Lockdowns Are ImmoralIt is now early 2021 and here in the UK the government is continuing to prohibit normal human activity in an attempt to control a coronavirus. This is not working. Deaths are occurring in patterns unrelated to the level of lockdown as can be seen in counties like Kent and countries like Sweden. The lockdowns themselves are causing deaths and suffering which would not otherwise have occurred. And the recovery rate of the virus is 98%. These facts taken together, show that this is a complex but not catastrophic problem which draconian intervention cannot solve.
So why are those of us who advocate less government control, and a more flexible approach, losing the argument? Why are the lockdowns getting tighter and longer and why are people not rebelling?
The answer is very simple: we are arguing about the details whilst agreeing with the pro-lockdowners about the big picture. We are playing a game of football with them, but have accepted at the outset that there is only one set of goalposts: ours.
Let me explain.
The pattern of the lockdown argument is this: the virus is bad; people spread the virus by meeting; therefore people must be stopped from meeting.
This argument completely drops the context of human life and instead focuses on one thing: the virus, as if it were bad in itself. As if removing all traces of the virus at any cost would achieve success.
Success for whom?
Not for those who suffer depression from social isolation, or lose their jobs, or miss their freedom, or whose businesses collapse, or who need a holiday, or who have no money, or no education, or are facing breakdowns of their relationships and their mental health.
A virus is bad for a person, but so are all the above. And they can all have long term consequences. Given the choice, a lot of people suffering from the above would prefer to risk getting the virus and having lockdown removed, especially given the virus's survival rate, its age-profile and the various ways to protect vulnerable people. After all we don't ban cars or peanuts because asthmatics and those with allergies can suffer. They avoid polluted areas and certain foods while the rest of us work to reduce particle emissions and add labels to food. It's a reasonable compromise.
So why is a similar approach not given to us as an option for this coronavirus?
Because it would be selfish, and selfishness is not an acceptable goal.
I believe selfishness should be not only acceptable, but normal. Obviously, such a radical position requires considerable persuasion, some of which I shall attempt below. I hope you will follow the argument because the potential reward - if enough people agree - is long-lasting political freedom.
Selfishness means acting in one's own interests. Putting one's own values and priorities first. The opposite is altruism. This means putting other people's values first even whilst harming your own.
Contrary to popular belief, being selfish doesn't require harming other people in the process. Studying for an exam or watching TV after a hard day does you good and no-one else harm. Nor does selfishness mean ignoring others. Being with people you love is a huge personal value.
Similarly, altruism doesn't necessarily mean helping other people. A well-meaning but untrained person might pull a driver from a car wreck but accidentally break the driver's spine in the process. And a well-meaning but ignorant government minister who quarantines healthy people might cause more harm than good.
The point is it's not the person who supposedly benefits that determines whether an act is good. It's whether the result is in accordance with that person's values. Whether it furthers their life or harms it. And given the complexity of life and the choices we each have to make during it, who else can determine whether the result is good but the person themselves?
Instead, in this medical situation (and in many other areas of our lives), the government has determined that it will make those difficult decisions, instead of the individuals involved. By what authority? Does it claim to know the distinct interests and values of all the people in the country and that it can fulfil each one of them? Of course not. It simply makes a decision, based on its own interests (avoiding blame, saving the NHS, saving lives - except yours - etc).
It claims it has the authority to do this because it won an election. Yet no one voted for this drawn-out suspension of freedom. And even if a majority did, it would not justify the virtual imprisonment of innocent, healthy people. Morality should not be about seizing control of society and imposing one set of values on everybody. It should be about recognising each person's right to their own values and respecting them accordingly, provided they treat you the same.
Next time someone asks you to comply with a lockdown rule, say that you are acting in your own self-interest. If they say that's wrong, ask them why others' interests come first? What makes them so special? Why aren't they sacrificing their fear of the virus to your willingness to get on with your life?
There is no logical answer, but you will get them thinking.
For further ideas in this line, see my novel Green with Envy (paperback due early Feb 2021) and also the works of Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, The Virtue of Selfishness).
- Richard G. Brooke