Computer Planning

Apr 20, 2020
Posted By:
Aliaa Barakat PhD

Norms and Values

What norms and values are guiding the decision-making in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Over the last six weeks, a variety of computer models have guided policy makers in their response to the pandemic, and perhaps even replaced human thinking by the predictions of such models. Computer planning is a calculable model of reasoning based on the faith in the “logic of facts.”

“But not only the facts themselves are selected and ordered according to their values; the programming of the computer itself is based on built-in and often unconscious values. […] All planning, whether with or without the use of computers, depends on the norms and values that underlie the planning. Planning itself is one of the most progressive steps the human race has taken. But it can be a curse if it is “blind” planning, in which man abdicates his own decision, value judgement, and responsibility.”  
— Erich Fromm (1968)

All public health planning should be guided by humility and concern for life. The Center for Infectious Disease Research And Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota will soon publish its proposal for a national response plan. For a balanced and honest analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic, I highly recommend the weekly podcast of CIDRAP’s director, Dr. Michael Osterholm. CIDRAP’s COVID-19 Resource Center is equally invaluable. 

Being Grateful in Every Moment

In January of 2016, Krista Tippett recorded a wonderful interview with Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast for her radio conversations On Being. While savoring it the first the time around, I remember being struck by the distinction he drew between anxiety and fear, how fear is a life-destroying resistance to anxiety, while anxiety itself is a reasonable response to the human experience.

“Anxiety is not optional in life. It’s part of life. We come into life through anxiety. And we look at it and remember it and say to ourselves: We made it. We got through it. We made it. In fact, the worst anxieties and the worst tight spots in our life, often, years later, when you look back at them, reveal themselves as the beginning of something completely new, a completely new life.”

On the early morning of Easter Sunday, I woke up to the replay of this On Being episode with Brother David on my local NPR radio station. Waking up to it was a timely awakening to the deeper meaning of gratefulness that can be elusive in the midst of the challenging times we are now living.

“ … the opportunity to learn something from a very difficult experience — what to grow by it, or even to protest, to stand up and take a stand — that is a wonderful gift in a situation in which things are not the way they ought to be. So opportunity is really the key when people ask, “Can you be grateful for everything?” — no, not for everything, but in every moment.”

Be safe and be well,