These precarious times have brought to the forefront of our attention a simple dichotomy. The balance between individual freedoms and government authority. How can we tell when government has gone too far? How much freedom are we willing to sacrifice to produce public utility? Is it possible to quantify a balance? These questions need to be fleshed out.
I would posit that defining when a government has gone too far is paradoxical. You can only really be sure once it has occurred. Baby steps are easily excusable, but they can balloon into a tyrannical regime overnight. One procedure can be promised as temporary only to have it never subside. People don’t voluntarily give into oppression; these paths are often slippery slopes that reach their logical endgame. Conversely, sacrifices need to be made during uncertain times to reduce harm. Examples include wartime efforts as some individual freedoms become burdensome to uphold during conflict. We pay a price to allow people to act as usual. This can come in the form of deaths, panic, civil unrest and other less than desirable outcomes. This situation is being mirrored with Covid-19 to some degree.
We need to apply logic here. Certain mandates would certainly be reprehensible. I’m unsure a model can be applied to perfectly parse these distinctions though. It appears the best tools we have available are reason, information, and accountability. We need reason to analyze whether a rule is unjust or necessary. Being forced to self isolate under threat of law is without a doubt an infringement upon freedom. The question is, is it reasonable? We trade off some degree of autonomy to curb the spread of the contagion. We need information to even make this conclusion though. This is why truth and transparency are paramount from a government. If we can’t grasp the severity of our situation, we cannot decide if these rules are legitimate. It is one thing if the virus is deadly and easily transmittable. It would be another if the virus is not.
In this case, we understand Covid-19 is a threat, so we adjust. Accountability plays a role when we hold governments responsible for their decisions. If public health officials are confused about the benefits of masks and advocate for not wearing them, we need to rein these people in. To allow government to go unquestioned greases slippery slopes to unthinkable levels.
We must also be vigilant when it comes to timelines. We all understand these infringements cannot go on indefinitely. We have logically decided to sacrifice for the time being, but often, times like these set precedents. Governments may propose that cellphone tracking will allow them to better monitor the situation. What happens after though? Has this practice weaseled its way into the administration and become a desirable tool? Here we face the burning question. Which sacrifices are too risky? I figure we are looking to reduce the amount of deaths as much as possible, within reason, while not granting government unprecedented power over us. This is a terrible task because we are weighing future harm versus immediate threats. What if the cellphone tracking would save even one life? Calculations like this will always be fundamentally flawed because there isn’t a definite answer. Depending who that life belongs to, you may change your mind.
What we fear isn’t the policy per se, it is how it will be used. Having a responsible government minimizes this risk. We are lucky that in Canada we have that. The table is set in a way that reassures us. The same cannot be said for places like China, Iran, or Russia. We desperately want to avoid any possibility of devolving into regimes like that.
It is difficult to express how much freedom we are willing to part with. It appears that taking matters on a case by case basis is the most appropriate formula. A government call to remain in home, when taken apart, is sound. A government mandate to have police entering private residences and performing inspections seems to cross a line. How do we know? It feels wrong. It echoes horrors of the past like with the Gestapo. We also can find that the benefits of such a practice aren’t tremendous. If we assume that our citizens are for the most part responsible (which some will disagree with), measures to further subdue people are excessive.
The key is to think through everything set before us. To take what officials say as absolute truth is a grievous error. In times of panic, it is easy to cling to supposed answers. The onus is on us, as citizens, to fight this urge. Critical thinking and expressing your right to speak freely are imperative at times like this. Afterall, we want the best answers. The only way we arrive at that is through conversation. To pit ideas against each other and see which ones reign supreme. Dogmas are the antithesis of this.
I’m not convinced that quantifying a balance between freedom and rule is easily established. Regardless, we must try. We know that some rules are needed during these times. We also know that we do not want to be enslaved. The answer lies in between these poles, but where? Is the split 70/30, 30/70, 50/50? As long as you are aware of this question and pondering it, you are doing well. Tyranny predominately stems from uncertainly. The allure of leadership and definite answers to dispel the unknown. As long as we are able to return to the Canada of 2019 after this, we will do well. Any additional baggage we absorb will need to be scrutinized heavily.
Always think critically about what is being laid out in front of you. Never be afraid to speak out and be willing to pivot if you are proved incorrect. This is how we can navigate these turbulent times to the best of our collective ability. If even one aspect of this chain is severed, we know we have entered a dark place. If you cannot speak out, if you cannot question what is being said and if debate is prohibited, that will be dystopia.