Why Must we Surrender our Rights during times of Perceived Crises?

Once again, our nation surrendered its liberties – our natural rights endowed upon us by our Creator – because of fear and panic.  We did not sacrifice our rights to some “greater cause,” for there is no cause greater than the natural state of freedom that makes us all human.  Instead, we compliantly surrendered that which makes us human, that which makes us American, to scare-mongering “experts” who conned us into believing their priorities, preferences, and judgements were somehow superior to everyone else’s.  We willingly relinquished our own powers of critical thinking and allowed our emotions, particularly our fears, to limit our own judgements.  We allowed a small cabal of so-called experts and politicians to strip us of our right to free will and choice, in exchange for being serfs to their own choices.

The United States of America was founded upon the principle that all humans were granted natural rights by our Creator.  These rights are not abstractions that a benevolent or despotic government can freely grant or deny.  They are an extension of the free will provided to us by our Lord – a recognition that such free will, choice, and liberty is the natural state of every human.  Legitimate governments strive, at all times, to preserve and protect individual liberty.  Despotic governments seek to control humanity by infringing upon these natural rights.

Anatomy of Despotism

During the coronavirus pandemic, governmental officials, usually governors and members of the federal and state executive branches, abandoned any pretext of protecting individual rights and, instead, chose to rule by dictate and decree.  Most of the nation’s governors chose to put their own citizens under various forms of house arrest, through “stay at home” or “lockdown” orders.  They arbitrarily closed businesses they deemed “nonessential” with little thought given to the real impact this would have on the business owners, their employees, their suppliers, and the communities they serve.  When confronted with a perceived crisis, these supposed leaders reflexively resorted to the most intrusive and excessively coercive mechanisms of governmental power, rather than trusting their citizens to independently make the choices right for them.

This was partially caused by mass hysteria driven by the sensationalist and alarmist pronouncements of the media and by opportunistic “experts” seeking personal publicity or the raw exercise of power.  The so-called “experts” were granted levels of influence and power far beyond their areas of expertise, and the public eagerly and willingly acquiesced to even the most draconian recommendations of these individuals.  It is a sad reality of human nature that when given an opportunity to exercise power over others, most people will gladly wield that power to their own ends.  Far too often, the public meekly complies.

Whether you choose to call the technique “gaslighting”, or as Hitler termed it, “the Big Lie,” when something is repeated often enough and with enough conviction, the public will eventually believe, and then, embrace the lie.  The panic and raw emotional reactions to the perceived threat of COVID-19 was a classic example of this phenomenon.

The Path to Dictatorship

Initially, most Americans, including most politicians, believed COVID-19 would not cause much trouble, and even branded those who disagreed as racists against the Chinese.  It was not uncommon to see mayors and other political figures tour Chinatowns in their cities and encourage people to visit their restaurants and businesses.

That all changed in late February and early March of 2020.  The news media seized upon the worst aspects of the outbreak in Europe, particularly in Italy and quickly sensationalized their coverage in a desperate search for ratings and readers.  Then, on March 16, Imperial College in Britain published a model which predicted that half a million people in Britain would die from COVID-19, and two million from the United States.  Even though the authors of the Imperial College model quickly walked back their predictions, the press, and swiftly afterwards, the public and the politicians, seized upon these alarmist predictions and repeated them like a mantra.

Driven by public demand to “do something!,” California’s governor issued the first “stay at home” order on March 19, 2020.  All but seven states quickly followed.  These “stay at home” orders closed businesses deemed nonessential by the state governors, prohibited elective surgeries in hospitals, limited gatherings of more than a handful of people, and often closed public parks, beaches, and other outdoor recreation venues.  Some restrictions, such as those imposed by Michigan Governor Whitmer, were more arbitrary and draconian than others, including forbidding lawn service companies from cutting lawns, preventing residents from purchasing plants and seeds from shops already open, and banning motorboats on waterways, but permitting non-motorized watercraft.  Clearly, all these restrictions violated the rights to free exercise of religion, the right of the people to peaceably assemble, the right to petition the government for redress of grievances, the right to not being denied liberty or property without due process of law, the right to not have excess fines imposed, and a host of other Constitutionally-enumerated rights.

Few governors gave thought to the health and economic consequences of their decisions, and often imposed restrictions in spite of the lack of empirical evidence supporting them.  The initial justification was that the restrictions were necessary to “flatten the curve” and later, to limit new cases of coronavirus. When it became obvious COVID-19 was still spreading in spite of stay at home orders, governors opted for new requirements, like mandating masks in public, even though the value of the public wearing homemade masks is questionable.  Instead of admitting their policies were little more than ineffective political theater and abandoning their overreaching dictates, pot-committed governors often doubled down by extending existing restrictions and even imposing new ones.

The Myth of “Killing Grandma”

Those who questioned and protested the governmental dictates were attacked as being selfish, anti-science, and even racist.  Those who protested the infringement of their liberties were even accused of wanting to “kill grandma.”

In many states, these lockdowns, which often weren’t even voted upon by state legislatures, still exist, despite statistical evidence stay at home orders have no impact on coronavirus infection or fatality rates.  In fact, nationwide, over 1/3 of all coronavirus cases and fatalities occur in long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living communities.  The fatality rate predictably rises by age, with those under 65 unlikely to perish from the disease unless other comorbidity factors already exist.  Transmission of COVID-19 is very rare during fleeting contacts, such as passing an infected person in a store.  Even governmental officials are implicitly recognizing this, by limiting contact tracing to persons with close and constant contact with infected persons.

There is no disputing COVID-19 is more contagious and more serious than typical strains of influenza.  Worldwide, the fatality rate appears to be about 1.3% for those with symptomatic cases of coronavirus.  The vast majority of people who contract coronavirus recover, including a majority of the most vulnerable patients (those over the age of 85).  In addition, it is estimated that 25% to 50% of all coronavirus cases are asymptomatic. Although the risk of coronavirus should not be understated, it need not be exaggerated either.  Although the raw numbers of cases and deaths may appear alarming, the chance of contracting COVID-19 and having a bad final outcome is still statistically minimal.

Humans are naturally social animals.  They create family units, extended clans, communities, and entire civilizations though voluntary interactions.  These voluntary interactions and socialization are essential to the success of the species.  The United States has developed the most advanced nation in the world through its principles, which are eloquently documented in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  The inevitable advancement of our nation was never hindered by the temporary challenges of disease, war, financial depressions, or any other perceived crisis.  Indeed, it is the values of individual liberty that allowed us to weather these challenges.  We are not weakened by our rights and our liberties; we are weakened when we surrender our rights and our liberties.

There are risks throughout life, and each person has the natural right to determine how best to navigate through these risks.  Some may choose to avoid most risks by sequestering themselves in safe environments and avoiding any activities that may potentially be dangerous.  Others may choose to embrace risks, feeling they experience life best while risking it.  Most people fall somewhere in the middle, prudently avoiding likely risks, attempting to mitigate serious, but unlikely outcomes, and living normal lives.  Everyone has the right to determine how they each, individually, wish to balance life’s risks with actually living their lives.

By instituting policies, particularly one-size-fits-all policies, in an attempt to slow the progressions of coronavirus, those holding governmental power have not only implemented ineffective “solutions” that have likely generated more problems than they solved, they have also denied people the natural right to determine their own fates.  The individuals possessing the coercive power of government have determined they alone, not the people themselves, possess the unerring wisdom to dictate the preferences, priorities, and risks each individual may hold.  They have failed to consider that every policy decision has trade-offs, which are often negative.  While responding to the unbridled panic of the public by infringing upon individual liberties, these pandering politicians have failed to address the social and health costs of deferred medical care, the loss of jobs and income, the loss of life savings and businesses that took a lifetime to build, and the ensuing stress, anxiety, and depression tied to these factors.  Most importantly, these smug “leaders” have denied the nation’s citizens their inherent rights to choose their own actions, their own tolerance for risk, and their own paths in life.

Individuals should not be subjected to the whims and preferences of governmental officials and “experts,” especially when those whims directly infringe upon the liberties of the citizens.  Each person has a right to determine the actions he or she wishes to take as it pertains to COVID-19.  A younger adult, in good health who has invested her life savings in a small business may legitimately arrive at the conclusion that the risk of contracting coronavirus, and the risk of permanent adverse impacts, is much less than the risk of losing her business and life savings.  A senior citizen with high blood pressure and diabetes may decide sheltering at home is the safer alternative.  When people decide they have more important priorities than hiding from a virus, particularly if the virus is unlikely to cause them significant harm, no one has the right to prevent them from engaging in the activities of their choice.  Likewise, a person who may be at high risk of adverse outcomes is free to choose to shelter at home until the threat abates. 

Nobody will be “killing grandma.”  If grandma feels she is at risk for adverse outcomes, she is welcome to shelter in place until the viral threat subsides.  Grandma, however, does not have the right to demand everyone else put their lives on hold.

We’re Not “All in This Together”

It is always troubling when someone pretentiously announces “we’re all in this together,” and “everyone must make a sacrifice for the common good.”  There is no common good; there are only tradeoffs inherent in any policy that may benefit some and disadvantage others.  Those demanding “sacrifice” are usually only demanding others sacrifice their liberties to those most fearful in society.  They, themselves, are the last to truly sacrifice anything.  Those who most loudly demand government solutions to somehow manage a natural phenomenon are viewing government as in parentis loco.  In other words, they are plaintively begging their mommies to tell them everything will turn out all right.

Things won’t turn out all right.  COVID-19 is a very contagious disease with a higher-than-average fatality rate.  Although the odds of any one person dying is statistically remote, particularly those in their younger years, millions of people will contract the virus and hundreds of thousands or more will die from it.  Unless an effective vaccine is developed in record time, or the virus unexpectedly mutates into a less potent form, the virus will likely be with us for several years to come.  We can hunker down, destroy our society and economy in the hope the virus will pass us by, or we can live our lives, with each of us taking the precautions we each feel are necessary to avoid or mitigate the impact of the virus.  This is not a decision that should be dictated from above.  It’s a decision that rightfully belongs to each and every individual.

An old adage says, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” 

Similarly, when politicians are asked to address a problem, their only tool is the blatant exercise of coercive governmental power, usually resulting in the infringement of people’s rights.  Why do we, as a citizenry, compliantly accept the dictates of those wielding political power, especially when those dictates involve an unconstitutional infringement of individual rights?   Why shouldn’t we demand that our representatives figure out ways to address problems (if they really should be involved in the first place) that don’t involve the diminution of our natural and constitutional rights? Why should every response to perceived crises first involve dictatorship and infringement of our liberties?

The media and politicians thrive on creating, exaggerating, and fueling perceived crises.  Addressing crises gives them purpose, drives reader and viewership, and wins them votes.  Unfortunately, crises are also used to instill emotional reactions in the populace, usually fear.  When the population is driven by emotions, particularly panic and fear, they are often willing to surrender their individual rights and sovereignty to whomever promises them security, whether that security really exists or not.  As citizens, we must use reason, rather than emotion, to address the validity and severity of alleged crises, and demand that any governmental actions not involve dictatorship or the deprivation of liberties.

The Romans lost their republic when they voluntarily ceded their rights and self-representation to magistrates granted dictatorial powers to respond to crises or “emergencies.”  Over time, these crises and emergencies grew so frequent that Rome was constantly ruled by dictators, rather than their own Senators.  It did not take long for the Roman Republic to be replaced by the autocratic Roman Empire.

Every time Americans were required to surrender their liberties in response to some perceived crisis, it was later concluded that such actions were unnecessary and an example of governmental overreach or abuse of power.  In spite of this historical reality, we are constantly told it is selfish to resist the dictates of the state, for those dictates are for our own good.  Instead of compliantly submitting to regular governmental dictates to surrender our rights, we should be demanding government respect and protect our rights, and seek out solutions to any emergencies that don’t infringe upon individual choice or liberty.

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