Much of the public discussion of Canada’s pandemic response focuses on ways individuals can understand and navigate risks.
Articles in the media and statements from experts suggest everyone has a different “risk threshold.” It is up to each of us to evaluate risks and determine if we are personally willing to accept risks in a given situation.
The approach is grounded in individualism, in the sense it is about singular people and their particular interests. And it is grounded in data, in the sense that individuals should evaluate risks based on case numbers, wastewater readings, vaccination status, restrictions, and other information.
To be clear, we need good data about the pandemic, and individualism has an important place in society. But Canada’s pandemic response, especially in this current stage, is solely focused on these two aspects to the detriment of other approaches that would be helpful.
An ethical perspective
There are many reasons for this general orientation to individualism and data. Some of it is to do with the country’s history and its overarching political, economic, and social systems. Some of it is to do with the belief that the methods of hard science can explain complex human life.
But in a more basic sense, the pandemic response is mainly articulated through individualism and data because to do otherwise would oblige people to act differently.
For example, my research and writing over the past two years has described what I call an “ethics of collective care” as a response to the pandemic. Simply put, it is an approach that assumes a collective effort that is orientated toward minimizing harm.
Viewing the current situation through this ethics of collective care, the issue would not be whether there are risks for me as an individual but whether it is morally justifiable to act in ways that contribute to the suffering of others, directly or indirectly.
At the expense of others
It needs to be said that Canada’s current pandemic response has an embedded amorality. Its extreme individualism carries a willingness to sacrifice others in the name of self-interest. Its obsession with data creates distance from the realities of human suffering as the culmination of individual actions.
The fervid focus on individualism and data is, in many ways, a defence mechanism, part of a generalized dissonance, and something that makes it easier to avoid thorny ethical issues.
Because if people perceived those ethical issues, it would make it difficult for them to carry on without questioning the amorality of their actions.
“You have to live your life,” they say. But the unspoken amorality is “at the expense of others not being able to live theirs.”