“To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.”—Thomas Paine
We have lost much to the COVID-19 pandemic. The most enduring are our freedoms, which we may never fully recover.
Every great crisis erodes freedoms. The tendency toward individual and collective freedom among Americans—who once forcibly tore our liberty away from tyrants—is great. But the will to power among government elites is even stronger. A tension that never releases, never relents and never sleeps. Like water it creeps into every crack and crevice and weakens the structure until it crumbles.
Martin Luther King might have rightfully claimed “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” but freedom is much more fragile. Easily forgotten in a generation of two once lost.
Freedom is not our natural state. From when the concept of individual freedom was born is a blink of an eye in history. For most of history people labored and were grateful if the lash, when it came, was brief and not followed by death. They were happy if the taxman left them with enough to survive through the winter.
Our future president Joe Biden issued a proclamation last week. Unusual in itself—a presidential candidate gave an executive order months before taking office: “Every single American should be wearing a mask when they’re outside for the next three months at a minimum,” adding “It’s not about your rights. It’s about your responsibilities as an American.”
What does “responsibility” mean to Joe Biden? It means, in effect, “Shut up and do what we tell you.”
The next three months, not coincidentally, takes us to the election and beyond. When, miraculously, we will “turn the corner” on COVID-19 and things will improve. Unless state officials find they can’t break their addiction to instructing us “for our own good.”
A large percentage of the population willingly submits: “I just do what the experts tell us to do.” But what the experts tell us depends on where they are. And what day it is.
A healthy, free society doesn’t fall into line when given orders. Our society is not the military. We don’t have “a commander-in-chief,” but public servants. For my money, not enough of them understand they are servants and not masters. Free people need orders explained to them. Free people don’t snap to attention with, “Yes sir!”
For argument’s sake let’s say “masks” actually work. I accept that premise enough that I wear them. If that was the only infringement on freedom I wouldn’t be fearful. After all, our liberties in 1918 survived the Spanish flu pandemic’s mask requirements and President Wilson’s crackdown that imprisoned socialists and critics of our role in World War I.
A century ago the state’s engine for tyranny was less robust. Two decades later when Orwell wrote “Nineteen-Eighty Four” the tools to control every facet of our lives were only imagined. Today, they have arrived as new technologies—and with gusto.
I am not so much whining about what society has endured so far as predicting that now that public officials have tasted almost total power they will never be happy until they can taste it again. A certain mindset will always tend toward “responsibility” versus “rights” because, not to put too fine a point on it, freedom offends them.
What have we lost?
We have lost the right to make a living. Business owners whose “sin” is wanting to avoid bankruptcy are prosecuted. Striving to survive is condemned as “selfish.” Those who argue for reopening businesses are condemned as “just wanting to get a haircut” over saving lives.
Freedom of speech is relentlessly assaulted. I have no opinion on hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 (I know some doctors at Palomar Medical Center use it as a treatment) but it should be openly discussed. Yet a doctor who wrote a paper advocating it saw it removed by Twitter and a video Donald Trump Jr. posted was also removed. Examples of such censorship are too many to list.
Social media platforms shouldn’t censor ideas. The truth (whatever that is) will out after a lively discussion in the sunlight. Claims about UFOs, life after death, Russian interference in the election, Pizzagate and the Kennedy assassination, no matter how wacky, should not be suppressed. That’s not our tradition. That forces them underground. Censorship strengthens crazy ideas.
Many have lost loved ones because concentrating on COVID neglected other “routine” conditions which, neglected long enough, can be fatal. I have a friend whose mother couldn’t receive routine cancer treatments, which led it to spread to all parts of her body.
We have lost the right to worship in public, something guaranteed by First Amendment, but which officials trample with a sneer. The Supreme Court refuses to restrain governors who derive their emergency powers from . . . who knows? But who feel comfortable exercising emergency power endlessly. How willingly will they give up this power to regulate virtually every aspect of our lives? Especially since most of us feel we NEED a regulator ordering our every movement.
Finally, we lost a year, maybe more, of educating an entire cohort of young people. Anybody who thinks those children will get it back or anything like it, is delusional. Remote learning is to learning as texting is to literature.
So as we move inexorably toward an election where it looks more and more likely that the voters will deliver us into a more authoritarian future, I worry about what we have lost—and may never get back.