Here on Hornby, emotions are again mounting around differing beliefs and priorities, and sparks fly in person as well as online. The most contentious split is between ideals of ‘personal freedom’ vs ‘the common good.’ This is framed as an either/or polarization, as if it is impossible to integrate the two in a workable form.
I submit that these are not contradictory ideals. Personal freedom, i.e. the right to decide what to do with one’s own body and life, and to move freely in society (within reasonable constraints), is a fundamental human need. There cannot be a common good when individuals are forced to deny their needs, no matter how lofty the ideals may be. A group of unhealthy individuals doesn’t add up to a healthy whole. Any true and lasting common good comes as a consequence of a society in which most, if not all, individuals have their basic needs met.
More and more, I see a trend on the ‘progressive’ side of the collective conversation, saying some form of, “We just need to accept that this is the way the world is now, get used to it.” Translation: “Suck it up, you babies, personal freedom and choice are passe, get with the times.” But this sort of attitude is giving alt-right groups the fuel they need to convince ordinary Canadians that they are being oppressed by a tyrannical government, and that, clearly, is a very bad idea.
No matter how many minds are made up about how important and necessary such societal changes are, basic needs remain non-negotiable. Many of us can apply the yardstick of ‘the common good’ to set our needs aside for a certain period of time, and we might even feel good about it–for a time. Eventually there will be a breaking point, and that will be different for different individuals. Certain introverts and those from cultures with a long tradition of compliance with authority might find it easier to follow rules indefinitely.
But the fact remains, humans are a social species. We all want this to be over. Most of us have cooperated, received our vaccinations, stayed home, avoided family gatherings and otherwise complied with restrictions. Yet here we are, two years later with no end in sight. We all feel the pressure mounting, and we wonder, might there be another choice?
The government of Denmark has recently rescinded all Covid restrictions across the board, because despite the highest infection rate in the world currently, they see that hospitals are not being overwhelmed because Omicron is a much milder variant than previous ones. Michael Bang Petersen, an adviser to the Danish government, says, “Pandemic restrictions put on pause fundamental democratic rights. If there’s a critical threat, that pause might be legitimate. But there is an obligation to remove those restrictions quickly when the threat is no longer critical.”
This is a pragmatic and reasonable stance, in my opinion. Restrictions and mandates should be temporary and released as soon as possible. Any suggestion that we should learn to live with these changes as some sort of ‘new normal’ frankly chills my bones. If Covid is indeed the new normal, then we will have to learn to live with it, as we live with the seasonal flu. There are worse things than getting sick. Disease has always been a part of life on this planet. The kind of society in which all disease is eradicated is a dream whose cost is just too high.
People are fed up because they fear that this is going to go on and on, and that we will end up more like China than Denmark. They fear that vaccine passports are only the thin edge of the wedge that forces us into a controlled, machinelike society in which all interactions are monitored and managed by our smartphones.
I fear this as well. That is not a world in which biological organisms with deep seated drives and non-negotiable emotional needs can thrive. We can, and we must create a better world than that.
What do you think? I’d love to hear from you! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.