Freedom From Fear

by Harry Caines

Allowing government officials to impose edicts curtailing civil liberties in the name of safety is the irrevocable first step toward totalitarianism.

I do not know anyone that has caught COVID-19. If I do, they either do not know it themselves or they are not telling me. Likewise, I do not have the virus. If I do, I show no symptoms. 

I was in New York City on March 1st. I walked quite a bit of Manhattan after sitting in Madison Square Garden with 18,000 other hockey fans. The train there and back to my home was packed. I was in Philadelphia this Saturday. I went to public places in close proximity to people. Currently, I feel as healthy as a newborn foal. 

Some reading this may think that this is nothing more than an anecdotal example belying a larger problem. It is not. I am like 99.99% of Americans. Tragically, I am like 100% of Americans in that I now live in a country where civil liberties can be stripped from its citizens as a proactive measure to stop a virus that does not seem to kill any more people than any other ailment that can be caught by any American at any random time. 

And yet, here we all are, under de facto house arrest. Allowing our First Amendment right to freedom of assembly to be suspended on the suspicion of an outbreak of a virus that has killed so very few. 

It might be unfair to say America is under house arrest. Most people who are actually under house arrest had their day in court. They had an advocate, stood in front of a magistrate and were sentenced to that punishment. Their Constitutional rights were honored. Not with this virus they ain’t. 

Under the Covid-19 scare, government officials are threatening us all with punishment for disobeying mandates that limit our movement. This should frighten us more than the fear of the virus. And the fear of what the virus has done to our social structure appears to scare us more than the fear of the virus itself.

This is not where a “slippery slope” argument starts. It is where it ends.

Curfews, closing of businesses by government fiat and placing maximums on the tally of people in public meetings spaces is what authoritarians implement on a populous they feel they need to control by force. We are there.  

And now we are seeing a rise in “shelter-in-place” mandates by large areas. As I type this, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio is considering ordering such a measure. There are over 8 million people in New York City. How do you police that?

The much more press and important question is, why would any member of the police agree to enforce this? 

And that leads to the next step in the justification of force against a citizenry for their own good. Within days, you might see National Guard patrolling streets and highways. All in the name of public safety. We, the People, cannot be trusted to do “the right thing”. Coercion, negative reinforcement, and plain old ‘might makes right’ will be next in our imprisonments. 

Does that sound ridiculous to you? I ask because dismantling the entire social structure and economy of the most prosperous country in history because of a virus that has only killed 80 Americans in three months would have sounded like lunacy to all of us on New Year’s Day.

Lunacy is now reality. 

And it is just not our leisure pursuits that I mention in this dystopian world we inhabit. I wanted to see if my beloved Philadelphia Phillies could win the National League East this year. Doubtful, but still worth my time to find out. I was looking forward to seeing the Philadelphia Flyers in the playoffs. And I was planning on traveling to Albany, New York if my alma mater, Utah State University, was placed there for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. That is gone now. 

Have you thought about the part-time vendors that would have worked those Phillies games? I know quite a few. That income is irreplaceable. I know the bar owners and bartenders that were going to cash in on the Flyers’ playoff games. Not now. And the diner owner who would have raked in $12 on my obsessive love for turkey club platters in Albany gets nothing now. 

The economic impact of this careless, hysterical overreaction will be catastrophic. The dwindling middle class will be close to non-existent. Small business owners, another dying breed, might not have the capital to reopen when their government overlords deem this crisis sufficiently contained enough to allow these entrepreneurs the privilege of trying to make an honest living. 

And all because an estimated 177,000 people have caught this virus worldwide. 

Not in America. The entire planet. 177,000 people out of 7.6 billion. That is quite a few zeros on the right side of the decimal point when figuring out the percentile. And most of those people are over it. They had the virus, they were sick for a few days and now they are better. COVID-19 does not appear to have any lasting effects after the human immune system kills it off.

Tom Hanks will make movies again. Rudy Gobert will play basketball at the highest level. They are both wealthy. Both will be able to pay their rent after they are allowed to return to work.

Will you?

I bet the amplitude of ruin felt by the multitude of people each reader of this column will endure is staggering. 

When (If) government officials graciously give us back our freedoms, how do these people eat and pay their bills? They will need help. And guess who will be there to help them. The United States Government! The same governments around the globe that decided proactivity regarding the removal of individual rights was the only recourse to stop a virus that seems no more potent than influenza will also be the saviors of the people whose lives they destroyed.

This is the worst of times. Not because an indiscriminate virus threatens to wipe out large swaths of the world population with lightning speed. But because the threat of such an event could scare so many people that live under the blanket of freedom provided by the philosophy of Western Democracy into relinquishing those liberties with almost no resistance. 

For many in the world, allowing their government official to use tactics employed by China and Iran to defeat this supposed menace is a necessary evil. When you permit your government to act like China and Iran, they just might become China and Iran. 

I would rather be sick for a few days and move about my day as I used to do. Too late. 


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