Discussing Anxiety and Ethics during Pandemic
Professors from across departments within the Social Sciences and Humanities at Trent have come together to engage in a virtual discussion about anxiety and ethics, while also providing a bit of a break from the regular news cycle of updates on new cases of the virus and social distancing measures.
The virtual “pandemic chat” hosted by Dr. Momin Rahman, professor and chair of the Sociology department has created an avenue for Trent experts in the Humanities and Social Sciences to provide meaningful contributions to conversations about COVID-19. The topic of discussion focused on anxiety and ethics, and the ways crises like pandemics create various types of anxiety.
“In Sociology, about 20 years ago the idea of risk anxiety had developed,” explained Professor Rahman, “And it was a theory that really talked about the fact that in modern life we become so specialized and technologized in the way we are dependent upon experts who know how to do things that we don’t know how to do.”
The discussion was held with Dr. Kevin Siena, associate professor of History, and Dr. Kathryn (Kate) Norlock, professor of Philosophy, the Kenneth Mark Drain Chair of Ethics at Trent.
Reflecting on the way that society has reacted to the current situation surrounding COVID-19, Professor Sienna notes that, “There has been stunning success in medicine in the 20th century, with the success of antibiotics, and the success of vaccine after vaccine. We’ve let our guard down and think that it is old history, the way that a disease can spread around.”
Ethics is also an important consideration during the pandemic, as it relates to the way people think and act, Professor Norlock explains, “Ethics is an ethos –a habit of thinking. In the absence of habits of thinking, what you operate on is instinct, […] if you don’t take those habits in and embody them, that’s not your ethic.”
She also says that there is comfort to be found in the way that ethical behaviour has been demonstrated in times of crisis. “The history of ethics is reassuring,” notes Prof. Norlock “there is a conventional understanding that in times of emergency or trouble ethics goes out the window and it is every man for himself. The good news from the history of ethics is that is not actually what happens. What we find is even in the most dire circumstances, some people do act selfishly and horrid and look out for themselves, and other people do act compassionately and look out for each other.”
Posted on April 17, 2020