SOCIAL SCIENTIST SEES HOPE IN A GLOBAL CRISIS
Positive and lasting change may come out of COVID-19 pandemic, says Ezzat Fattah.
Could it be hoped that the cruise passengers who were confined to their staterooms, that travellers who were forced into quarantine … will become more sensitive to the devastating effects and shattering pains of imprisonment? Ezzat Fattah
To me, as a social scientist, things are never black or white. No phenomenon is entirely positive or entirely negative; no event is totally good or totally bad. All phenomena have a good side and a bad side. The purpose of this essay is to draw attention to some likely benefits of the COVID-19 crisis that may be ignored, overlooked or downplayed.
GREATER APPRECIATION OF HOW GOOD LIFE IS
It is surprising how rarely we stop to reflect upon and to realize how good our lives are. How often do we appreciate how lucky we are to be able to enjoy the comfortable, enviable existence we have been blessed with? How often do we take time to think about the immense pleasure we derive from sports, entertainment of all kinds, and recreational activities that we watch or take part in? It is amazing how little we appreciate the freedom of mobility and action that make life worth living.
A SENSE OF HUMILITY IN AN ARROGANT WORLD
Human beings have every reason to be extremely proud of what they have accomplished in most domains of everyday life. The technological achievements have been not only spectacular but outright overwhelming. They led us to believe that we can control any threat, counter any danger, manage any risk. While making us proud, they also made us lose sight of our vulnerabilities. We became oblivious and rather incognizant of our weaknesses. We surely needed a wake-up call, a reminder of our limitations. Then came COVID-19.
PANDEMIC AS ALLEVIATOR OF AIR POLLUTION
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, climate change, global warming, and air pollution were considered the major threats to the survival of humanity.
Air pollution in several industrial cities reached highly dangerous levels. Whatever modest attempts were made to reduce it were unsuccessful.
Following the drastic measures taken in severely polluted countries like China and Italy to deal with the current threat, air quality has drastically improved, as may be seen in recent satellite images.
VIRUS AS UNIFYING FORCE
History shows that nothing unifies divided and conflicted societies more than the threat of a common enemy. Danger leads people to create a common front able to face and confront the perceived threat. Leaders of different factions, different political parties get together to devise plans and strategies for action. People adhering to different or opposing ideologies swallow their pride and join their opponents to find the best ways and the most effective strategies to confront and overcome the imminent danger.
COVID-19 AS ENHANCER OF SOCIAL BONDS
Businesses advising or enticing employees to work at home, cancellation of sports and entertainment events, the closure of casinos, bars, pubs, night clubs, movie theatres and other places where people spend a good part of the evening to alleviate the stress of a working day mean that those hours will be spent at home with family, thus strengthening, enhancing and reinforcing familial and social bonds. Parents with young children will have a greater opportunity to spend time together and this can only be beneficial for their relationship.
PANDEMIC AS ENHANCER OF PREPAREDNESS
Five years ago, at the TED conference in Vancouver, Bill Gates, with remarkable foresight, offered a dire warning and detailed plan on how to prepare for what he firmly believed was coming. A global pandemic, he maintained, is a far more realistic threat than a nuclear war.
Sadly, his warnings fell on deaf ears. Had leaders listened to Gates and followed his advice, had they taken action, they would have spared the world a great deal of misery, hardship and loss.
Many other positive benefits are likely to materialize, including the following:
improved working conditions in
hospitals, factories, offices, etc.;
improved living conditions in
improved travelling conditions
in planes, trains, subways, on cruise ships;
reforms in the social security
and unemployment insurance systems;
promotion of healthy habits that
will hopefully persist;
increased respect for science
and more funds for science research;
increased innovation and
remarkable discoveries in many fields, especially microbiology.
As a criminologist, let me end by highlighting the likely benefit of the virus as an instigator of penal and prison reform and its potential to sensitize people to the pains of imprisonment.
The COVID-19 crisis has drawn attention to the urgent need to alleviate the chronic problems of overcrowding and inhumane conditions in prisons and jails. An L.A. Times editorial in March warned that “coronavirus makes jails and prisons potential death traps. That puts us all in danger.” There were reports that U.S. doctors are demanding the immediate release of prisoners and detainees to avert disaster. Encouraging news informed us that Philadelphia police are “delaying” arrests for nonviolent crime and that non- violent prisoners are being released early across at least five American states.
Proponents of incarceration have never personally experienced the pains of imprisonment. Could it be hoped that the cruise passengers who were confined to their staterooms, that travellers who were forced into quarantine, as well as those who wisely practised solitary isolation, will become more sensitive to the devastating effects and shattering pains of imprisonment? Could this personal experience sensitize them to the cruelty of deprivation of liberty as a punitive sanction? And if this happens, will the coronavirus be the one to thank for this much needed humanitarian development?
The coronavirus makes jails and prisons potential death traps. That puts us all in danger.