Liberty is not without social contracts

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 10, 2021, 9:00 AM | comments: 0

I recently observed a few different online discussions that revolved around individual liberties. I think that's an important topic, for sure, but I think many of the people who talk about it approach it as ideologues, over-simplifying it without the context of how humans must interact with each other.

I generally believe that individual liberties are important to a prosperous society, for sure, but they do not exist in a vacuum. People don't have the liberty to shoot each other, obviously, which comes at the expense of the person who would be dead in that scenario. There are a thousand examples that we could come up with like this, and each one is governed with accepted social contracts, whether they're written into law or not. I don't have to hold a door for a person entering behind me, as it certainly constrains my liberty to move quickly, but I hold it anyway because I'm not a dick.

The pandemic has been a real test to the balance of civil liberties and social contracts, and America largely failed that test. Much of the population believed that getting a haircut was more important than containing a disease that killed nearly 600,000 people. I get it, that it was a bad situation regardless, and there was no way of getting around the economic suffering it would cause. But consider this: When history looks back and the accounting is done, Americans will have suffered greater financial impact on a per capita basis, with higher instances of death, than those that buckled down for short-term challenges and emerged on the other side faster.

Now we have a real long-term solution to the pandemic in the way of vaccines. We have a way out, and we can get there faster than anyone because of our nation's wealth. And yet, there is a non-trivial part of the population unwilling to vaccinate, many because of their "freedom" or some willfully ignorant nonsense. Once again, this comes at the expense of the greater population, especially those that for one medical reason or another, can't vaccinate, including kids under 12. Is it judgmental to look at these folks negatively? Yeah, probably. But it's the person who doesn't hold the door, only the stakes are much higher. We get vaccinated for a lot of different diseases, not simply for our own survival, but for our families and communities. This is not a great sacrifice.

There are also people that are unsurprisingly selective about liberties, and which ones are important. A large group of Americans believe right now that there should be no restrictions to firearms, but are not at all vocal about voter suppression laws. Remember, firearm restrictions "interfere with lawful citizens," but voting restrictions apparently do not. Many of the anti-vaccine people are also the folks who want to dictate the conditions of women's health, too. It does not lend a lot of credibility to people who are ideologically inflexible when it's convenient.

The bottom line is that individual liberties do not exist without social contracts. What you believe you're entitled to can't come by way of danger or disadvantage to others.


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