A persistent thread that has been woven through so much of Covid-19 is the variety of experiences across class, geography, age, and occupation. While the overall threat of this virus should be frightening to anyone, particularly due to remaining unknowns, the exposure, nor the risk is universal. This must have been true for past Pandemics, respectful to each society. Unlike any other time in history, we can really get a real-time glimpse of how this has impacted already existing social orders, and how it has exaggerated disparities, inequities, and exposed certain privileges.
We were able to see nakedly some of our inequities on full display from the beginning. As some people suffered the worst of the health consequences, others unknowingly passed the virus on. We saw which citizens were forced to take risks and for how much, who was “essential” to society’s basic functioning, who was prioritized by our representatives, and who was profiting.
From a biological perspective, collective action has a really obvious impact. The personal responsibility of many individuals can completely change how safe each one of us will be. Our modern internet age has shown us the different cultural and societal attitudes toward collective action. COVID-19 forces the consideration of secondary and tertiary impacts, both morally and selfishly. It requires a broader public participation to achieve any semblance of sustainable public health.
Examining the historical record should garner perspective on how this moment compares to those of the past. While this Coronavirus is new, pandemics are not. How did peoples of the past respond to similar circumstances? How did it impact inequities and social orders, and what were effective health measures taken by past societies? With all of the technological progress and ability to share information widely and quickly, one would expect major advantages, but are there new drawbacks and dangers? What has not changed?
I want to explore how past pandemics have affected social and political divisions within societies, especially if collective action was needed. There are potentially ways to increase our ability to collaborate and react to public health emergencies. This topic could go in many directions, but ultimately I hope to shed light on how to increase public participation, both for this crisis and for ones to come.