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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


Among the many justifications offered up by those who elect to go mask-less and without vaccination is the claim that they are preserving both their personal and our society’s freedom. It is at best disingenuous at worst a perversion of the meaning of freedom. I do not dispute the right, guaranteed by our Constitution to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But neither the Constitution nor any interpretation of the contest between individual right and corporate responsibility supports the claim.

Those who make this claim subordinate their contention that they alone possess the right to decide matters regarding their own bodies and health—even if doing so leads to the death of others—collateral damage as it were. Yet the very same individuals are typically those who are against the rights of women to make decisions regarding their own health and their own bodies with the justification that in so doing they are foreclosing a life. The cognitive dissonance of these positions is stunning and points up the lack of any principle underlying their pretensions of concern for life.

Every society must address a fundamental human concern in the establishment of rules and laws by which it governs. The natural desire and principle of freedom to do as we wish is always tempered by the codocil: as long as the actions of the individual in the exercise of their personal freedoms do not infringe upon or cause harm to others. In all of recorded history we can trace this principle at work and it is the basis of every organized scheme of governance. Freedom is not, as some would suggest, without limit.

We should not be distracted by clever attempts to shift the narrative on irresponsible behavior –whether in the midst of a pandemic or on any other occasion. Despicable betrayals of humanity have been practiced throughout the ages in the name of religious, political, or racial justifications; there is nothing new in today’s claims of freedom violated. In economic terms we might describe the present situation as a tragedy of the commons. If you are unfamiliar with the term it describes a circumstance in which individuals neglect the well-being of society in the pursuit of personal gain.

We are faced with many such realized and incipient tragedies in our modern world. Climate change and the massive damage, disruption, and death it has already caused much less the impending cataclysmic danger it represents to every person and nation on our planet is arguably chief among these tragedies. We must see beyond tragedies of the commons as market failures for to do so places them in effectively lawless hands. No single person or entity is to blame in seeking the profits and benefits of stripping our natural resources, depending on energy sources that are escalating the impact. The will of governments to address the reality and take immediate actions to eliminate activities that contribute massively to the problem is largely absent, capitulated to political pragmatism. It is a relatively slow but certain form of suicide—but one that future generations will experience, not our own.

I know of no magic solution to the pandemic deniers, anti vaxxers, climate change deniers and those whose ideological orientation places the desires of the individual above the welfare of all. We humans are capable of inordinate selfishness even at our own expense. But I will not and do not let those around me who act in their own self-interest and against the welfare of all do so without challenge. It is vital that we do not allow the narrative of Freedom to go unchallenged, and to confront the issue squarely for what it is—a corruption of the right of us all to life itself.

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