Bernardino G, Magwilang J, Hermoso C, Lucero-Prisno D. Anger in the time of corona: a call to meaningful activism in public health. HPHR. 2021;48.
The implementation of global quarantine protocols to address the increasing number of infected individuals in the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a wide array of emotions, most notably that of anger. This paper provides a reflection on the case of anti-lockdown protests. We will argue that a consideration of the works of Martha Nussbaum, Harriet Martineau, and Sonali Chakravarti may prove to be valuable in constructing the post-COVID-19 world.
This is a narrative review.
Activism in the form of protest may reflect varying realities that may be driven by social injustice or disinformation. In making sense of these expressions of anger, it becomes important that authorities consider the perspectives of other people through engagement and critical scrutiny.
The implementation of global quarantine protocols to address the increasing number of infected individuals in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 resulted in a wide array of emotions, most notably that of anger. When migrant workers were doused in a chemical solution in India under the belief that doing such would help stop the spread of the coronavirus, massive uproar on Twitter ensued (“Coronavirus: anger as migrants,” 2020). In the enforcement of lockdown restrictions, a police officer has allegedly shot a civilian which subsequently triggered protests in Somalia (“Anger in Mogadishu,” 2020). When the number of infected cases increased in the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) released statements of mass hiring health workers to help attend to the crisis. However, some groups were enraged for the reason that in case that a health worker would contract COVID-19, the DOH would have no responsibility over them (“Volunteer nurses,” 2020). In Russia, health care workers were outraged after they were ordered to combat the COVID-19 crisis without sufficient protection (Ilyushina, 2020). By the year 2021, anti-lockdown protests have been reported in New Zealand (Corlett, 2021) and in Australia (Breakey, 2021) to name just a few. This paper explores the complexity of the emotion of anger in the context of the anti-lockdown protests. We will argue that a consideration of the works of Martha Nussbaum (2015), Harriet Martineau, and Sonali Chakravarti (2014) may prove to be valuable in constructing the post-COVID-19 world.
In the work of philosopher Martha Nussbaum (2015), the concept of anger is dissected as something that arises when a person perceives a ‘down-ranking’, or ‘diminution of his/her status’ from an offender. Nussbaum (2015) unpacks transitional anger as something that focuses on future welfare and search for strategies to address existing socio-political ills in society. As to how specifically transition anger can be attained, Nussbaum (2015) teaches us the importance of looking into a situation from the perspective of other people. By trying to look in other person’s point of view, transitional anger no longer concerns with personal status or the need for revenge. Instead, it envisions the future as one that involves the welfare of other people as well.
Nussbaum’s concept of anger can be linked with Harriet Martineau’s moral theory as drawn from the analysis of Vetter (2008). For Martineau, caution must be observed in positing universal moral principles that do not take into account individual differences (Vetter, 2008). Instead of directly disapproving actions that run counter to our values and experiences, Martineau advises on the importance of exerting an effort, through observation and direct engagement, that is aimed at trying to understand possible motivating factors (Vetter, 2008). Martineau adds that through active engagement and not merely speculating on what drives the actions of other people, we can then better evaluate the role of these actions in advancing what may be good for other members of society (Vetter, 2008).
Another valuable insight that can help shed light in these tumultuous times can come from the work of Sonali Chakravarti. For Chakravarti (2014), the act of listening can help us make sense of the connection between anger and justice. Thoughts that are expressed in anger may prove to be difficult to integrate in the political sphere but we need to be open in interpreting their content. In supplementing Nussbaum (2015) who said that anger may be due to perceived downranking, Chakravarti (2014, p.132) added that anger “may also be directed toward the character of the perpetrators and bystanders, as well as the speaker’s own complicity, guilt, or lack of resilience.” For all three thinkers, the expression of anger is not free of charge but must be rather subjected to scrutiny and proper engagement.
For Breakey (2021), the decision of an individual to participate in a protest may be interpreted as an expression of free speech as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When physical distancing is not observed in these events, however, the likelihood of transmitting the virus becomes highly possible. A dangerous scenario becomes even more likely due to the fact that some people do not even believe in the seriousness of COVID-19 (Breakey, 2021).
In the first few weeks of the lockdown in the Philippines, several groups protested due to food shortages and loss of employment (Westcott & Lagamayo, 2020). In the Philippines, one in five Filipino people live below the poverty line (Westcott & Lagamayo, 2020). In response to these events, President Duterte is quoted to have instructed police forces to “shoot dead” any violators (Westcott & Lagamayo, 2020). In this case, the anger of protesters is fueled by their perception of neglect from government authorities. If policy-makers were more directly committed to the plight of the poor, would these protests still have occurred?
In Berlin, anti-lockdown protests were banned for the reason that participants violated protocols that aimed to contain the virus (“COVID: Berlin court,” 2021). Moreover, Querdenker, Germany’s main anti-lockdown movement, is said to have spread conspiracy theories that contributed to vaccine hesitancy (“COVID: Berlin court,” 2021). If in case COVID-19 cases would escalate, it becomes worthy to reflect back on Martineau whether these events would further advance the good of other people as well.
In recent times, the global political landscape has seen an increase in the staging of protests as an expression of discontent. However, it must be recognized that not all forms of anger may authentically correspond with injustices owing to the complex architecture of disinformation. In public health practice, listening is a form of therapeutic communication. However, public health practitioners must not only engage in passive listening but must likewise engage in meaningful activism. This engagement to activism, however, must be one that is critically informed. Fueled by narratives of social injustices, public health workers must take an active role in exposing and critiquing oppressive circumstances that can be traced on the social determinants of health. Only then can the transition to a ‘new normal’ take place, where the injustices and inequalities of previous regimes are corrected.
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Corlett E (2021, August 27). New Zealand police break up one-person anti-lockdown protest in Auckland. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/27/new-zealand-police-break-up-one-person-anti-lockdown-protest-in-auckland on September 14, 2021.
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Volunteer nurses told to sign waiver clearing DOH if they contract COVID-19, nurses’ group says (2020, April 15). ABS-CBN News. Retrieved from https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/04/15/20/volunteer-nurses-told-to-sign-waiver-clearing-doh-if-they-contract-covid-19-nurses-group-says
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Gilbert Jr. D. Bernardino is an Assistant Professor at the College of Nursing, University of the Cordilleras. At present, he is a PhD in Nursing student at the School of Advanced Studies, Saint Louis University.
Judith Odanee G. Magwilang is the Academic Dean of the College of Nursing, University of the Cordilleras.
Catherine Hermoso is with the College of Medicine, Bicol University, Daraga, in Albay, Philippines.
Don Eliseo Lucero-Prisno III is with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and University of the Philippines Open University.