When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Time To Face The Big Ethical Questions — And That's A Good Thing

A doctor in Guwahati, India
A doctor in Guwahati, India
Carl-Johan Karlsson

One effect of the global pandemic has been to push perennial ethical dilemmas from the comfortable confines of university campuses and philosopher parlor games into the cold reality of everyday life. Facing a global shortage of respirators and ICU beds, medical workers are forced to make hard (impossible) choices on the fly about which patients are given priority and how to allocate scarce resources among their staff. In deciding when and how to loosen lockdown measures, national and local politicians are essentially weighing the risk of life A lost today to cause X against the risk of cause Y killing B tomorrow.

The question of how to value human life is of course not a province of only frontline health workers or political representatives. We are all — for the first time in a long time — compelled to ponder what is and should be the moral foundation of our societies.

Such questions can touch every part of our lives, and can span across time and space. Ethics were at the core of a piece this week by one of my colleagues about her grandmother and another one last week about the use of a smartphone application to track the pandemic.

Indeed, the fact that COVID-19 has hit in 2020, means that the ethical stakes in the coming months and years will largely play out around information technology and artificial intelligence. Javier Saade, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist recently noted how the pandemic has infused even more value into massive digitally-driven companies, from Peleton to Amazon to Zoom.

"Eliminating human agency has been at the core of innovation during the last four decades. Less human intervention in a call center, a hedge fund trading desk, a factory, a checkout line or a motor vehicle seems fine — but in cases of greater importance, humans should remain more active or we will, at best, make ourselves irrelevant."

Perhaps, out of all the ways in which this crisis is different from that of 2008, is the long overdue return of such existential questions to the public consciousness. It has been about pure economics and ideology for far too long. However terrible the reasons, being forced to consider what constitutes an ethical society is just what the (proverbial) doctor ordered. Indeed, if we can agree that impossible choices must be avoided at all costs, we have a starting point.

See more from Coronavirus here

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest