Monday, October 20, 2014

Fighting Ebola Depends on Unity

Rodrick Wallace and I are co-authors of a book called Collective Consciousness and its Discontents. Rod did extensive mathematical modeling which showed that social schism undermined the ability of groups to solve problems. My contribution was to provide empirical support for the models. I described several studies my co-workers and I had conducted on the whys of the appallingly slow response to the AIDS epidemic. Rod and I always thought that a fast-moving epidemic would pose a remarkable threat to the splintered system of functioning. In particular, I have been haunted by what Beverly Wallace and I called "redlined epidemics." By that we meant epidemics that were ignored because they affected marginalized people. The world's slow response to Ebola, an epidemic in several marginalized countries, is vivid proof that epidemic redlining is real and poses a serious threat to international stability. How do we begin to talk to each other? The New York Times, in an editorial today, described Cuba's "impressive role on Ebola," and urged the US to begin to talk to Cuba, at least about the epidemic. The Times argued that the US should stand ready to evacuate Cuban health care workers who become infected. The editorial concluded by noting, "In a column published over the weekend in Cuba’s state-run newspaper, Granma, Fidel Castro argued that the United States and Cuba must put aside their differences, if only temporarily, to combat a deadly scourge. He’s absolutely right." This is a great idea. And Rod and I believe that, when we work together, we create extraordinary opportunities. Danielle Allen writes in her remarkable book, Our Declaration, "This is the third facet of equality: we can strengthen our individual and collective capacity to analyze the relation between present and future by drawing everyone into the work of understanding the course of human events. We can build collective intelligence superior to what any individual or even a closed group of experts can achieve, by developing egalitarian approaches to knowledge cultivation." (p. 238) People are dying needlessly, but we can change that. Our collective salvation lies in cooperation.