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The Tree of Liberty and COVID-19

I have noticed a phenomena associated with The Virus – whenever someone attempts to be reasonable about the restrictions being put on us, about our liberties being violated someone will say something along these lines, “so you want people dead then?” or “I much rather an over reaction and fewer people die than expected, than the opposite.”

Do you want more people to die?

The real answer is “no” we don’t “want” people to die, there is no desire in our hearts for anyone’s death. The question of course is asked this way to stifle a proper answer. It is a false dichotomy. The person sets up a situation that isn’t true and makes one side look so bad that no one will want to pick it. There are other logical fallacies in that little question as well. It is fraught with them.

Answering that in the affirmative would be very unpopular. It would take guts to say, “Yes. Yes, I would rather more people die than we lose our liberties.” Fact is – that should be our sentiment. It doesn’t mean we actually want people to die, or that we are happy about people dying. It is that we know that a reduction of liberty will eventually cause more harm than the virus. More people will die as a result of the so-called “cure” than from the virus. Heaven forbid that the loss of liberty should become so great that we must fight to get it back. A civil war and socialistic policies will kill far more people than this virus.

In a letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Latin phrase, “Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.” Translated it means, “I prefer the tumult of liberty to the quiet of servitude.” or as is most often attributed to Jefferson, “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery”.

I recently wrote: “Dangerous freedom” has been the mantra of America for generations. Not so anymore. Now people peek from behind becurtained windows to watch the police – that they called – shuffle their neighbors out of parks. They look down their masked noses at those who stand too close or go out too often or buy beer instead of hand sanitizer and toilet paper in quantities sure to back up the toilet.” In response to the police saying that “protesting is not an essential activity”. Without protesting there would not be an America in the first place.

Toilet Paper

Part of the problem is that so few people actually believe that we will suffer a loss of liberty or that such loss would lead to a civil war.

Now we have people like Joy Behar, co-host of “The View” saying that protesters should sign away their right to treatment because they “defied the governor’s orders”. Obey, or die! Which is what she’s saying. She believes the virus is a deadly thing killing everybody and worthy of losing your liberty over so if she says – no ventilator for your protester! – she’s saying they should die. She may not see it that way, or even intend it that way, but ultimately that is the sum of her beliefs.

Another problem with this is the ignorance of the people saying such things. Behar went on to say, “But hello, we’re talking about this disease being way more infecting and worse than they even thought.” Now we are finding that the opposite may be true and that more people have gotten The Virus than we thought and were just not very sick. The predictive models have consistently been changed to reflect downward numbers, not upward. But she’s either afraid or playing a role she thinks she must. What she isn’t doing is thinking rationally. But people like her, and their irrational behavior, are driving policy.

There are those who think that it is equally irrational to think that this will lead to a permanent loss of liberty, socialism, civil war, or other undesirable condition. In a way the arguments are two sides of a coin. Both argue that the possibility of a thing is so bad that we must take what may be unnecessary action to avoid it. After all, people have died from the virus. On the other side, liberties have been taken and jobs lost and companies failed. The first side also ignores the fact that suicides and relapses in sobriety go up during times of stress. This time is a multiple stress, economic, uncertain future, and isolation just for three. These things are part of the cure and are highly undesirable.

If we are to make our choices based on what could be I argue that what would come out of the loss of liberty is far far worse (two “fars” for emphasis) than what The Virus would do. I have seen the results of each in history. We have seen that a plague can be terrible and devastating not only to lives but to nations. But if people have the freedom to recover economically they do so much quicker. We have seen the results of tyranny. It includes more death and an inability to recover economically. The suffering is much greater.

Very unpopular to make death a comparative game but sometimes that’s the reality. We could have tens of thousands die from The Virus or millions die from oppression and war. Oh, you’re just being irrational! Maybe I am. At the start of all this my tone was very different. That was before I saw people turning in their neighbors and shaming people for not wearing masks. Masks that have dubious efficacy!

Woman on couch

We should put people ahead of money!

That is the other thing I hear often, that we should put people ahead of money. The argument is that those who want to open up the economy again only want to because of money. Money only exists because of people. I find the above statement to be tone deaf and a little cruel. Cruel because so many people have lost their jobs – people who weren’t making a lot of money to begin with and lived paycheck to paycheck. Suddenly that dries up and all they get is the crumbs tossed to them by the government. Welcome to socialism! What they really need and want is their life back. The ability to earn money means food on the table, a roof over your head, gas in your tank, and clothes on your back and a lot more too. But for the people chanting the above the person should just suck it up? It’s only money after all. No – it is so much more than the paper it is printed on. To pretend that only the rich care about money is a special kind of stupidity.

Only you can define essential for you

Then there is the idea that government is saying what is essential or not. I have had several items I have wanted to buy that I have not been able to because the shops that sell them are deemed non-essential. The items are essential to me. Essential for what I need to get done in my life. What has happened, in essence, is that the government has decided which businesses will fail and by extension which employees will be out of work. Individuals could have, and should have, made those decisions. It is easy enough. If I need something I get it, if I they have it, they sell it. If they sell it, then employees have a job. If those employees don’t feel safe they can stay home. Some will say that because they need the job they would go to work and put themselves at risk. While that is put forth by many as an argument against it is actually an argument for. If an employee decides that going to work and getting money is more important than staying home then they have made their value judgement. That also leaves open that an employer may decide to not open.

I like to eat out and do so often. Right now it isn’t as fun at all because the atmosphere part of the experience is missing as eateries only do take out. I spoke to one restaurant manager who explained that the owner fired everyone except the manager, a couple of cooks, and a dishwasher. No need for a server when no one can sit down. As a small business the owner had no way to know when the government would lift restrictions and no idea if he would have a small business left so rather than lay them off he let them go. He didn’t want to promise a job back at the end when he knew it might not happen. The government caused that and I say they have no right to.

There is unrighteous dominion going on. That’s when someone gets a little authority, they abuse it. They use it in ways that take away the agency of others. What is wrong with saying I can go out if I want and my neighbor can stay home if he wants? If my neighbor is afraid I will not force him to go out but for some reason my neighbor wants to force me to stay home. My going out does not endanger my neighbor if my neighbor is staying at home.

Enough really is enough

I keep saying that there was a time that we could have gone a different way on this – still prevented the spread and still respected the choices and agency of others. There was a time at the start of all this that we stood on the cusp of reason. We could have prevented it. I think the media made sure we didn’t. The media stepped in and did a little thing they often do best described as, “the stories are about the question, not the answer.” In other words, they don’t actually care about the answer. The question, “Do you think the Trump administration reacted fast enough?” for example isn’t about really trying to get down to the actual timeline, it’s about what the question makes people think about.

Things are bubbling up out there and people are starting to express their frustration with government. What does that mean? Luckily, I think it means people protesting. I think it means enough people being angry enough to get out of the house and in front of the governor’s house or capital building and showing how mad they are. I have seen that after the recent round of protests certain politicians softened their tone and start talking about “May” instead of “probably after June”. People aren’t going to make it to June without becoming more stressed and angry than local government officials are prepared to deal with. If we act now then we won’t have to later and later will be much more challenging.

It’s time we find our harbor and our tea and get to work letting those in power know just how far we are willing to go. It’s better do do it now than have to do it later.

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