Your safety V. My freedom in the age of the pandemic

Which one is more important, your safety or my freedom? We must never forget that at the end of the day people, human beings, are animals. Not in the barbaric sense but in the sense that we often act on impulse or out of fear for the sake of survival. When we are well fed, warm or cool, have comfy beds and plenty to do, we are quite polite and docile most of the time. Intelligent thought and taking others into consideration do not come as easy and naturally to us as we think. When we are afraid or we think our survival is threatened it all goes out the window as a matter of course. As we wade our way through the latest epidemic to hit our species, we are embracing this behavior all the while acting as if it’s the best way forward.

While some may make the comparison of modern governments behavior during the current crisis as something out of an Orwellian nightmare, not far off anyway. We have to remember, everyone reacts to failure differently. Despite decades of warning from thousands of medical professionals, billions of tax dollars in dozens of agencies and tens of thousands of trained personnel, modern governments have failed us. As if watching a car crash at slow speed, it was well known this was going to happen and despite warning and past experiences, they failed to act in time. When the gravity of their failure finally hit them, instead of acting responsibly, they blamed everyone but themselves and then blamed the other sides of the aisle. One slandered the other with accusations of racism for over reacting then endemic stupidity for failing to act fast enough. Now we sit sheltered in our homes as we hope and pray that the government enforced and mandated, last minute, rules save us from the latest predicament they put us in.

Less than a week ago I found myself sitting in a lawn chair in a parking lot with half a dozen people, all over six feet away. We sat smoking cigars and shouting back and forth at each other as we enjoyed the little sunlight and human contact we had all gone without for the past three weeks. There was no loud music, fighting or any other illegal or disruptive behavior. Just a few people who wanted only some small pleasure in a world that had increasingly began to lose its mind. As the Governor had just issued a shelter in place order that was due to take effect that evening, we all knew this would be the last time for some weeks we would have the chance. Before the ash had a chance to grow cold on the end of my cigar, a small sedan pulls up and rolls down the passenger window. We all thought nothing of it at the time, I even thought it was someone we might had know simply wanting to say hello. As the window came down it turned out to be an elderly woman with purple surgical gloves who was using her phone to take our pictures. Then she began to shout,

“How dare you all!,” she screamed.

“I’m sorry ma’am?” someone asked puzzled.

“Ya’ll are endangering my life, I’m 84 years old and ya’ll have no right to be out in a crowd!” she shouted even louder.

At this point some in the crowd shouted back some said have a nice day and motioned for her to drive on. The fact that no one seemed to be taking he seriously only further enraged her.

“I don’t have to go anywhere this is public land,” she shouted and continue to take our pictures.

By this point other began to shout and cuss with her and I was so caught off guard by this mellodrama I had stopped listening. After a another moment of shouts and threats she drove off. Another care with a middle aged black man pulled up behind her but I have no idea what he said as he shouted a few things out his window and quickly drove off. No police ever showed and no more shouting took place. We finished our conversations a short time later and made our way back to our own qurantines.

In the whole instance of those slight interactions I learned something fundamental about people. Most would rather go out of their way and in fact endanger themselves and others in order to make sure you can’t do what they believe you shouldn’t. As we see more and more each day. The politicians and celebrities who tell us to shelter in place and social distance ourselves, follow the same rules when it is convenient for them. All the while they shop at their favorite stores or talk about their bravery as the run from the eipicenters of the sickness to hide out on their private estates. Yet they still mange to chastise us for wanting some fresh air and sometime with a friend or neighbor at a distance.

Is there such a thing as a greater good? Is it right or just to impose any conditions or laws those who make them see fit so long as it saves lives? If we sacrifice our freedoms for our safety how can we truly be free. Especially when not all of us want to sacrifice one for the other but others decide on our behalf that is the right thing to do. When this pandemic passes, and it will, what will we give up or force on those unwilling when the next one comes?

In a Society in which there is no law, and in theory no compulsion, the only arbiter of behavior is public opinion. But public opinion, because of the tremendous urge to conformity in gregarious animals, is less tolerant than any system of law. 

– George Orwell

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