Conflict of Science and Politics

Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security, University of Tokyo

Where have all the social distancing-things gone?

The death of a black man George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota has ignited the furor and confrontation all over the US and spilled over to the European cities, Canada and New Zealand. As always, President Trump was successful to flame it into a global big fire.

We are watching a surreal scene of military helicopters hovering over protesters in Washington D.C. not in Mogadishu.

The people participating in protests don’t seem to care much about distancing themselves, getting shoulders together, chanting, shouting and arguing each other.

In the first place, that’s what the politics is all about.

As Aristotle argued in his Politics, human beings is a “political animal” who takes part in social activities interacting with others by means of speech and convincing each other by reasoning.

If we add to it the theory of the great Arab social theorist and historian Ibn Khaldun, human society is tied with ‘Assabiya, a group solidarity, and each group with ‘Assabiya compete with each other seeking for dominance. That’s the human nature and accordingly, we now see people are getting together again defying curfews being united in protests.

But under the conditions of COVID-19 pandemic, this fundamental nature of human society acts inversely for the public health.

We can easily infer how many droplets were splashed and sucked in these protestations. Exchanges of droplets exhaled by heated conversations were the most detested and avoided acts in the heyday of the “stay home” lockdowns against the COVID-19.

Staying home and social distancing are too vague notions to be properly implemented, but Japanese experts devised a simple and useful slogan ‘Avoid the “Three Cs”’, that advocated to “Avoid Closed spaces with poor ventilation, Crowded places with many people nearby and Close-contact settings such as close-range conversations.” It seems worked relatively well, for the time being.

A policy of avoiding Three Cs is based on science, but obviously, it’s antithetical to politics and human nature. Now, the people all over the world are in a mood to rebel the months-old restrictions imposed on them and relieve mental stress caused by these restrictions.

There are two frontlines in this conflict between science and politics. One exists in the line between public health policy and economic policy.

The other which quickly appears right now exists in the lines dividing the camps of political confrontations of race, prejudice and domination. Existing political conflicts between groups tied with ‘Assabiya, solidarity with identity, are now intensified by the COVID-19 social and economic pressures and getting rid of science from the scene.