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Has the pandemic fundamentally changed our morals?

Hugh Brecky, Griffith University

Queensland, Dec 29 (The Conversation) Over the past two years, the pandemic has changed our lives in unprecedented ways. We had to adapt to new rules and accept new risks, which led to drastic changes in our daily lives.

These problems can challenge us to think differently about morality – about what we can give to each other.

As we enter the third year of the pandemic, debate continues over the ethics of vaccine imperatives, restrictions on civil liberties, the limits of government power, and the unequal distribution of vaccines globally.

With so much disagreement over questions like these, has the pandemic fundamentally changed the way we think about morality?

morality became more visible

In daily life, ethical decision making is often not very necessary. We often just put these aside.

But the pandemic changed all that. It shed light on our human interactions and the effects of our actions on others. It forced us to rethink the basic rules of life: whether it was about work or study, about going somewhere or meeting someone.

As the rules were being rewritten, we had to figure out where we stood with all sorts of questions:

Is it OK – or even mandatory – to take action against those who break the rules? Is it morally wrong to ignore the rules of social distancing or refuse to get the newly developed vaccines?

To what extent can our freedom be restricted in the name of public interest and betterment?

At times, politicians have tried to undermine these ethical questions by saying that they “just follow science”. But there is no such thing. Even where the science is undisputed, political decision-makers are fully aware of how to make appropriate decisions about fairness, life, rights, security and liberty.

Ultimately, the pandemic made ethical thinking and discussion more common than ever – a change that may well eliminate the virus. This in itself can be a benefit, encouraging us to think more critically about our moral beliefs.

Whom to trust?

Faith has always been morally important. However, the pandemic brought questions of trust at the center of everyday decisions.

We all had to make decisions about the government, scientists, news and journalists, the “big pharma” and social media. The stance we take on the credibility of people we have never met proves to be decisive for the rules we will accept. One of the good things about reliability is that it is testable. Over time, evidence may confirm or refute this hypothesis, which is to say, the government is trustworthy about vaccine health advice but unreliable about cyber privacy protections in contract tracing apps.

Perhaps more importantly, a common concern during the pandemic was that vaccines were developed and approved too quickly. As the evidence for their safety and effectiveness continues to grow, quickly developed vaccines can be more easily relied upon in the event of the next health emergency.

Validity, timing and executive power

When we think about the ethics of a law or rule, we may ask many questions.

Is it true? Does it work? Have we been consulted about this? Can we understand it? Does it treat us like adults? Has it been implemented properly?

In the context of a pandemic, it turns out that answering these questions correctly requires a significant resource and that is time.

Developing inclusive, knowledgeable and fair regulations is difficult when prompt response is needed. This is even more challenging when our understanding of the situation – and the situation itself – changes rapidly.

The Conversation Ekta



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