We Are Not Free During an Out of Control Pandemic

In light of the recent Supreme Court decision to allow sectarian dogma to override pandemic regulations, this observation about de facto freedom during the pandemic seems relevant (boldface mine):

Here’s a question for all red-blooded liberty-loving American patriots: Who has a greater lived experience of freedom at the moment, citizens of Vietnam or the United States? Vietnam, of course, is a one-party Communist state, with fairly strict limitations on freedom of speech, the press, and so on, while the U.S. has (at least for now) a somewhat democratic constitution and (at least formally) some protections for civil liberties.

But in Vietnam, there is no raging coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to swift action from the government, that nation squelched its initial outbreak, and has so far successfully contained all subsequent infection clusters before they got out of hand. Its figures at time of writing (which have been confirmed as reliable by outside sources) show a mere 1,283 cases and 35 deaths, and no community transmission for the last 75 days. Life for Vietnamese people has returned to normal, with a few sensible precautions. If their success holds for a few more months until a vaccine can be deployed, Vietnam will have dodged the pandemic nearly perfectly….

Meanwhile in the self-appointed “land of the free,” on Sunday the seven-day average of daily COVID-19 deaths was 1,148. The same seven-day average of new cases has increased from about 82,000 on November 1 to over 150,000 on Sunday — numbers that are certainly a large underestimate, because, with very high test positivity rates across much of the country, many cases are being missed. Total recorded deaths in the U.S. are over 250,000, which again is a large under-count. There are many more future deaths already baked in, and infections are mounting exponentially in almost every state. Unless something changes, and fast, the coronavirus pandemic will surpass the Second World War to become the greatest American mass casualty event since the influenza pandemic of 1918.

The bleak irony of American life is our boastful and hyperbolic national conception of liberty has left us as one of the most unfree peoples on the globe. There can be no freedom without government, a lesson currently being inscribed in blood, and stacked up in the mobile morgues that are overflowing with corpses in more cities around the country every day.

As an American, the months since March have felt like living in Airstrip One, the miserable police state formerly known as Britain in George Orwell’s 1984. In that time I have seldom left my house for fear of catching the virus, or worse, spreading it to someone who is at risk and killing (or permanently disabling) them. I have not seen my family since October 2019 for the same reason. In a best-case scenario, I will not see them until the middle of next year — something like 2 percent of my entire lifespan, optimistically speaking. It looks like even the occasional outdoor dining I savored as a small bright spot over the summer will be shut down soon, with cases spiking badly in my home city of Philadelphia.

All the political freedoms I supposedly enjoy as an American citizen are useless in the face of this unending tsunami of death and misery. The plain fact is that the average resident of Vietnam — under a repressive dictatorship, let me emphasize — has more freedoms in the places where, for most people, it really counts: the freedom to leave the house, the freedom to see and touch one’s family and friends, the freedom to go to a restaurant or a bar or a movie or a concert, and simply the freedom from constant grasping fear of invisible death

Thomas Hobbes noted 369 years ago that if a political sovereign is constrained by absolutist property rights, “he cannot perform the office [the people] have put him into, which is to defend them both from foreign enemies and from the injuries of one another; and consequently there is no longer a Commonwealth.”

I can’t stop thinking about the Maine wedding–and weddings can be religious gatherings–that led to seven deaths, none of whom are involved in the wedding. The Supreme Court’s decision will get people killed.

It didn’t have to be like this.

Rage is the appropriate emotion. Reform the courts. Reform them now.

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3 Responses to We Are Not Free During an Out of Control Pandemic

  1. Ron Zoscak says:

    Reading the parts of the court majority’s decision in which they appear to see no difference between the potential for exposure to the virus for someone making a quick trip to a grocery or liquor store and someone attending an hour long religious service which includes group recitations and singing makes me question both their intelligence and their honesty. How Sotomayor resisted the temptation to explicitly call Gorsuch et al. lying dumbasses in her dissent is beyond me.

  2. Min says:

    I have long suspected that certain Supreme Court Justices watch Fox News.

  3. ElHongo says:

    And besides, the “one-party state” isn’t what it used to be. Since the last Constitutional reform, elections in Vietnam are rather democratic, that is to say citizens may in most instances freely choose, by secret ballot, between at least 2 candidates. At least one is typically (but increasingly less often) a Party member, but the Party itself is more like “politicians’ union” and cannot be voted for. Successful politicians usually join the party at some point, due to the logistics benefits. (Within the party, there are several factions which are at odds with each other more often than not)

    Since politicians are expected to have been active in local administration before trying to become an elected representative, this is actually a neat (though to Westerners, utterly alien) way of making a first-past-the-post system *actually work*. Vietnamese representatives are directly answerable to their constituents; failing to do so is a sure way not to get reelected.

    Censorship is also fairly lacklustre on social media; there are no in-state corporate media of note however, and newspapers are tightly controlled and function more like government outlets.

    Vietnam today is a marked contrast to the PRC, which post-1990 went the exact opposite way in many aspects: Vietnam permits private enterprise to the point where it is effectively a market economy for all but basic services, yet strongly restricts the financial sector; the PRC, by contrast, is as ruthlessly capitalistic as it gets, except when it comes to SMEs which are subject to tight bureaucratic control.
    Vietnam *mostly* (ethnic minorities are still the big exception, but LGBTQI* rights are better by now than in many Western countries) is fairly liberal, grassroots media are rarely bothered with; essentially, what would be considered seditious there is not much more than what would be considered seditious in Western Europe (Covid denial is one notable exception, but it’s all for the better in fact), and compared to Hungary and Poland these days, Vietnam is for practical purposes much more free-wheeling (not if you ask Cato Institute et al tho, because to these formal constraints, particularly in economics, are the only thing that matters, while they blatantly ignore informal oppression even if it is essentially rank fascism, cf. Pinochet’s Chile, see e.g. this drivel https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/chilean-model-russia which looked bad in 2000, and 20 years later is utterly farcical). The PCR, by contrast, are control freaks that make Stalin look tame.
    And as for the “one-party system”, Vietnam simply has restricted the role of the party and goes for democratic direct elections of individual candidates, while the PCR seems to be aiming for an East Germany-like system of “parties” which are formally independent but in practice are entirely subservient to the CPC.

    Oh, and one particularly interesting aspect that might be worthy of adoption elsewhere: entrepreneurs in Vietnam are banned from posts on the Economic Coordination council.

    And finally – but don’t ever tell this to the PRC: Beijing, after the Wuhan fiasco, tailored its Covid response after the Vietnamese model, and has been wildly successful.

    Vietnam has still some flaws to work out, but it provides an interesting contrast to the Western model, whose inherent and potentially almost genocidal limitations are laid bare by this wretched virus – if one does not acknowledge that they were laid bare in 1933’s Germany already. In a nutshell, one may conclude that the optimal state of liberty is only achievable at the cost of harshly repressing a small (4% or so) but otherwise destructively vocal lunatic fringe: sociopaths do exist, and giving them free reign as if they were mentally competent human beings is incompatible with liberty for the overwhelming majority.
    As we have seen.

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