Health & Health Care Feed

Philosophical Follow Ups

A couple of new links to follow-up on previous posts about the pandemic and philosophy.

Last Sunday I posted Alex Broadbent's article "Thinking Rationally About Coronavirus COVID-19," which generated some vigorous discussion on my Facebook timeline.  He's out with two more articles, becoming something of an indispensable voice in this crisis (he is a "philosopher of epidemiology").  The article "Why a one-size-fits-all approach to COVID-19 could have lethal consequences" discusses why the measures taken in other parts of the world might have a higher mortality rate than the virus if they were taken in Africa. 

His other new post in a broader article at Daily Nous entitled "The Role of Philosophy & Philosophers In The Coronavirus Pandemic."  I particularly liked the final paragraph labeled as "Call to arms:"

The skill of philosophers, and the value in philosophy, does not lie in our knowledge of debates that we have had with each other. It lies in our ability to think fruitfully about the unfamiliar, the disturbing, the challenging, and even the abhorrent. The coronavirus pandemic is all these things. Let’s get stuck in.

One of the commentors, a Tom Cochrane, writes about how aesthetics intersects with the pandemic:

Aesthetics won’t help to combat the disease, but it will point out that there is considerable final value to be found in simply observing what is happening, for its own sake. Whatever else it is, the coronavirus is incredibly interesting. A great big rock has been dropped into the pool of human society and we are witnessing a million different effects that even the best fiction writers would have found hard to anticipate (who would have anticipated the creative response of putting different song lyrics to hand-washing instructions? and also how this is now *so* last week?)

So all I’m saying is that, like everything else, there is intense drama, and beauty, and sublimity and tragedy and comedy in this event. And it will no doubt stimulate the creative responses of human beings for years to come. And perhaps in recognizing- and embracing this, we can be less fearful or depressed.


At Home: "It is Moral"

“'Marguerite Derrida has just left us, a whole world is leaving,' announced the Institute of Advanced Studies in Psychoanalysis (IHEP) in a press release dated March 21, 2020." The widow of the acclaimed French philosopher has died of COVID-19.  

In Italy the moral, social, and human cost of no funerals is mounting.

A criticism of Giorgio Agamben published in the Chronicle of Higher Education (unfortunately behind a paywall) rightly points out that writings on the pandemic have focused on the moral crisis:

Agamben correctly observes that the question of the proportionality of the response is not a scientific one; it is moral. And the answer is not obvious. Here, at least, Agamben arrives at a serious question. This is exactly the kind of question we had hoped the humanist could help us answer.

Note, if you've missed the discussion of Agamben, I've been tracking it in my recent blog posts on the pandemic.

This author zeroes in on some appropriate criticisms, but I feel as if her essay is just the beginning of a response.  I was left wanting more from the final section.  Also wanting her to grapple more fully with the story out of Italy about lack of funerals, for instance.

The intellectual response is growing this week.  Here at The Point, one can read plague journals from around the world, including a shortened version of that Chronicle of Higher Education article not behind a paywall.

And this evening I listened to a good podcast interview with the always interesting Anne Applebaum about authoritarian opportunism during the crisis and how the USA should learn from this to modernize its bureaucracy.  

Yesterday I encountered the Philosophers on Medicine podcast, which has yet to grapple fully with this crisis, but they do address some of the concerns that it raises.

An interesting Midlands Voice in our local paper wondered if the luck of the Boomers has finally come to an end as they now face their biggest challenge as a generation.

My long planned sermon theme for this coming Sunday is "To Be More . . . Hopeful."  What seemed like a serious challenge at the start of the week quickly took shape, as I will be exploring some of the things I've preached about hope before and testing them against the current crisis.

And just because this post lacked any cute Sebastian photos, here is a previously unshared one from a few days ago.

In a tree


A Journal of the Plague Year

A Journal of the Plague YearA Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"A plague is a formidable enemy, and is armed with terrors that every man is not sufficiently fortified to resist or prepared to stand the shock against."

I had actually been contemplating reading this book of Defoe's sometime this year anyway. I had picked up my copy at the church's used book sale last year. A few weeks ago I decided it was timely.

The historical perspective helps to break us out of the fierce urgency of the now, reminding us of what remains the same and also that this too shall pass.

What Defoe describes is far more frightening than what we are currently encountering, at least here in Nebraska. And in this book about the 1665 London plague you encounter all the same issues we are in 2020.

I particularly liked reading his discussions of churches and clergy and how they ministered through the devastation. He is very severe on those ministers who ran away to avoid it all.

There's wisdom here as well, such as "Nobody can account for the possession of fear when it takes hold of the mind."

Also sobering. In the last few days I've read some article predicting we will be better after this crisis. Defoe writes about how the people of London were actually worse because they had been "hardened by the danger they had been in."

And I intend to begin using the phrase he does on the final page of the book, "This calamitous year."

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At Home: Labyrinths

Defoe

Daniel Defoe, in A Journal of the Plague Year, which I'm currently reading having intended to read this year even before the pandemic, writes this key paragraph:

Now let any man judge from a case like this if it is possible for the regulations of magistrates, either by shutting up the sick or removing them, to stop an infection which spreads itself from man to man, even while they are perfectly well and insensible of its approach, and may be so for many days.

To that end, I recommend Thomas Pueyo's "The Hammer and the Dance," which does the best job of anything I've recently read about the best current steps and what comes next.  

Even so, there are other voices.  As with any scientific question, there are unknowns.  There's this piece I read on Towleroad entitled "What's the Best Path Forward?"

Part of the value of reading Defoe, or any of the other classic works of plague literature, is that we so often live in the fierce urgency of the now, and historical perspective gives us some sense of what has always been case and the ways our time is not unique.  Also that this too shall pass.

One of my main worries last week was that I saw so much focusing only on one dimension of the problem--the medical questions of the virus (or secondarily the economy) but less about all the other well-being and moral issues implicated.  This week there does seem to be more of that, including more articles about mental health impacts of social isolation, the rise in domestic violence that has already occurred after only one week, and this article in The Atlantic "The Kids Aren’t All Right" about the lasting effects this trauma will have upon a generation of children.  I also had an engaging conversation with a professor of gerontology on Saturday who thought that nursing homes should be providing residents a choice instead of placing them unilaterally in lockdown.  Her reasons were that lack of visits from family and friends are proven to shorten life expectancy, so residents should be offered the choice of whether they want to run the risk of the virus and still be with family and friends.  This is vividly brought to light in my own congregation by a member who was already in hospice and yet now doesn't have those visits, at a time when she would normally be surrounded by people loving her into death.

Defoe has this (among other things) to say about churches in the midst of the 1665 epidemic in London, "Indeed nothing was more strange than to see with what courage the people went to the publick service of God even at that time, when they were afraid to stir out of their own houses upon any other occasion."  He writes about the courage of ministers staying in town and ministering to the citizens.  We are, of course, doing it differently in 2020.  Most of our connections these days are virtual.  This week's staff meeting was inspiring as we now are getting a little more used to everything and are beginning to come up with more innovative and interesting ideas for what to do.  Also this week we will be rolling out more of our programming.  The staff meeting was one of the things that yesterday helped to lift my mood.

Neptune painting

At Dadda's Preschool today was about the planet Neptune, which included painting our papier mache planet.  We also spent a good hour outside with Sebastian riding his bike and walking the church's labyrinth (which I recommend if you can get over there some day on your own).  While walking and biking the labyrinth, Sebastian kept asking, "Is this the right path?"  

I kept answering, "It is.  But it tricks you."

Sebastian biking the labyrinth

I also seemed to have a lot more work to do today.  I didn't come near to completing my to do for church or here at home.

Yesterday's paper in Omaha reported that our citizens are doing a good job of following the guidelines.  Fingers crossed.

 


A couple of philosophical responses

Finally had some time this morning to catch up on philosophical reading.  Among the philosophers responding to COVID-19, I thought these two article were interesting..

This one is somewhat predictable--Peter Singer encouraging ending forever "wet markets" like the one that passed this disease (and others to humans). Read his arguments here.

And this article by Alex Broadbent lays out the various principles and ideas involved in a rational, cost-benefit analysis of the virus and responses to it.  Most interesting are these two considerations (two of a handful he includes):

Identification of losers and winners, and weighing of their rights. Older people and those with pulmonary conditions are at greater risk of developing serious illness from COVID-19 infection. The protection of these groups must be weighed against the good of the whole. Closing schools, for example, will surely reduce rates of infection; but it may harm the children’s education, to which they arguably have an important right, for the probable benefit of their grandparents. Such trade-offs are generally considered permissible, as in taxation to pay for a public service, but not unrestrictedly so. I am not commenting on any particular measure here; school closure is merely an example and may in fact benefit children significantly. I am merely trying to structure the cost-benefit analysis by pointing out that those who suffer most from the measures may not always be those who benefit the most, and their respective rights and interests must be weighed.

 Assessment of quantity of life. Delicate though it may be, the public health response needs to take seriously the extent to which those who die are sick and elderly. This is not because their lives matter less, intrinsically. It is because they have less life left. We may imagine that if COVID-19 had not killed someone this week, they would have died of some other ailment next week, or even on the same day. Such imaginary cases are the subject of study by philosophers who think about causation, but in this case they have an evaluative import. Life is a quantity rather than a binary variable, and disease reduces its quantity, both for individuals and populations. The quantity of this reduction is less for people who are going to die sooner: the sick and elderly, in other words. If the cost of a disease to a population is the quantity of life that it takes, then this can only be measured in time, because all life is a quantity of time.

Some of us have more life left than others. Thus the cost of COVID-19 to population health is not simply a function of how many it kills, but whom. This is surely not the only factor in assessing the cost of a disease or benefit of a public health measure, but, given that life comes in a finite quantity, the quantitative effect must be taken into account in assessing the benefit offered by a public health measure against the cost of the disease.

 


My Mother's Curse: A Journey Beyond Childhood Trauma

My Mother's Curse: A Journey Beyond Childhood TraumaMy Mother's Curse: A Journey Beyond Childhood Trauma by Christine Nicolette-Gonzalez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I met Christine in 2003 during my first week as a youth minister at Royal Lane Baptist Church. She was a parent with two children in my youth group. I vividly remember the first time I met her, she was excited for my arrival, and greeted me with a big smile, warmth, and curiosity. She was a devoted and proud mother. As a teacher she set for herself high professional expectations, and I felt she expected the same of others who worked with teenagers and kids. I remember when she praised a program I had created, and I received it as a great stamp of approval.

And of course I had no clue of the childhood trauma she was carrying. As a pastor I have learned that everyone is carrying some pain, often privately, which is one reason we should be kind and charitable to one another.

In this brave memoir, Christine provides details of her mother's severe mental illness and how it deeply affected her childhood. But the memoir also contains the story of how Christine built a different life as an adult, as a wife, mother, and school teacher, and the emotional and spiritual work of dealing with her own anxiety.

I recommend the book to everyone developing resilience in the face of trauma. Or those trying to better to relate to those who are.

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Brave Woman

The Guardian today published a story on Julie Burkhart who has bravely worked to maintain access to abortion in Kansas after the assassination of Dr. George Tiller.  

I met Julie in 2011 at a reproductive justice conference at Oklahoma State University.  She was one of the main featured speakers and I was an invited panelist and participant.  All of us invited guests hung out socially after the academic events.  Julie was then still deeply grieving Dr. Tiller but bravely organizing a response.  


After the Wrath of God

After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American ReligionAfter the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion by Anthony M. Petro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the best written non-fiction books I've read. This is the author's first book, so I look forward to reading what he writes in the future. According to his bio at Boston University his next two book projects look equally as interesting.

This book is about the religious rhetoric used during the early years of the AIDS crisis and how that rhetoric shaped public policy. This is a fascinating study exploring how left, right, and center developed moral language to grapple with the crisis. The study refutes any reductionistic notions of religious conservatives versus secular leftists.

The final two chapters discuss Cardinal O'Connor and ACT UP's confrontation of him. Reading those chapters made me very angry at the Cardinal.

In the final section the author explores how AIDS and gay activists developed their own religious and moral language, but he left me wanting more. I hope that comes in subsequent books.

Also, while he does treat of progressive Christian responses, they don't get as much discussion as conservative responses. This is probably because conservative responses dominated much of the public health debates at the time.

Petro is a keen intellect and engaging writer.

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