Medical Talking Heads on UK LBC radio this morning, 19/01/2021, rightly note the harms of lockdown measures, but wrongly demand more evidence of lockdown net benefit – this is necessarily a ‘will-o-the-wisp’.
In the face of Covid excess and, inevitable uncertainty about harms/benefits, we still know the most vulnerable (oppressed) will be disproportionately harmed by Covid excesses. Lockdown harms to the most oppressed can be mitigated with state financial support. So in the face of exponential growth precautionary early action plus support is the most moral course. Waiting for evidence of net benefit of lockdown is only sacrificing the oppressed in the name of wishful/oppressive thinking.
I draw on Walter Wink’s arguments against the idea of a ‘just’ war claiming what is required isn’t proof of the justification of action (war), so much as proof as to why inaction (not going to war) is worse. On this basis, I would argue that, morally, it can be argued, perhaps against Wink, that not locking down to resist viral transmission is worse than locking down and therefore locking down is a ‘just’ war – a war on the Covid-19 pandemic as well as on the political forces failing to support the vulnerable financially.
In the absence of proof of the ultimate effects of lockdowns we only have political, moral and ideological arguments. Consider the question: Is not locking down (more or less limitng individual freedoms) worse than locking down (not an all-or-nothing thing, but nonetheless, always involving restrictions on individual freedoms)?
We can consider a moral basis that sees a greater good in compelling individual sacrifice by the collective masses in order to protect disproportionately vulnerable minorities from an existential threat (be it political persecution or a virus) as opposed to allowing the minority to perish through a lack of collective sacrifice and neglect. This would imply that inaction – not locking down – is morally worse than locking down.
What does this moral basis depend upon, what is at stake? What is at stake is the valuation of the lives, futures and hopes of the minorities. The lives of minorities will be neglected if the majority do not value, as much as their own, the lives of those minorities, so that the majority are passive, or promote inaction, in the face of the neglect and suffering of the minorities. For a society to not value the lives of stranger-others, as much as its own ‘in-group’ lives is to lose touch with our common humanity, capacity to care with love for the other. Voegelin in ‘Hitler and Germans’ refers to this as a de-divinisation, or loss of presence to God. In more secular terms we could says that current libertarian individualism incited by nationalism and capitalism incites an objectifcation of both the self and the other that makes unconscious, or disavows the value of the lives of others.
What are the consequences of inaction? It would be a dehumanising moral failure, according to the above argument, that opens the way to a libertarian form of totalitarianism, or fascism, that ultimately, as described by Arendt, referring to Germany’s National Socialism of the 1930s, commands: “Thou shallt kill”.