International Center for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW)

„How do we protect the weak?“

An objection

By Regina Ammicht Quinn

03 April 2020 - "How do we protect the weak?"

This was the front page of the ZEIT on April 2, 2020 - well-intentioned, but not well thought out.

Here it is presupposed that our "Corona world" can be divided neatly: into weak and strong. And the strong are "we".The strong must now take responsibility, make decisions for themselves and others, behave properly and go shopping for their neighbours.  The weak have to do - actually nothing. Except follow the rules.

All this is well intentioned. Of course some people dispose of mental, material, physical, intellectual, emotional, empathic and other capacities differently, more strongly, more directly than others; and of course it makes sense to use these capacities where they are needed. A whole society depends on it, and a whole society is grateful for it.

But are they the "strong" ones who protect the "weak" like the supermen and (sometimes) superwomen in films?

Reducing complexity is a good way of dealing with a unclear and frightening crisis situation, creating order and finding one's own place in this often chaotic context. This is exactly how you can understand the front page of the ZEIT, and you can understand why it is written like this and not in a different way. 

Yet it does not make it right. And it might even be dangerous.

Because what kind of society are we imagining here? It is a society in which the 90-year-old lady with the most serious dementia becomes the symbolic image of the "weak", contrasted with all the "strong", who are combined into one big and capitalized "we". This is problematic. Too many strengths and too many weaknesses are overlooked, which should be considered especially in a crisis:

Those who are "physically" healthy may still need material or mental help. Those who have empathy or a sense of humour can be important without having to be among the "strong". Those who have so-called "pre-existing conditions" are not automatically an object of well-meaning others.

Especially now it is important to recognize and name the variety of human dependencies that affect everyone. Dependence is not the opposite, but an essential part of togetherness. What a society needs now is not the bare binarity of the strong and the weak. Everyone needs protection and support. And everyone can offer help - even the elderly and the " previously ill ", and even the child of a few months old who shows their parents what is important: to be present.