COVID and Common Sense
Social norms are often more effective than government mandates, because they allow a degree of flexibility that statutes cannot provide. As the world learns more about the new coronavirus and how it spreads, people should have more leeway to modify their behavior where appropriate.
ITHACA – As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, our understanding of it is improving. Through a combination of epidemiology and physics – including knowledge of the virus’s character and how aerosols float in the air – we are learning more about how the microbe infects new hosts.
This understanding is fueling hopes that we will soon be able to counter the pandemic more effectively. But it has also led to some contentious exchanges regarding the social sciences and the interaction between social norms and the law.
Ever since the pandemic began to spread beyond Wuhan and around the world, there has been an increasingly acrimonious debate regarding which preventive measures should be decreed by government and enforced by public officials and the police, and which should be promoted as social norms. Unfortunately, this debate has become so polarized that people are immediately classified as right-wing or left-wing depending on their view. Because people often do not like to be categorized in this way, and certainly not wrongly, many are reluctant to express themselves on this important question.