A viral pandemic presents a multitude of problems for human communities, civic society, and global economic systems. The central problem manifests as the demands imposed on our ability to coordinate behavior. Mask wearing and distancing are the behaviors the virus demands to avoid economic devastation and potentially millions of deaths. Coordinating behavior is challenging in numerous ways. In the US, our deeply divided politics politicizes nearly everything, including facts themselves.
The primary way in which we coordinate behavior is discourse. And, in this case, we are hoping to achieve moral progress through discourse. Moral progress, in our culture, is achieved by seeing suffering in some aspect of our culture and believing in the importance and inherent goodness in addressing it.
In the past, this has happened when a moral entrepreneur,
a Martin King or Betty Friedan challenged our assumptions and worked on our conscience. Other examples of moral progress are what follows from a historical event. Sometimes this historical event is created by a person, but often it is the only circumstance of the arch of history. Covid 19 constitutes a historical event but not an example of moral progress. This frames the problem of manifesting moral progress out of a circumstance of the arch of history.
I like to tackle a writing problem like this by getting oriented/tuned in to the right voice by watching philosophers talk on camera. They have ways of speaking, cadences, and locutions that help to bring up the frame of mind and voice needed to get my own words down on paper. I remembered one particular interview of Hubert Dreyfus where he talks about how Pascal in response or frustration with Descartes. He argues that "we are essentially bodies and essentially minds and they are in conflict in many ways, and, we are stretched on this conflict; we're crucified on the conflict."
I guess I felt that the gravity of the genuine possibility of a family member's suffering and death put everyone right at the center of questions about our bodies and vulnerability, commitment, risk, and meaning. More than anyone else, I thought of those who have found caring for others to be a calling and the terrible position they are in, given our current politics. I thought of the feeling I get when emotion wells up when reading or listening to someone tell a story of care and sacrifice. I wanted to try to use that emotional register as a message of support for those set to stand between so many who will become ill and the end of their lives, or their suffering of the illness with everything that it entails.
When the process had run its course, I had a straightforward message that was emotional to read, made more impactful with the metaphor and meaning of moving images.
"There are more than fifteen million at risk health care workers in the US alone. Of those fifteen million, each and every individual has chosen to stretch themselves over the contradictions of being themselves, being deeply feeling members of the human race, and at once mothers to children they must protect fathers to families they must carry and sons and daughters of parents they are terrified of feeling the loss of.
As the feet of these caring people bear their own weight each morning, as they do what one does, we are given the gift of feeling the energy of their vulnerability, the weight of their commitment — the trembling of their risk. Sit with them, pray with them, sing for them — keep them close in your mind, but let the energy of their actions inform your own, contemplate the good!
All the answers to the questions of how to act in these gravest of circumstances are there in you. All that is required of us is to turn our attention to acts of selflessness, toward the good. There you will find a we! You will find that what was before the impossibility of getting all this, what it means to be a human being, together, has become natural. We are the human race, finite and infinite, temporal and internal, possible and necessary, we are a we!"