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

The United States or the Individual Will of America?

In his essay “How China Controlled the Virus”, Peter Hessler offers a unique cross-cultural perspective on the public health response to COVID, as an American professor living and teaching in Sichuan when the pandemic struck. In his essay, he articulates the day-to-day living, highlighted by constant surveillance and isolation during the worst of the pandemic. As Hessler explains, the lockdown was much stricter than what happened in the United States, driven by a combination of restrictive orders from government officials and by strong values of hard work and cooperation shown in Chinese culture. These measures appeared extreme, but it soon appeared that they were necessary to stamp out community spread of COVID in China. As Hessler’s life returned to normal in China, he watched as American cases continued to rise, with no apparent response from the federal government. This complete reversal of trajectories in response to the same virus may have been predicted based on the different approaches to government, the idea of state, and the moral implications of these power structures.

Aristotelian philosophy, on the surface, appears to be another individualistic approach to morality. He writes about the importance of achieving “eudaimonia”, or the most excellent state of being, through continuous good actions. His philosophy focuses on gaining experience, cultivating good habits and making the “right” choices. In a modern Western context, these seem like individual characteristics. People, not societies, should build their own good habits and make the decisions that seem correct to them. This interpretation, while taken out of its original context, fits seamlessly into an American perspective of morality. As shown by the pandemic response, the onus was put mostly on individuals. Without stringent lockdowns or mask mandates like those in other countries, Americans were expected to police themselves, to change their own habits and make their own choices about their health. This led to a complete breakdown of communalistic thinking as some Americans retreated into their homes, while others continued to party in crowded bars.

In striking contrast, the Chinese government took a path that more closely resembles Aristotle’s views on politics and ethics. Although Aristotle does mention that each person should be able to reach excellence, he includes an important clause. In order for people to gain the “right” experience and have the “right” moral reasoning, they must come from a society that rules by these correct standards. As seen in both government and cultural response to COVID, China took drastic actions to gain a foothold against the virus. In doing this, the nation left few moral dilemmas for citizens, and certainly no room for protest. This power and trust put into the state is something not seen in the United States. It raises questions about what kind of power structure Americans really want. A state that solely lets individuals make their own decisions is hardly stable, as it will bend constantly to the will and whims of the people. It is clear that Americans do not want a state with as much control as the Communist Party in China, but it’s less clear if Americans are willing to make any sacrifices to maintain the integrity of the nation that they love.

Paternalism by the American Government and a Utilitarian Societal Approach

In Peter Hessler’s article, “How China Controlled the Coronavirus” in The New Yorker, Hessler addresses the main role the Chinese government played in the successful lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Hessler emphasizes the societal duty that every individual in China understood. They saw the COVID-19 virus threat as a communal threat that was extremely serious to all aspects of life. The Chinese government took the dangers of the virus so seriously to the point of having a year-old baby that tested positive being held in medical observation for more than a month. However, Hessler quickly amends such dramatic examples as distracting from the immensely useful techniques of the Chinese approach to end lockdown and return to normal life. The article raises a vital bioethical question regarding paternalism by the government and societal duty in the United States. The American government must institute a paternalistic mindset regarding lockdown procedures, while also preserving state officials’ autonomy and having a utilitarian societal approach. 

A key difference Hessler indicates between China and The United States is the education and the effort of their peoples. In China, society respects science highly and are grown up in an uber-competitive educational system. Even though it may be criticized, such qualities, with government structure, were essential to fight the pandemic successfully. On the other hand, the Americans’ response to the pandemic has been significantly more passive. To alter this passive emotional response, the American government should take a paternalistic approach. In fact, under Dworkin’s theory of justified paternalism, paternalism is warranted to preserve a wider range of freedom for the individual in question (in this case the individuals). By the American government establishing certain lockdown procedures, such as mandating mask-wearing, we are attempting to preserve not only a wider range of freedom post-coronavirus yet preserving this freedom at a quicker rate. Furthermore, state government officials may also have a say in “intensifying” such requirements depending on the threat the virus holds on the state itself. Thus, having an effective combination of state official autonomy and national government paternalism.  

In such a scenario of paternalism, societal duty must be touched upon. Realistically, it would be super difficult in America for state populations to rely on both state and national government for rules (China strictness seems impossible due to violation of human rights). However, by changes in societal thought incorporating the bioethical practice of utilitarianism, it may be possible. Our people must see that morally right actions during the pandemic, such as following guidelines and going above and beyond to keep our country safe, will benefit every American in the long-run. Also, in such political unrest, establishing trust in our government with their paternalistic view on regulations would be tremendously beneficial to the overall good of society.

Violation of Human Rights Issues – Worth Saving Lives?

In the article “How China Controlled the Coronavirus,” author Peter Hessler, an English professor working in the city of Chengdu, gives a first-hand account of his experiences of the methods put in place to help control the virus. China, more specifically Wuhan, was the known zoonotic origin of the coronavirus – spreading throughout China in early 2020. Now as 2020 comes to a close, however, China has a total death toll of 4,634 in comparison with the United States which has seen 245,514 and the UK with 49,770 (still counting). It is evident from this that China has dealt with the virus better than western powers but at what ethical costs? From the article Hessler sparks a big ethical question for me which is; to what extent are the violation of basic human ethics justified in the protection of lives?

Hessler states that the Chinese response to Coronavirus was more intense and stricter than anywhere else with the government imposing strict rules on how often members were allowed to leave their households and have any form of freedom. Examples even being given of people’s doors being taped shut from the outside preventing any inhabitants from leaving. From any perspective this would be seen as a violation of basic human rights and it raises many ethical issues – mainly of which being a right to freedom. However, we live in different times right now and are experiencing an event like never before. A true global pandemic. Looking logically at these issues with the idea that saving lives is the only true goal then it would appear China’s violations of human ethics are justified as they have achieved their goal and saved lives. But it is never that simple. From these long periods of lockdown other issues have arisen relating to mental and physical health. It is difficult to come to a set outcome on the matter as, like most things, it is purely subjective.

One particular challenge raised by the blanket response seen in China and a lesser extent in the UK is that it fails adequately to address the differing impact of the virus on different groups within society and risks unduly affecting groups whose risks may be less. For example; the needs of the younger generations with regards to mental health and education need to be adequately balanced to the risks posed by the virus to the old. This a major element spoken about in Hesslers article, the use of online platforms and their effectiveness to teach.  Arguably nationwide lockdowns do not sufficiently achieve this balance. A more targeted approach may be a more ethical positive way of looking at it.

Taking a look at the UK and its fight against Coronavirus, I believe it sits nicely in the middle of the US and China’s response with a bit of both worlds. The UK government similarly to China enforced an almost two-month lockdown in March which kept people in their homes and the spreading of the virus down. However, unlike the Chinese it was done in a more relaxed manner. Other than potential fines there were no official punishments for breaking the rules. Consider it to be advice. The ownership of health was put on the people not on the government or state. No real ethical issues were therefore violated, and it seemed a good system. The UK too sits between the US and China on total death toll, this a coincidence? – I’ll let you decide. However, with the UK about to go into another month faze of lockdown from now until early December was it harsh enough?

China’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic was a clear violation of basic human ethics but it was effective in saving lives. The United States on the other hand, maybe not so much. It is a difficult balance to achieve as there will always be backlash on either side. Is a short period of violation worth the lives saved? China now sitting proud with almost no cases whilst the US battles with 100,000s per day. It is a subjective matter difficult to answer, but this is certainly a different world than we one we lived in just 12 months ago.

My take on the Ed Yong’s “Anatomy of An American Failure”

In Ed Yong’s Anatomy of An American Failure, Yong explores the actions and implications of the American government. If the American government were said to be holding a position of paternalism over the American people, it is safe to say that it did not end up being for the best interest of said American people. While it is not my place to speak for the motivations of the Trump Administration as I do not know them, it is plausible to assume that part of the reason that they withheld information about just how wide the spread of COVID-19 really was in late January to early February was to preserve peace and not cause mass panic. This ended up backfiring, as this withholding of information and encouragement that everything was under control just emboldened those who doubted the legitimacy of the virus. It is my opinion that there were also much less noble reasons at play such as financial obligations and infrastructure shortcomings, but I do think that the paternalistic viewpoint of the Trump Administration thinking it was in the best interest of the American public was part of it.

The same can be said for the Trump Administration’s stance on masks, and how it changed throughout the spring. At first, they were adamant that masks, especially N-95’s, were not necessary to be wearing in public. While this is obviously not true, one could argue that the reason the Trump Administration said this was because they were trying to preserve what was left in the stockpiles across America that were a non-negotiable necessity for those at the frontline of the battle against COVID-19. Again, the Trump Administration withheld vital information that led to more deaths and higher spread among the public and looking through a paternalistic lens they did this thinking they were helping most of the American public. I would like to point out that this was before issues such as this became partisan.

In general, the infrastructure of the national stockpile and ability for the Public Health systems to handle mass influxes of patients was extremely lacking. As many things are, these changes and shortcomings were mainly tied to financial obligations. The defunding and expulsion of existing measures in place meant to safeguard against pandemics exactly like this one was mainly to allocate more money to other areas that were found to be more relevant or financially beneficial to the government. How would our nation look now if we had not had an administration withholding vital information and an infrastructure to support us?