Why lockdowns feel amoral

The government has issued another “stay-at-home order” in Ontario. In my view, it is excessive, overly restrictive, and will result in more harm than good. Today, I am mostly interested in how government imposed restrictions make us feel.

When you have an immediately intense feeling about something, positive or negative, your intuition gives you an indication of value-congruency. If you are disgusted or angry or feel dread, it’s because the subject is at odds with your values; your moral framework is being tested. This is a time to get curious. Our values need to be examined. They don’t always work in our favour. The path to well-being requires that we understand our own values and moral frameworks as we design our lives and plan our actions.

The best resource on understanding morality is Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory. Haidt outlines six moral foundations, or, to use his metaphor, tastebuds. Everyone has all six, but with different sensitivities, giving each of us a unique moral palette. I will now explain why lockdowns, as a policy intervention, are narrowly based on the “care/harm” foundation, while violating all others. Anyone in support of lockdowns, is literally suppressing the majority of their moral palette.

Care/Harm: This is simple. In the pandemic, people might get COVID, go to hospital, and die. Numbers are rising. This is scary. We want the harm to stop. We see no other alternatives. We feel like people will be safest at home. Therefore, lockdown. This, of course, ignores all of the untold harm that occurs from lockdowns including mental illness, abuse, loss of education, loss of jobs and businesses, not seeking medical care for non-COVID illness, etc.

Fairness: Lockdowns disproportionally adversely effect people of lower socioeconomic status and congregant living settings. They do not have big homes, big backyards, proximity to green space. This group is also more likely to work in low-paying “essential services” or precarious jobs and will continue to be exposed.

Loyalty: By locking down an entire population, there is no loyalty to be felt by any group. We are all lumped together. Regardless if you have already had COVID, are vaccinated, have to look after loved ones, are able to make your own risk assessment, you are being told it doesn’t matter. It’s easier to paint you all with the same brush. For those of us who disagree with our own colleagues about the call for lockdowns, there is also betrayal of loyalty within groups.

Authority: A very small group of people are now clearly able to dictate how millions of us may live. The decision-making of this group is being called into question. It is clear that these restrictions are not supported by a huge chunk of the population. But this does not matter. There is no democratic opportunity here. Subversion will occur.

Sanctity/Purity: The pandemic has sullied everything. Fear-based reporting and decisions by government would have us believe that nothing is clean, everyone is a potential carrier of disease. Lockdowns cement that this is the perspective of our leaders.

Liberty: It is clear that lockdowns are oppressive. Nothing more needs to be said here.

This is a brief overview, but you get the idea. Lockdowns are not good policy, especially not at this stage when vaccine supplies are increasing and additional strategies exist, including emergency expansion of hospital resources (government would have you believe this number is fixed, boggling the minds of those of us on the front lines).

My hope is that anyone reading this takes some time to think about your “gut” feeling and how it relates to your values and moral palette. Doing so will allow you to test your opinions and ensure your response is in line with what you actually care about.

Be well.