In uncertain times if people don’t heed to any sort of advice, this symbol “#” so small and unprepossessing, would help win some big victories in the process. With its ever-growing influence, the hashtag #TalsaGharreyBehew is helping raise awareness among the masses. Used over 48,000 times, it has quite literally transformed from an online-community to a social movement far beyond the social mediasphere!
Amid growing warnings that a substantial section of the global population could become infected in the deadly coronavirus pandemic, some people are characterized equally by their ignorance and their total indifference to human life. Not knowing if science is a folly for a layman but the consequences of such ignorance can be dangerous. And yet, a lot of people around the valley are simply refusing to change their attitude towards this catastrophic disaster, having killed more than 12 thousand people so far. Despite knowing the grave consequences of their neglecting behaviour, people go to get a haircut, head to relatives’ places, gather at shop fronts or organize family functions and parties. In some cases, this irresponsibility even amounts to flouting explicit orders. There are still hundreds of institutions operating in contravention of the local quarantine rules. The collective consequences of the actions we take at the moment are even more momentous. If we fail to flatten the curve—if the coronavirus continues to spread at such great speed that the number of patients requiring medical care overwhelms the capacity of our health-care systems—doctors and nurses will need to make unfathomable decisions about whom to save and whom not.
Truth often takes a backseat. There are so many people finding it difficult to act in accordance with the minimal demands morality makes of them in this extraordinary emergency. For those of us who have spent the past weeks obsessed about every latest headline regarding the evolution of the crisis, it is easy to forget that many of our fellow people simply don’t follow the news with the same regularity—or that they tune into radio shows and television networks that have, shamefully, been downplaying the extent of the public-health emergency. People crowding into public places, hanging out in big groups, then, may simply fail to realise the severity of the pandemic. Their sin is no less than an honest ignorance. Yet another fact that the coronavirus does affect young people too and for those who are far more likely to survive, it is—from a purely selfish perspective—less obviously irrational to chance such social encounters. Moreover, the human tendency to make sacrifices for the suffering that is right in front of our eyes, but not the suffering that is distant or difficult to see also speaks aloud of this sheer ignorance.
The philosopher Peter Singer tried to portray a simple thought experiment in a famous paper. For instance, if a person went for a walk in a park, and saw a little girl drowning in a pond, he would likely feel that he should help her, even if it might ruin his fancy shirt. Most people recognise a moral obligation to help another at relatively little cost to themselves. Then Singer presented a contrasting scenario. What if a girl was in mortal danger halfway across the world, and she could be saved by donating the same amount of money it would take to buy that fancy shirt? The moral obligation to help, he argued, would be the same: The life of the distant girl is just as important, and the cost to the person just as small. And yet, most people would not feel the same obligation to intervene. The same might apply in the time of COVID-19. Those refusing to stay home may not know the victims of their actions, even if they are geographically proximate, and might never find out about the terrible consequences of what they did and what they’re about to. Distance makes them unjustifiably callous. These explanations are all plausible so far as they go but they altogether do not capture what is going on. The students studying abroad who spent their last days on campus staging giant parties before returning home and hid their travel history on coming back thus avoiding proper scrutiny at airport didn’t lack the means or the education to understand what was at stake. The many older people continuing their daily life as though nothing has changed aren’t motivated by the belief that they themselves have nothing to fear. And it really shouldn’t be too difficult for the worshippers in the mosque, if they fall ill, put their own loved ones at risk. Talking of the moral sacrifices that people are willing to make; instead, we need to be focused upon what kind of actions we are accustomed to evaluating from a moral point of view.
Our moral instincts have not been honed to guide us well in this extraordinary crisis. All of us are having trouble adjusting to a world in which leaving our own house for frivolous reasons carries the risk of manslaughter. This helps to explain why so many people have been ignoring public-health advice. But an explanation is not an excuse. And right now, seemingly innocuous activities are the equivalent of raising a revolver—and then pulling the trigger. So yes, it might feel perfectly normal to flout the call for social distancing every now and then. But by following our instincts rather than our reason, we are putting ourselves, our family members, our friends and our neighbours equally at risk. And that is simply unforgivable.
Now formally classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, the outbreak has a familiar magnifying effect. The consequences will be deadly, especially for the vulnerable; the people likely to suffer the most from failing health-care infrastructures are the elderly and the immunocompromised. It has illuminated failures that ought to be too significant for anyone to ignore. The everyday injustices on display to the world aren’t easy to forget. As the death toll mounts — and it will — so needs our people’s consciousness.