially during times such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The United States’ firmly planted principles of personal autonomy and the potential need for a form of government paternalism have been placed face-to-face by the pandemic; and the shortcomings of these beliefs become only more apparent as we compare them to other countries such as China. Personal autonomy in one’s life is so fundamentally laced into the moral patchwork of our country that it may as well be the Autonomous States of America. This is great for a multitude of reasons and has provided innumerable personal freedoms and luxuries that positively differentiate us from other government-dominated societies. However, this is also a recipe for paternalistic policy conflict. With the covid-inspired lockdowns across the country, violent protests resisting these government orders have surfaced. In response to Peter Hessler’s article How China Controlled the Coronavirus, we must evaluate when regulatory government paternalism, especially in crisis times, is necessary and should be tolerated, as well as how this paternalism can relate to moral Utilitarianist theory.

In China, the government has taken a firm paternalistic approach to the COVID lockdowns, as Hessler says “the Chinese lockdown was more intense than almost anywhere in the world”.  Doors were sealed, infected children were taken for ‘medical observation’, and extreme neighborhood lockdowns. If these procedures were enacted in the US, there would be nothing less than a revolt. However, although these procedures may be extreme, they did an extremely good job of containing the spread of the virus. In contrast, US virus cases spiraled out of control. This case study is a strong argument for the benefits of paternalism for the mass good of the people: aka, paternalism for utilitarianism. The intense isolation and lockdown of the society for a short time and isolation of select sick individuals caused the most benefit overall for the society as a whole. On the other hand, groups in the US heavily resisted paternalist action on the basis of autonomous freedoms. People in the US believe that they have individual rights to take care of their own health and decide what is best. Morally and logically, the argument can be made that this did not provide benefit to our society.

 If the Utilitarian theory was used in this pandemic, the US would have enacted the necessary paternalistic lockdown theory and we would not have ridiculous spikes of COVID deaths and cases while virtually every other country that sacrificed a bit of their autonomy for the general good has gotten their cases under control.

Life vs. Freedom: a comparison of the Chinese and American COVID responses

In his article “How China Controlled the Virus”, Peter Hessler recalls his experience as an English professor in Sichuan during the Chinese response to the COVID pandemic, describing strict policies of isolation, community enforcement and shaming, and a strong sense of sociality. Although the pandemic originated in Wuhan, China, China was actually among the first countries to get a hold of the virus’ spread. China’s response was in sharp contrast to that of the United States, where the virus infections and deaths are still at an all time high. Hessler generalizes the difference between these two nations’ pandemic responses as the following: “Chinese value life over freedom, whereas Americans take the opposite approach.” 

This statement is unsurprising. America has always valued individual rights and democracy, which in many cases has proved to be an ideal form of government. However, it’s imperative to recognize when certain situations require a more communitarian approach, particularly when it comes to public health issues. Heeding expert advice on wearing masks, social distancing, etc should be regarded as a social responsibility in order for the country to get back on its feet because failing to do so would first and foremost be putting others’ rights to life at risk. However, it would be unfair to say that the failure of an effective American response proves the weaknesses of democratic values as a whole, since several other democratic nations have done a much better job of controlling the virus than the US has. Rather, it points more to America’s deterioration of leadership, a lack of a national response, the unhindered spread of misinformation, and the politicization of health issues. 

However, the extremities of the Chinese response are also, in many ways, equally as dangerous. Although China was able to effectively control the virus spread, the story of “the Liupold Bloom of northeastern Sichuan” who had been in medical isolation for sixty-five days shows the severe psychological damage that the strict lockdowns and isolation measures had on individuals. Factors like the economy, autonomy, and the mental wellbeing of Chinese citizens were in many ways disregarded.

The dangers of both extreme perspectives on handling public health crises then begs the question: where is the balance? For starters, I believe that misinformation is deleterious to any pandemic response. Additionally, because the benefits of measures like mask-wearing outweigh any sort of trivial inconvenience of wearing them, some extent of paternalism here is justified. Other policies are more nuanced, but it’s hard not to wonder, had America at least kept these two assertions in consideration, where would we be now?

The public as a collective sentencing people to commit suicide

In “The public-shaming pandemic”, D. T. Max explores the rising trend of “public shaming” that aims towards patients of COVID-19 who, accidently, spread the disease to other people. Max gives several cases, such as that of Nga, an Instagram influencer and Rokita, a polish doctor and shows how the public shaming nature of citizens effected these people.

In a moral point of view, I believe that “public shaming” can play a helpful role in preventing dangerous and potentially harmful behavior towards the society. Knowing that going to parties during a global pandemic or being racist towards racial minorities could potentially receive public backlash, people would be discouraged to behave in such ways, reducing the overall risk of people and promote overall happiness.

However, there are shady sides of public shaming such as extreme violation of privacy, more than optimal amounts of hatred and being condemned for actions that people may have not committed.

The case of Rokita, who had committed suicide due to the harsh backlash he received due to spreading the disease, showcases that the public holds to much influence and power without much responsibility. To elaborate, people in the public, tend to become extremely emotional and aggressive towards people like Rokita due to the danger that COVID-19 poses on them. The motivation for public shaming, therefore, for the public is not to only solely prevent further cases of COVID for the public good, but also lash out their insecurities and emotions to someone that could be blamed for the cause of the threat.

However, because there are no public guidelines that restrict people from condemning people for actions that are factually proven, or take responsibility for falsely or overly accusing someone for doing something, seems to be unfair for the individual, who can not simply persuade or confront the collective public like he or she would with an individual in order to resolve the issue or resolve and misunderstandings.

At the end, we come to many questions such as whether public shaming needs to be restricted in order to prevent cases such as Rokita, suiciding. Another solution perhaps may come from the state, or government, that gives the right amount of backlash or punishment instead of the public people. However, it is questionable whether this limitation of public shaming is possible due to the rights to freedom of speech, and the limitations that government enacted laws and policies have in mimicking the effects that public shaming have on generating a social atmosphere that discourages wrongful doings.

**this is a post for Week 14, on “Public Shaming Pandemic”, not Week 13