Category Archives: Ethics

The Uncertainty Principle

 

When we recognize that there is uncertainty in a debate, such as the debate about whether or not abortions should be banned or prohibited, we should realize some fundamentally important things. In this respect I have learned a lot from the British philosopher Bertrand Russell. This is the principle that he stood for:

“In the sphere of practical politics, this intellectual attitude has important consequences. In the first place, it is not worth while to inflict a comparatively certain present evil for the sake of a comparatively doubtful future good. If the theology of former times was entirely correct, it was worthwhile burning a number of people at the stake in order that survivors might go to heaven, but if it was doubtful whether heretics would go to hell, the argument for persecution was not valid. If it is certain that Marx’s eschatology is true, and that as soon private capitalism is abolished we shall all be happy ever after, then it is right to pursue this end by means of dictatorships, concentration camps, and world wars; but if the end is doubtful or the means not sure to achieve it, present misery becomes an irresistible argument against such drastic methods. If it were certain without Jews the world would be a paradise, there could be no valid objection to Auschwitz; but if it is much more probable that the world resulting from such methods would be a hell, we can allow free play to our natural humanitarian revulsion against cruelty.”

 

The Russell principle, if I may call it that, is that it is wrong to inflict a certain harm to achieve a dubious good. The more uncertain the future goal one is trying to achieve the less must be the harm one employs to obtain it. It is permitted to inflict violence to avoid a certain greater harm, but it makes no sense to inflict a certain harm to avoid an uncertain future harm unless that future harm is much worse than the means. It has to be so much worse that the risk of inflicting unnecessary harms is justified in order to avoid such a catastrophic harm.

This requires a rational analysis of the probabilities. The more dubious the future goal the more gentle must be the means employed to obtain it. The problem with the modern utopians is that they inflict a certain substantial present harm to achieve not just a dubious future goal, but an impossible goal! As a result, since banning abortion inflicts a certain harm on the mother by removing her ability to choose abortion, we are not entitled to do that because we might be wrong. Perhaps the foetus is not a human life until birth when it is severed form the mother. Then it would be wrong to punish the mother.

 

I have explained why I think it is not rational to claim certainty in the abortion debate. Some think abortions are evil because they required the killing of a human being. Others think abortions are justified because the life at stake is the mother and she should be the one to decide what she should or should not do with it. The mother has autonomy to decides.

John Locke, the first of the great British empiricists, that Russell saw as his mentors, held that our knowledge is always uncertain and this fact should always be taken into consideration when we contemplate any action. When we are uncertain of being right or wrong we should take what Russell called the “liberal creed.” That is the philosophy of live and let live. We should not be fanatical. As Russell said, “The genuine Liberal does not say ‘this is true’, he says ‘I am inclined to think that under present circumstances this opinion is probably the best.” For example, he believed in democracy but even there he insisted on taking a limited and undogmatic view of democracy, because he might be wrong. He would advocate the same approach for the abortion question.

That was why Russell was more concerned with procedure than outcomes, when it came to political thinking. He urged the adoption of a political approach rather than a political dogma. Russell put it this way,

“The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment. This is the way in which opinions are held in science, as opposed to the way in which they are held in theology.”

 

Russell argued in favor of neither dogma nor absolute scepticism. He thought his views were somewhere between the two opposing positions. He called his political views Liberalism born from empiricism. The most important premise of that point of view is that all ‘knowledge’ is to some degree doubtful. Some of course more doubtful than others.

That is a perfect summary of my own political philosophy that I have drawn from Bertrand Russell, Albert Camus, John Gray, Michael Oakeshott and other political thinkers. Russell pointed out that if one could be certain that heretics would go to hell where they would suffer eternal torment, it made sense to burn heretics so that they would not lead others astray. If on the other hand it was doubtful that heretics would go to hell then persecution of them would not be justified. Doubt leads directly to toleration; certainty to persecution. If you know that you are fighting for God’s camp, any measures, no matter how awful are justified. As Bob Dylan put it, “you don’t count the dead with God on your side.” As Albert Camus said in his brilliant book, The Rebel, we must “refuse to be a god.”

I accept this approach. Since it is doubtful whether or not abortions result in the death of a human being, we should be modest in our actions—because we might be wrong. Inflicting certain harm on the mother is not justified until we can be certain we are right and that the harm we inflict is less than the harm we avert as a result of the imposition of the harm. Our duty is to choose the course of action which will inflict the least harm and promote the greatest good.

 

The Classics: Wisdom Speaking

 

For Cornel West the search for wisdom is also a spiritual search. Cornel West wrote an article in the Washington Post in response to Howard University and other universities getting rid of their Classics Department.  In fairness to Howard it is a university that does not have the massive dnowments that some of the Ivy League schools have. Howard University is not Harvard. Yet West thought they could do better in their search for wisdom.   Walter Isaacson interviewed West on Amanpour and Company on the dispute.

 

Cornel West believes it is important to preserve and read the classics. He said,

 

“I am convinced we are living in a moment of spiritual decay and moral decrepitude in the American empire. We have to come up with countervailing forces and countervailing weight against the rule of money, rule of mediocrity, rule of military might, rule of narrow conformity, and rule of indifference and callousness. The best classics of any civilization, of any empire, of any culture have to do with trying to convince ourselves to get involved in a quest for truth, and beauty, and goodness, and then for some of us like myself, a Christian, the holy.”

 

To me that sums up the best of the humanities—i.e. the wisdom of civilization. But West believes there has been a deep moral decline in the west and a deep intellectual narrowness has crept in, and that the classics can help us to resist this trend. He says, the reason it does that is

 

“The classics force us to come to terms with the most terrifying question we can ever raise which is what does it mean to be human? The unexamined life is not a life of human according to Plato in his Apology in line 38a. “Human” comes from the Latin humando which means burial, we are disappearing creatures. We are vanishing organisms on the way to bodily extinction. Therefore, the question becomes, ‘who will we be in the meantime?’ What kind of virtue can we enact? What kind of vision will we pursue? What kind of values will we try to embody? And once you raise that question what it means to be human, then you begin to see on the one hand what Shakespeare and Dante have taught us, like Toni Morrison, and John Coltrane have taught us, it’s dark in our history! Most of our history is the history of domination and oppression. The history of hatred. The history of contempt. It is the history of fear driven cruelty. What is the best of our history? Counterweights against that. And that is everywhere you look. Every civilization. Every continent. Every race. Every religion. Every gender. Every sexual orientation. And once you come to terms with that, then the question becomes how do you become equipped? What kind of spiritual and moral armour do you have that allows you to think critically? That allows you to open yourself to others. That allows you to act courageously.”

 

Now if that is not a spiritual quest, I do not know what is. West used Frederick Douglas as an example of a man who did that. He teased out truths from foreign languages as anyone can do. He was already a freedom fighter, but the classics of other countries helped him to find the truth, beauty, and the good. According to West, “He teased out an eloquence. And what is eloquence? “Eloquence is wisdom speaking,” say Cicero and Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (often referred to as Quintilian) a rhetorician and educator.

 

According to West, the essence of wisdom speaking is having the courage to know how to die by questioning your presuppositions. Every time you let a presupposition go that is a form of death because it allows you to be reborn. It allows you to grow. It allows you to develop. It allows you to mature. If you can learn that, from religion, philosophy, music, or the classics you have the necessary spiritual armour.

As West said,

 

“We live in an empire my brother that has grown powerful and rich but has not grown up. F.O Mathieson used to say, America would in some way be distinctive because it could move from perceived innocence to corruption without a mediating state of maturity.” The nation believes it is innocent. How can you be authorizers of devastation of indigenous people and African slaves and then view yourselves as innocent? “

 

In many ways that is the problem many people have—particularly those who have been privileged and fail to recognize that privilege. How can you fail to look at the crimes produced in the name of your civilization? We all need to grow up and see that we are not innocent, no matter how much we would like to be innocent.

The Classics: Wisdom Speaking

Cornel West wrote an article in the Washington Post in response to Howard University and other universities getting rid of their Classics Department.  Walter Isaacson interviewed him on Amanpour and Company about that. said that he believes it is important to preserve and read the classics. He  emphasized that, it important to read the classics:

I am convinced we are living in a moment of spiritual decay and moral decrepitude in the American empire. We have to come up with countervailing forces and countervailing weight against the rule of money, rule of mediocrity, rule of military might, rule of narrow conformity, and rule of indifference and callousness. The best classics of any civilization, of any empire, of any culture have to do with trying to convince ourselves to get involved in a quest for truth, and beauty, and goodness, and then for some of us like myself, a Christian, the holy.

 

That is what the classics can help us to do. That is part of West’s religious quest in the modern age. West believes there has been a deep moral decline in the west and a deep intellectual narrowness has crept in, and that the classics can help us to resist this trend. He says, the reason it does that is

“The classics force us to come to terms with the most terrifying question we can ever raise which is what does it mean to be human? The unexamined life is not a life of a human according to Plato in his Apology in line 38a. “Human” comes from the Latin humando which means burial, we are disappearing creatures. We are vanishing organisms on the way to bodily extinction. Therefore, the question becomes, ‘who will we be in the meantime?’ What kind of virtue can we enact? What kind of vision will we pursue? What kind of values will we try to embody? And once you raise that question what it means to be human, then you begin to see on the one hand like Shakespeare and Dante have taught us, like Toni Morrison, and John Coltrane have taught us, it’s dark in our history! Most of our history is the history of domination and oppression. The history of hatred. The history of contempt. It is the history of fear driven cruelty. What is the best of our history? Counterweights against that. And that is everywhere you look. Every civilization. Every continent. Every race. Every religion. Every gender. Every sexual orientation. And once you come to terms with that, then the question becomes how do you become equipped? What kind of spiritual and moral armour do you have that allows you to think critically? That allows you to open yourself to others. That allows you to act courageously.”

 

Now if that is not a spiritual quest, I do not know what is. That is what I have been seekiing on my quest. I think I have found it. West used Frederick Douglas as an example of a man who did that. He discovered  truths from foreign languages as well as anyone can do. He was already a freedom fighter, but the classics of other countries helped him to find the truth, beauty, and the good. According to West, “He teased out an eloquence. And what is eloquence? “Eloquence is wisdom speaking,” say Cicero and Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (often referred to as Quintilian) a rhetorician and educator.

 

According to West, the essence of wisdom speaking is having the courage to know how to die by questioning your presuppositions. Every time you let a presupposition go that is a form of death because it allows you to be reborn. It allows you to grow. It allows you to develop. It allows you to mature.

As West said,

“We live in an empire my brother that has grown powerful and rich but has not grown up. F.O Mathieson used to say, “America would in some way be distinctive because it could move from perceived innocence to corruption without a mediating state of maturity.” The nation believes it is innocent. How can you be authorizers of devastation of indigenous people and African slaves and then view yourselves as innocent? James Baldwin said that innocence is the crime before you commit the crime. We need to grow up. This is not Peter Pan. This is not Disneyland. We gotta be mature. It is possible for any human being to be innocent, naïve, to be mature and separate childishness from child-likeness. Child-likeness is a sign of maturity. Childishness? You need to grow up.”

The classics taught West how to find truth, beauty, moral goodness and the holy. That is the spiritual quest in the modern age.

Blessed Hesed

 

On Amanour & Co. Cornel West talked some more about the Hebrew concept of hesed.

He started by talking about the great American novelist Henry James who wrote a letter on January 12, 1901 to Robert Louis Stevenson in which he said, he wanted no theory that is too kind  us or that cheats us out of seeing. Every theory has a certain limitedness and narrowness, but the goal is to broaden what we see. We do not want to be short-sighted or myopic. West says the same applies to feeling more deeply.  Then we hopefully can avoid indifference.

West quoted the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who said, “Indifference to evil is more evil than evil itself.”  The Rabbi said it was more dangerous more universal, and more contagious than evil. Then, according to West, the next step is to act more courageously.  It certainly seems like those who are indifferent to suffering are in fact almost numberless. They have no interest in confronting issues of inequity, injustice, poverty, oppression, or the like. They just want to get to their TV shows, or their Facebook feed, or their mindless chatter. I don’t know if it is the most evil thing, but it is surely evil when people are indifferent to suffering.  According to West, If they don’t care about the suffering of others they are simply not fully human.

Even when black leaders are the best of who they are, there are limitations, he admitted. That’s why “democracy itself is the proximate solution to insoluble problems.” It’s the best we can do for now. As he added,

“You are never going to get away with the hatred and insecurity and the anxiety that go hand in hand with who we are as human beings, but you can have mechanisms of accountability vis-à-vis the most vulnerable. That’s democracy. That’s why voices from below can merge to try to shape the destiny of a nation.”

 

When West speaks of love, he means it in the biblical sense of the prophets. As Jeff Sharlet explained,   “Hesed,” he tells me one evening in Princeton, the Hebrew word for “lovingkindness.” “Steadfast commitment to the wellbeing of others, especially the least of these,” West says. That demands a lot of love, but West doesn’t stop there. “Justice is what love looks like in public.” For him, justice is not vengeance but fairness; the respect he believes should be accorded every soul. “And democracy,” he continues, “is what justice looks like in practice.”

I find it interesting how West takes an Old Testament concept and infuses it with modern politics.  He uses the idea to advocate for a  a society where there is justice—a vast, public, and steadfast lovingkindness—for all. That is where West’s religious quest brought him. It brought him to a good place.

 

Moral Constipation

 

Brother Cornell West, like Woody Guthrie, always wants to be on the side of the oppressed. That does not mean the oppressed are always right about everything. It does mean they are oppressed and they deserve to be relieved of that oppression. Is that not what the Old Testament prophets urged us to do? Is that not precisely what Jesus did as well? West was not on the side of the money lenders. They didn’t need his help.

 

West translates that point of view to modern times. That is why I refer to him as a modern prophet. Sadly, sometimes the rich and powerful are not satisfied with their luck; they want to interfere with any ameliorative action on behalf of the vulnerable. When they do that they must be stopped. Then they are on the side of injustice. As West said, at the University of Winnipeg, when the elites are addicted to status and resist change, that is a case of “moral constipation.”

In 2015 when he talked at the university it was before the age of Trump. It was the age of Obama. Many people saw Obama as a modern Messiah. He was not a messiah to West. West actually campaigned for him, but told Obama that as soon as he was elected he would turn out to become his fiercest critic. Like Socrates, the job of the Prophet is to be a gadfly to power. Socrates one of West’s heroes and one of mine too.

West complained, that in the US many liberals did not want to criticize Obama because they sympathized with him in his fight against Fox News and other Conservatives. West compared Obama to what happened in the Savings and Loans crisis in the US when many people lost a lot of money as a result of those financial institutions collapsing. As West pointed out, during the S & L crisis in the US, which was during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, 1,100 businessmen went to jail. And Reagan was not exactly a visionary for social justice. Yet during the Presidency of Obama, notwithstanding the financial chicanery, fraud, and shenanigans not one of those businessmen went to jail. as a result of financial crisis.  Is that taking the side of the poor and weak?

 

Obama’s financial advisors, like Tim Geitner came right out of Wall Street. Eric Holder, Obama’s Attorney General, was expected to investigate his best friends. How well did that work? It worked out well for them. For us not so much. West was suspicious of what Obama would do as soon he saw the advisors that Obama had selected. When Larry Summers was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by President Obama, he knew Obama’s government would be a Wall Street friendly government. There would be no investigations of Wall Street malfeasance. That undermines the legitimacy of the rule of law.  Even when they admit they did wrong what do they do? They just write a cheque. JP Morgan and Chase. They negotiate how much to pay. No talk of imprisonment. It is just the price of doing what they were doing. It’s just business. That is what West did not like.

 

West realized that this enraged many youthful radicals. “The young are filled with rage but the key question is how do you channel that rage through love and justice rather than hatred and violence. That is the fundamental question of any generation,” opined Brother West. That, I would submit is in the spirit of  the Prophets and Jesus.

 

West was asked at the University of Winnipeg, if he believed that a secular Prophet is possible. West asserted strongly that it was.

 

“Anybody who has the courage to speak the truth about human and social misery and provide an analysis of that social misery in such a way that they can be changed and transformed and alleviated and maybe even eliminated has a prophetic element to what they are doing.”

That is what it means to be a secular Prophet.

 

What does Fairness have to do with it?

 

Dr. Ayoade Alakija a special envoy to the WHO and co-chair of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, recently threw a wet blanket on my enthusiastic optimism that we are in the down stretch of Omicron.  Christiane Amanpour asked Dr. Alakija if there was light at the end of the tunnel. Was the pandemic nearing the end? Dr. Alakija said, there was room for

“cautious optimism but it depends where in the world you are sitting and where in the world you live. Yes, there is potential optimism for those who are tripled vaxxed, who are getting booster doses like the US, UK, EU and other parts of the world, and maybe those people can call it a mild illness, but for  those of us in Africa, and for those of us in the low income countries of the world it is absolutely not the beginning of the end, it is more the end of phase I than of Phase II I would say.”

 

By now it is sadly apparent that we actually are all of us in this together, though the richer part of the world has not been heeding this advice. In our haste to get our own populations vaccinated, we have largely forgotten that variants can be developed in the poor parts of the world where the vast majority of people are not fully vaccinated. We will never be safe, until everyone is safe. Dr. Alakija pointed out the current WHO figures for the beginning of the year 2022:

Americas–60% fully vaxxed

Europe–56% fully vaxxed

South East Asia–39% fully vaxxed

Africa–7% fully vaxxed

 

But things are more complicated than that.  Now people in the west are saying fully vaccinated means 3 jabs. In Africa less than 1% are fully vaccinated on that definition. To make things even worse, some are even saying 4 jabs. As a result, she said,

“We could be breeding a super variant in a place like South Africa when the reality of fully vaccinated has now shifted from 2 doses to 3 doses, so Africa is not 7% fully vaccinated but rather less than1% fully vaccinated!”

Africa is a great place for a new variant to evolve! And by now we surely recognize that any new variant will never stay in Africa and we are entirely incapable of keeping it out of our country. In days it will travel from there to here (wherever “there” is ).

 Western politicians, and their citizens have been loath to admit this, to the peril of those citizens. It is not enough to protect ourselves. We need to protect everyone to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

We have to remember that Omicron came from South Africa and Delta came from India. While we were scrambling to protect ourselves, we forgot that this would not be good enough. We don’t know where the next variant will come from and whether or not it will evade our natural protections for those who caught an early variant or whether or not it will evade our vaccines.

Dr. Ayoade Alakija also pointed out how the world’s public health infrastructure was shown to be woefully inadequate, not just in the poor parts of the world, but in places like the UK and US (and Canada) I would add, where we are struggling to provide enough test kits or N95 masks. Chris and I got 10 N95 masks, which are now recommended, this week. We have been told we should all have these. But all we got was 10 and now we are learning they have run out! The philosopher George Santayana once said something like, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I guess that describes us. As Dr. Alakija said,

“Right now people are holding on to slim tiny threads of hope, because we want this to be over. It is not over. It is not over because we have not vaccinated the world. It is not over because people in Africa and Latin America and parts of Asia do not have tests, so they are unable to test and are unable to stay home when they are unwell because there are not economic mitigation measures. It is not over because life in Washington D.C. at the moment is worth far more than a life in Abuja or a life in Sao Paolo is worth less than a life in Brussels. It is not over because we have gross inequity all over the world in vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics…who will stand up? Who will take the wheel at this critical moment world history? President Biden has been trying to take some moral leadership but there hasn’t been enough crowding around. This is a global event of historical proportions that is going to define many of our lives for a long time to come. Public health plus global solidarity is the only way that we’re going to get out of it. We need to act with urgency. We need to act together and we need to act now.”

Until the west learns the truth of this, the coronavirus will stick around to pester us, and perhaps, stick around until it evolves into something much more deadly than we have seen so far. There is absolutely nothing to say this can’t happen. It can. Like everyone else, I want this to end soon, but I recognize that my hopes will not bring it about it. We need to act now.

What does fairness have to do with it? Everything.

 

Limits on Freedom

 

John Stuart Mill pointed out, more than 150 years ago, that much of what makes life good is dependent upon controlling or limiting interference by other people. This is really the basis of liberalism. This limitation is critical to the enjoyment of life. Some limits are absolutely necessary, while others are not.  His book On Liberty tries to define those limits. It is worth reading. I recently re-read it after many years.

In essence the problem, as Mill defined it, is that even in a democracy we must be able to resist the imposition of duties by the majority in some cases, though not all. For example, no one would argue that it is wrong to prohibit murder or assaults. Would the imposition of a vaccination mandate by the majority as represented by its elected  government fit into the category of permitted or non-permitted infringements of freedom? That is the question I am trying to answer in a meandering fashion. Mill sought a principle that would assist people in determining into which category an example or proposed example of government interference would fit.  I think that is a worthy goal.

This is the principle that Mill proposed:

“That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forebear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him,  but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amendable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

 

That is the reasonable limit on a person’s freedom.

Mill also reminds that this does not mean one can do whatever one chooses to do no matter what the consequences.  Famously, others have said, ‘your freedom to swing your hand stops at my nose’. They really mean at anyone else’s nose. Mill put it more elegantly this way: “The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our good in our way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.”

 Mill accepts only 1 important qualification, that this principle is only for the benefit of “human beings in the maturity of their faculties.” Children cannot claim the benefits of this principle, in Mill’s view, and must abide by instructions imposed on them by their parents, and to some extent even others.

With some qualifications that I won’t get into here, I accept this principle. How does this principle apply to the question at hand? How does it apply to the case of whether or not it is permitted for society to say we demand everyone to be vaccinated unless there is a good  reason for not doing so?

Clearly, on the basis of these principles, we should be allowed to take the vaccine or not, as we choose, so long as we do not harm others by our choice. I agree with that. Does refraining from taking the vaccine harm others? On its face, the vaccine is designed to protect ourselves from the most harmful effects of Covid-19. But this does not resolve the matter. Our choice can affect others. In other words, if the evidence establishes that my refusal to take the vaccine affects others that is significant, and if the harm caused is great enough could warrant an imposition that compels me to take the vaccine to some extent at least.

What is equitable Distribution of Vaccines?

 

Yesterday Chris and I got the first of our vaccine shots. Hooray! We didn’t ask if this was just or not. It was offered to us and we grabbed it.

 

No one asked whether the current system of vaccine distribution was actually fair or just. Such questions were off-side. This was an emergency. No one had time to think about justice. What an arcane concept. Every official concentrated on getting the medicine out as quickly as possible. Questions could be asked later when the job was done.

Now some interesting information is becoming available. Information is critically important in assessing actions. Good facts make good ethics. And there were some ethical issues.

Here is what Lindsay Glassco said,

“With the reality of our global interdependencies laid bare, the race for mitigation has already begun. A recent study found that equitable vaccine distribution was about more than ensuring all countries have a line of defence against the health impacts of COVID-19 — it is also our best line of defence against economic devastation.

 

In the most extreme scenario, with most wealthy countries vaccinated by the middle of this year and lower-income countries largely excluded, the global economy would suffer losses exceeding US$9 trillion.”

 

Money has a tendency to sharpen judgment. With trillions at stake, where are the ethics? Was the rush to fill arms with vaccines the right approach? Not according to the World Health Organization:

This is why the World Health Organization is advocating for an equitable response through the COVAX global vaccine sharing initiative. While one country’s vaccination strategy may keep its citizens safe temporarily, the heightened risk for virus spread and mutation in unvaccinated countries can continue to grow, eventually crossing borders. Within a few weeks, or even days, we could find ourselves in the same situation we were a year ago — or worse.

 

It is only natural that all of us (except for the sceptics) want the vaccine as soon as possible. We want it for ourselves and our loved ones. That is only natural. And we won’t spend a lot of time thinking about whether anyone should get it before we do, or at the same time. As a result, neither will our governments. The politicians can see by our actions what we want. We want justice for ourselves and families immediately. Once we are all safely inoculated we can discuss what we should do for others. Not now.

Many Canadians have learned what it is like to live in a pandemic coupled with a severe loss of jobs. People are suffering. Either from the disease, or the economic costs of the lockdowns. It is understandable that people want their political leaders to look after these issues and keep their eyes on the ball at all times. This, to most Canadians, is a time for action, not a time for justice. As Lindsay Glassco said,

“As a result of COVID-19, for the first time in many of their lives, Canadians are experiencing some of the hardships that millions of people in other countries face every day — children out of school, economic disruptions, sickness and disease, and scarcity of resources — leading even to hoarding. While these hardships are experienced to varying degrees, their existence is eye-opening and powerful for many.”

 

Yet, at the same, many of us can see, that we are all in this together. None of us want to be seen as hoarders. We mocked hoarders of toilet paper. We felt sadness for hoarders of vaccines. We have deep empathy for “front line workers,” who are putting their lives on the line for the rest of us every hour of every working day. Some of us even feel a modest twinge of guilt. Not enough  to get us to change places with those “essential” front line workers we claim to cherish so deeply.  At least we want to say we feel connected to them, even if none of our actions show that this is true.

Personal interest does not usually sharpen our moral compass. Rather it often dulls it.

Sometimes good ethics is good policy

I admit it I am chomping at the bit to get Coronavirus vaccine. I missed my first appointment, I don’t want to admit my second one coming up soon.

Yet, I also know, no one is safe until we’re all safe. Some of us (not many) are starting to see that rushing the vaccines into as many arms as possible is not the only issue. It is important, but is it overwhelmingly important?

Or is this a time for us to support  the equitable distribution of vaccines and investments to strengthen global health systems. Not just in Manitoba. Not just in Canada. But around the world. Are Canadian seniors really more valuable or important than seniors in Kenya? Or Afghanistan? When you think about it is there really any reason everyone in Canada who wants a vaccine should get one before hardly anyone in poorer countries gets one? No politician can suggest this is an issue. Of course ‘our side’ is more important than every other side.  Any politician who did not solemnly acknowledge this would be committing political suicide.

But not only that. Besides  doing the right thing, the moral thing, what is smart? According to Lindsay Glassco, writing in the Winnipeg Free Press, the smart thing might be to share! What if the smart thing is to do what the Golden rule says we should? Do unto others as we would have them do unto us? Glassco put it this way:

“Emotionally, that can be difficult to do. Many of us want our opportunity to be vaccinated to come up sooner rather than later, but the life we all want to return to – with healthy supply chains, trade and travel – will be out of reach until we get this virus under control globally. A fair, equitable global response is our only answer. Instead of focusing on the vaccination race with other wealthy countries, we need to recognize that we’re all losing until the whole team crosses the finish line.”

 

In fairness to Canada, we have actually done quite a lot to share our good fortune. COVAX is an international program where some countries have agreed to share with less well-off countries. As Glassco said,

“Canada is now one of the largest contributors to COVAX, having recently pledged $75 million to the program on top of what it had already previously committed. To date, the Canadian government has mobilized more than $2 billion in its global COVID-19 response.”

 

I don’t know about you, but I am pretty proud of that. Canada is doing something significant. Maybe it could do even more; I don’t know. But it is doing something good. I suspect my Member of Parliament will criticize the Liberal government for its lavish spending on third world countries. I won’t. I like it.

Lindsay Glassco said it as well as it could be said,

“Canadians’ support of an equitable pandemic response is our defining moment to live our values and build back a better world for generations to come. No one is safe until we are all safe.”

 

Should Canada be a good Samaritan or the Pharisee?

Sometimes good ethics is good policy.

On the Edge of a moral catastrophe: Hoarding Vaccines is not the same as  hoarding toilet paper

 

It is often said that a war brings out the best of people and the worst of people. I think a pandemic works the same way. There have been some genuine heroes. I remember hearing about this nurse who went around the US to help out hospitals in the worst possible circumstances when they were on the verge of being overwhelmed and would not have survived without heroic people like her. She was not able to get health insurance anymore because the insurance companies were smart. They knew she was taking crazy chances by going to hospitals swamped with Covid-19. And then she had to deal with people who did not believe the disease was real, even as they were dying. If the nurses had good sense—like the insurance companies—they would have said sorry I can’t help you. But they went any way.

 

Then there were the people like me from rich countries like Canada complaining that our  government was not getting the vaccines out fast enough.  Every government was criticized. Usually, the governments were all doing the best they could in novel circumstances without a proper playbook.

Yet, there were also people who cheated. Like the rich people who flew to the Yukon to pose as local people who were getting the vaccine faster than the people down south because indigenous people were suffering disproportionately.

Yet we are all in the west benefiting from dubious morality.  This is what The Guardian reported when the global deaths from Covid-19 exceeded 2 million:

“Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organization has said the world is on the edge of a “catastrophic moral failure” in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines with just 25 doses administered across all poor countries compared with 39 million in wealthier ones.”

 

Hoarding vaccines is not the same as  hoarding toilet paper.