- Alan X
Thinking From Different Perspectives During a Pandemic
The pandemic has changed human behavior, and our collective mental health has been undermined -- many are unable to fulfill their basic needs. Families have been separated, violence has erupted, nearly 40 million people have lost their jobs, and 1.15 million people have died. Many people were striving for greater wealth before the pandemic, and now, many have lost their jobs and even their families. The basic provisions that many took for granted became the most important things in their lives -- health, water, food, clothing, shelter, and family. COVID-19 has affected us all in different ways, and this is primarily due to our different ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic, and racial backgrounds. For this reason, it is important for us to think from a different point of view, to gain a better understanding of the different people in the world.
Note: In order to discuss such broad issues successfully it becomes necessary to place individuals in artificial categories for efficiency’s sake.
The privileged -People who don’t have to fight for nourishment -People who have a place to sleep at night -The ultra-wealthy
The underprivileged -Anyone who sees survival as their first priority -Homeless people -Malnourished people -Mistreated minorities
The anti-intellectuals -Conspiracy theorists -Anti-maskers -People who are politically motivated -People who refuse to use knowledge as their basis for judgment
“we don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.” -ANAIS NIN
The American-Cuban-French writer Anais Nin has said, 'we don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.' Many of us don't realize that we all can develop other-awareness, and indeed, we tend to have self-centered thinking during a crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has given us the perfect opportunity to think from different perspectives.
On March 21, Kayla Williams, a suspected covid-19 patient in London, died in her home (1). Her husband, Fabian Williams, called 999 a day before her death; he told the paramedics that his wife was coughing, vomiting, and experiencing chest pain, which are severe symptoms of covid-19. Healthcare professionals arrived and gave her covid-19 tests; they refused to take her into the hospital because her case was ranked as “not a priority.” They wrote a few reports, posted it on the front door, and left. The next day as Mr.Williams continued to take care of his wife, he noticed that her conditions had worsened. He left the front room to take a break, and moments later, when he returned, he found that his wife had collapsed and was fully unconscious. He called the ambulance immediately and started pumping her chest. After a short period of time, an ambulance arrived, and paramedics attempted to revive her, but they were unsuccessful.
Kayla was experiencing severe symptoms of covid-19 the day before her death. Although the hospital had marked her as a suspected covid-19 case, she was not taken in and was listed as “not a priority”. Her three children have lost their mother, and her family didn’t have enough money to afford her funeral.
Ideally, health equity should be viewed as the most important principle when planning for a pandemic response.(2) Although this is true, covid-19 has exposed the harsh reality - the virus has broadened health inequality all around the world. Not everyone has immediate access to healthcare and protective equipment, and those living in poverty will be hit hardest. The APM research lab(3) has been tracking the covid-19 mortality rate in the U.S. by race. The graph reveals that black and indigenous Americans account for the most covid-19 deaths in the United States.
The graph shows that Black Americans' covid-19 mortality rates are more than 2 times that of Asian/White Americans. The obvious disparities are partially due to the racial wealth gap(4) -- The average net-worth of black families is almost ten times lower than white families(5). As a result, many black families have fewer resources and only have access to low-quality healthcare.
Wealth is also associated with people’s ability to work from home. Low- income workers have a higher risk of covid-19 exposure due to their reliance on public transportation(6). It is also difficult for them to properly practice social-distancing.
Data from The World Bank(7) suggests that covid-19 will reverse our progress in reducing poverty, and approximately 23 million people will be thrown into poverty by the end of 2020. More people living in poverty means that more people are forced to fight for necessities; these people are more susceptible to infection due to lack of access to clean water and food (8), and this will lead to more infections.
While many politicians insist on downplaying the devastating effects of covid-19, there will be major setbacks due to the increase in people living in poverty worldwide. We need to realize that these people are not only vulnerable to covid-19; poverty also comes with a great cost: freedom and basic human rights. Many countries do not fulfill its obligation of setting living standards for its people; this is why countries should design an extensive social welfare program like Denmark's, which offers free unemployment and healthcare benefits for all citizens(9,10). We should see covid-19 as a reminder -- poverty has always been a global issue. Instead of taking advantage and thriving on the underprivileged, governments should take action to set adequate living standards for all people.
Widespread covid-19 vaccinations could take years, and the people who are most vulnerable to the virus deserve to be the first to receive vaccinations. This will be a debated topic worldwide, but the sad truth is that the rich and powerful will have priority access to vaccines and healthcare services.
There’s people who are ultra-wealthy; such as the CEOs of major companies like Amazon. The company has seen its stock increase by 63.3% in 2020(11); while Jeff Bezos’ net worth is surging, close to 20,000 Amazon workers(12 have tested positive for covid-19. People with wealth, power, and influence benefit from a worldwide pandemic; it hardly impacts their day-to-day lives. They have the best healthcare in the world, and they also have early access to vaccines. An example would be the U.S. president's covid-19 expenses. According to a New York Times investigation, the treatment he received would cost more than $100,000(13) for an
Then there’s middle class families, these people don’t have any economic advantage over the ultra wealthy; but they have all sorts of privileges compared to low income households. Middle class families have a stable stream of income, and they’re able to meet their basic needs. Although these families don’t have to worry about their next meal, the reality is they might face unemployment due to the economic impact of the pandemic(14).
Trump testing positive for covid-19 is not due to karma, but due to his blatant disregard for covid-19 advice from health experts(15). This is one of the reasons why America’s fight against covid-19 under the Trump administration has been a tragedy -- premature reopening has led to millions of new infections and tens of thousands of new deaths. He has downplayed the virus and made several promises: 500 million masks, an infinite amount of tests, and that the virus will somehow “disappear, like a miracle”(16).
Trump has kept none of these promises. He is politically motivated and says what his supporters want to hear; he will do anything to gain support. Consequently, he will continue to contradict health officials and scientific facts.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has played an important role in the United States’ pandemic response; his advice is of paramount importance because it is based on research -- Dr. Fauci is the president’s worst enemy due to this very reason.(17) Trump has claimed that hydroxychloroquine and disinfectant injection will help treat the virus; these are misleading and unscientific suggestions, but his supporters still blindly follow his lead no matter what he says. This blind allegiance is a key trait of anti-intellectualism.
“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” -FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE
Anti-intellectuals refuse to use knowledge as their basis for judgment, and they believe in what they want to believe in. These people not only devalue the importance of knowledge and intellect but also condemn and criticize intellectuals and experts in our society.
One example of this is QAnon, a group of conspiracy theorists believing in what’s called a “deep state” -- a secret government that’s in control of the elected U.S. government. This started when an anonymous user named Q, who claims to have Q clearance, started posting “intel drops” on 4chan. The adherents believe that these intel drops contain snippets of previously unrevealed information about a top-secret child sex trafficking ring run by democrats, celebrities, and billionaires. Trump and Mueller are the protagonists in this narrative, waging war against these satanist pedophiles. However, all of these are baseless accusations. (18)
The adherents are part of “The Great Awakening Movement,” and they are always awaiting the next command, so they can embark on a journey to decode the new messages. To non-believers, QAnon conspiracy theories are full of contradictions -- many of Q's prophecies did not come true, but due to the intel drops' ambiguity, the followers can explain almost every contradiction. Many of the adherents believe that they’re on a mission to save society from collapse. Even though there is no proof of Q's allegations, the adherents are fully convinced that what they believe is the sole truth. Their illogical reasoning resembles the “infected people” in Raskolnikov’s dream of the Crime and Punishment epilogue:
In his sickness he had seemed to see the whole world on the point of being overrun by a dreadful, unheard-of pestilence advancing out of deepest Asia into Europe. Everyone was doomed, save for a very few chosen individuals. A new strain of parasitic worms had emerged, microscopic creatures that invaded human bodies. But these organisms were spirits, endowed with a mind and a will. The people they invaded went mad at once, as though possessed. Never before had people regarded themselves as so wise, or been so impregnable in their view of the truth, as these infected people were. Never had people been more unshakably confident in their decisions, their scientific deductions, their moral convictions and beliefs. Whole villages, towns, and nations became infected and went mad. Everyone was afraid, people no longer understood one another, they all believed that they alone knew the truth, and suffered dreadfully at the sight of everyone else, and beat their breasts, weeping and wringing their hands.
This resembles what is going on in the world today; many people's inability to understand each other's points of view, the mistrust of science, and excessive confidence in their ideas. In short, the qualities described above have become widespread, and they have led to the rise of QAnon, a product of our decaying society.
“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard to democracy, therefore, is education.” -FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
Anti-intellectualism has become prevalent in American society under Trump’s presidency, and his inept leadership is slowly leading to society's downfall. A democratic society is vulnerable to anti-intellectualism, a successful democracy should be about electing a trustworthy intellectual who is capable of making planned decisions. An electorate must be informed with valid information, not conspiracy theories or other misleading content. As Franklin D. Roosevelt has said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”(19) We have long thought of Democracy as an unequivocal good, but we should also realize the potential problems with our democracy.
Socrates has warned us about democracy, that there might at some point be a debate(20) between two candidates, one would be a sweet shop owner, and the other would be a doctor. The sweet shop owner would say to the audience:
Look, this person here has worked many evils on you. He hurts you, gives you bitter potions, and tells you not to eat and drink whatever you like. He'll never serve you feasts of many and varied pleasant things like I will.
Then, Socrates asked us to think what the audience would say in response:
Do you think the doctor would be able to reply effectively?
The true answer from the doctor would be:
"I cause you trouble and go against your desires in order to help you." That would cause an uproar among the voters, don't you think?
Democracy, as depicted by Socrates, thrives on imagination and creativity, but we rarely worry about it being out of control. Democracy is vulnerable in the information age, and our ideas and behaviors could be easily influenced by the information we see on the internet. To stop the spread of anti- intellectualism, citizens have to be informed effectively, and this could only be achieved if they develop the necessary skills needed to identify disinformation.
There are many anti-intellectuals in this world -- many who are governed by self-interest and prone to corruption. If this faction gains influence in a democratic state, it will have the ability to change the governing of that democratic society. Disparities and problems like those outlined above will follow and become systemic.
The rampant spread of anti-intellectualism during the pandemic worsens the situation — from the president’s inept handling of covid-19 to anti-maskers’ ignorance, many people have decided to put themselves first and think less about the common good. This culture of selfishness is slowly tearing us apart.
There is still a chance for change, to think from different perspectives, and now is the best time to take action.
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