The Weakest Link April 28, 2009Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, ethics of care.
Tags: ethics of care, public health, reviving the left, swine flu in Mexico, trust and collective action
This latest outbreak of swine flu reminds us of the limits of self-reliance.
One of the main themes of Reviving the Left is that central currents in American thought encourage the idea that unbridled self-reliance is a moral virtue.
But this is a dangerous idea that continually leaves us vulnerable to potentially catastrophic events such as pandemics.
We like to think that our welfare is in our own hands—what happens to us is in the end our own responsibility. This assumption about personal responsibility is so pervasive that it seems written in the DNA of Americans. And it is encouraged by the fact that our dependence on distant others is often hidden from view. Modern marketing and technology is very good at covering up the origins of things—we are seldom forced to think about the anonymous people who grow our food or make our products.
So why should we care about inadequate public health resources in foreign countries like Mexico?
The news coming out of Mexico explains why.
Two weeks after the first known swine flu death, Mexico still hasn’t given medicine to the families of the dead. It hasn’t determined where the outbreak began or how it spread. And while the government urges anyone who feels sick to go to hospitals, feverish people complain ambulance workers are scared to pick them up.
A portrait is emerging of a slow and confused response by Mexico to the gathering swine flu epidemic. And that could mean the world is flying blind into a global health storm.
It isn’t obvious what we can do about inadequate public health in other countries. (We have our own inadequacies to worry about.) But this is another example, along with global warming, resource depletion, nuclear proliferation, etc., of a problem that requires collective solutions. And collective action requires levels of trust that only a greater willingness to be generous toward others will provide.
Whatever the particular solution to public health failures in other countries, that solution will require, from wealthy nations, persistent, wise regard for the vulnerability of others, in part because their vulnerabilities can become ours.
This is more evidence that an ethic of care provides better moral guidance than more traditional moral theories.
h/t to Talking Points Memo