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  • Writer's pictureCrone

In it together

There was this theme at the start of the coronavirus pandemic that we were all in it together. But of course we weren't. There were the people who had to work and the people paid not to work and the people who weren't paid and couldn't work. There were the people with nice houses and gardens and the people in flats. The people in care homes and the people on country estates. There were the people making decisions and the people abiding by them. The people at high risk and threatened by the actions of others and the people at low risk who had to make sacrifices for others. The people with vulnerabilities and the people with no sense of responsibility. The people who wanted to be protected and the people who resented restrictions.

In all situations we are alone with our subjective states: our needs and dependencies; our interests and priorities; our strengths and our weaknesses.

And, as time goes on, instead of an increased awareness that others might consider things differently we seem more weightily embedded in our view of how it is for us, just us.

I wonder how our values play into this pattern. Not just our values, but the contexts, the situations, that push us in various directions.

Here in Northampton 300 workers at a sandwich making factory came down with the virus. One can't imagine that these are high paying jobs. The pressure to earn may have been intense. Got the sniffles? Statutory sick pay at £8 a day or head in dosed up on paracetamol? The answer is obvious. Yes, you can blame someone for selfishness - until you consider the real life situation of this person, the bills and the debts and the need to soldier on. Were this person an executive with a pension plan and health care, the decision would have been different. Easy.

If we see this purely as a medical situation, we are missing a trick. It we regard it just about what we owe to others, we are blinded by our failure to recognise the reality of hardship. There are political and economic aspects, issues about injustice and inequality. And, to be fair, we've known this from the start. That the virus hit harder people in deprived circumstances. Their base level health, their need to earn, overcrowding. Doubly damaged by the pandemic.

If we focus just on getting back to normal, then we return to a system of values that has harmed a significant percentage of the population.

In my reading at the moment one of the areas concerns enhancements. Genetic enhancements. Choosing to make your baby smarter, better looking, taller. Now, I won't go into the arguments, but consider the reverse: would a parent usually choose not to accept a medical intervention that combated cognitive impairment, facial damage, extreme shortness? Probably not in the majority of cases - and others would understand - because most parents want their child to have the best chance in society as it is. And to have the best chance in society as it is, they would also choose the higher IQ, better looks and taller stature - because all three are correlated with greater life success. I don't see a moral difference between the two, given the desires of many parents to give their child the best start they can in society as it is.

It's that final clause that gives me pause. Why is theoretical know how so much more highly valued than, for example, mechanical know how? Why does physical beauty matter so much? And height? They do. We know they do - we see the successful people on television and in magazines. They're bright and beautiful and often tall. Is that how we want to judge people? Do we want to be in a society where competition is key and you have to be the best to earn respect?

I don't think enhancements are the issue: I think the frameworks of success, the force of competition and the anxiety about being left behind, though, are. What all this says is that we are not, we are so far from being, all in it together. We are all up against each other. And that is a much bigger issue.

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