Valerie Tiberius is the Paul W. Frenzel Chair in Liberal Arts and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Minnesota. Her work explores the ways in which philosophy and psychology contribute to the study of virtue and well-being. She is the author of Reflective Life and Well-Being as Value Fulfillment, and is past president of the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association.
Transcription of the video
If I had to predict something positive that would happen, it would be an increased awareness of our vulnerability and mutual dependence. We see a little bit of this already with people banging pots and clapping hands to support healthcare workers and other essential workers. My hope in practice is that this would mean increased support for universal health care in the US and for a more secure social safety net, which would have made a big difference in the US to how the pandemic played out and I think that could be a long-lasting change that people understand the ways in which we’re connected and the ways in which it’s essential to support each other.
I think the kind of wisdom we need to get us on the path to seeing people’s mutual interdependence and our vulnerability is a kind of theoretical wisdom that would allow us to shift our perspectives to see larger forces and patterns rather than focusing on individual narratives and stories.
Politically, I think there’s a reason to worry that some leaders will take this as an opportunity to curtail individual liberty and increase social control beyond the point that’s necessary to respond to the pandemic. I think we see that happening in some countries already. That’s a real concern. I know that there are parents who are worried about the long-term consequences for this very fearful period on their children. Parents that I know are worried that their children will grow up with an increasing, greater sense of mistrust and fear of other people. They’re also worried about the repercussions for children’s education, and especially, I think as a society, we should be worried about the repercussions for the education of poor children who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
What we need is wise leadership, which, at least in the US, we don’t have a lot of recently. We need wise leaders who can balance the values of liberty and privacy against the values of saved lives. We need wise leadership to enact education policies that treat all children as equal future citizens whose education matters to us all.
The pandemic is having very different consequences for people in different groups. Some people are dying. Some people are afraid of getting sick because they have to care for other people. Some people are losing their jobs and their economic stability. And injustice in the United States especially, but surely elsewhere, means that some of us are merely inconvenienced, while some of us are in truly dismal circumstances. So given that, for those of us who are not in dire states, I think what we need is perspective. Realizing that our problems are relatively small compared to what others are enduring might be a first step to motivating us help to change the conditions that has made this pandemic so bad for some groups of people. It could also be that having some perspective where we realize that for those of us for whom this is true that our problems are small compared to people in other groups. It might also make us feel a little better, make us feel less sorry for ourselves. And again, my hope is that it would motivate us to work to change things.