Viral Indifference

I’m surprised to see how many otherwise decent people are willing to scoff at the impact of the ebola crisis. Entirely reputable epidemiologists describe it as the worst global public health outbreak since AIDS. Yet oh-so-self-satisfied people congratulate themselves for being too reasonable to be concerned. So, as with its spread, the current outbreak of ebola is the worst failure of compassion since AIDS, too.

Ultimately, reasons to withhold empathy fall under two headings: “it doesn’t affect me,” or “other things kill more people,” framed as a demonstration of superiority to the media hype. But media aside, neither one of these dismissals counts as release from the ethical responsibility of concern. The opposite of panic is not indifference; both spread all-too quickly.

To pursue the parallel, one might note similar dismissals of AIDS from the 1980s. Some said, “it’s not my problem, because it only happens to ‘those people,'” whoever they happen to be. Others said, “why should we worry about that when there are more serious and more important health issues that affect ‘us?'” Neither of these stray too far from simply saying, “I don’t have to worry about that.”

But we all do. We are all responsible to each other, even if in just our basic compassion and concern.