The COVID-19 Project

in ,

The COVID-19 pandemic is an event shared world wide. But unlike previous ones of bearing witness, this one is of shared experience. We are all participants, not simply observers. This insight is the basis of my initial hypothesis: that the pandemic offers a unique opportunity for each individual to exercise agency through social distancing; for all of us to participate in the control of the spread of the virus and its ultimate control, if not demise. Yet the current state of affairs is more nuanced. This universal agency, which I thought we all shared, is being subverted by systemic injustices. As we have not reached the end of this crisis, the question remains open whether this pandemic will be an impetus for social change and a resolution of these injustices. Are we at an inflection point?


In the absence of a vaccine, social distancing is an act in which all can participate and contribute to the solution. It gives each person agency. Yet actual practice shows otherwise. Minorities and low-wage earners are disproportionately impacted by the spread of the virus leading to significant social tension. The chain of impacts and consequences starts with the fundamental social nature of human beings.

Our ability to form relationships with other people β€” to connect physically and emotionally β€” is a major strength of human beings. It allows us to form groups, to develop culture, to distribute knowledge, goods, and services. The virus has turned this strength of connection into a weakness by appropriating these links as its distribution path. The premise of 6-degrees of separation β€” that no more than 5 connections separate any two people in the world β€” suggests this path is very short, adding to the sense of gravity of the situation.

The spread of the virus was initially advanced as β€œdemocratic” β€” everyone is equally affected β€” but reality points to something otherwise; low-wage earners and minorities are disproportionately impacted. The virus is distributed unevenly.  

The reasons for the imbalance are rooted in the inequalities found in our institutions, attitudes and culture; so deeply ingrained they are often invisible to the majority; they are thus systemic.

The wider recognition of these inequalities has put a light on the need for leadership to untangle this mess; to chart a course through this minefield, balancing the competing needs and objectives in a reasoned way. It requires compromise, empathy, ingenuity and the effort to persevere.

This challenge is made harder because of the invisibility of the virus and its insidious nature that develop a foundation of fear and uncertainty. In an environment where division prevails, these forces conspire to form irrational explanations; facts are questioned. Conspiracy theories reign. The urge to develop simple answers to complex problems. The vaccine will solve all problems; no need to act now. It assumes a vaccine can be found.

This resistance to facts, to the truth, is confounded by a failure in leadership. A failure to take the action necessary to chart the course. Our primary course of action β€” social distancing β€” needs to be executed nearly universally, Yet dogma has many questioning action, and social injustices limit many others from executing this responsibility.

Will the convergence of a failure in leadership and the visibility of injustice drive action towards a more balanced society? Recalling the Black Death of the 14th Century, that pushed Engalnd toward the end of the feudal system, we might be encouraged, but that pandemic killed an estimated 30-50% of the European population.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *