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The numbers in the US continue to climb. The numbers in Italy hint of a possible peak but there will need to be several days to confirm. If the peak is confirmed then we will get some hint as to a possible peak in this country. The 91-DIVOC website compares countries by the metric “days since reaching the 1 case/million population”. (This is useful because the US recorded a case back on January 20 but did not start recording a substantial number of cases until early March.) Italy is on day 39 since reaching that metric; the US is on day 25. Does this mean we will reach a peak of our epidemic 14 days after Italy?
Regardless of when we reach our peak, we undoubtedly will do so. Sooner or later the epidemic will slow due to a combination of factors. And we will emerge into a very different world than we occupied on January 1, 2020. What kind of world will that be?
I’ve selected a title to this post of “Reframing Freedom” because the world into which we will emerge will be influenced by our experience as a society. A rapid but voluntary shift in perspective is referred to in the psychological literature as “reframing.” It is also seen as a positive step in dealing with life problems as a means of identifying new pathways and strategies that move an individual away from destructive behaviors. But I would submit that “reframing” can also be involuntary and negative, in that our perspective is altered by an intense and bad experience. Emerging from the epidemic with no job, dead relatives or friends, debt or substantially diminished savings or investments, can shake our societal confidence. It can make us feel that a society based on individual liberty is inadequate to meet the demands of the world into which we are going.
During the epidemic we are being asked to sacrifice our individual preferences in order to protect the herd. For truly our society is a herd. We are social creatures and whether we tuck into the center or prefer the edge, herd creatures we remain. And like wildebeest traversing a plain filled with predators we learn quickly that going on your own is the easiest way to find yourself becoming a meal. Or consider the Emperor Penguins surviving an arctic winter by pressing close and changing positions in the waddle to give each the necessary warmth to sustain their existence.
The gift of Western Civilization is to embrace a philosophy by which humans can achieve better ends through the path of cooperation born of self-interest combined with moral rectitude than that of a collective under authoritarian control. And yet too many of our fellow citizens do not have confidence in that system and support leadership that promises safety and security in exchange for a loss of personal liberty. And every shock that we undergo strengthens the collectivists and weakens the individualists.
Our constitution is supposed to protect the individual against collective impulses that ripple through society. But in emergencies, those rights are suspended. Andrew McCarthy addressed this phenomena in Law and Liberty in an Emergency as did Powerline recently in Hayek on Emergency Powers of Government. Governments that seize emergency powers too often are loathed to release them, or at least release them entirely. In that way power reserved to the people ceases to be.
I have been trying to get a sense of what the new world may be. The other day I posted video from Matt Galat that documents his return to China and the ways in which he is trading liberty for security. Today, I want to reference another video; this one by American expatriates living in Chongqing — the Garcia family. I found it very interesting. Whether it is a sincere feeling or not, the Garcias are commending the Chinese government for the steps they took and see the remaining restrictions that they describe as necessary. And the video is useful as well to see what life is like in one part of China after the lifting of the lockdown. Neither Matt, the Garcias, or “Steevo” a third non-Chinese person who is documenting life after lockdown, live in Wuhan. Matt is in Ningbo, a coastal city south of Shanghai, and Steevo is in Jiangsu Province just north of Shanghai. Following all three is like hearing from someone in NYC, San Francisco and Chicago.
When the epidemic is over we will have to do the hard work of restoring freedom.
[Note: Links to all my CoVID-19 posts can be found here.]Published in