Change Management Politics

Freedom in the time of COVID-19

For the first time in decades, our freedom is under threat again. This time, it’s not even a human-made one, but a virus that’s infecting people at an accelerated rate.

Governments around the world have hit their big, red panic buttons. They have stopped tourism, travel, closed borders altogether and have severely restricted freedom of movement. Some have gone as far as enacting military orders and curfews.

History all over again

While some think this is justified by the imminent danger of a pandemic, I can’t but see how much power decision-makers are harboring over everyone. A part of the population is begging government to intervene because they can’t self-organize.

People fail to remember the 30s, which gave rise to nationalist regimes and eventually WWII. That was a time of economic crunch, much like we will have in the upcoming years.

People also fail to remember or ignore what communism did in Eastern Europe and other places in the world. There, up until 1989, the government and their cronies dictated who could do what, when, how much you could buy and from where, what to think, do, publish, travel etc. Retrospectives with and for those who lived through those times might help with remembering all of this.

I hope this time we’ll look back and not allow narrow-minded, aggressive leaders to pit country vs country based on COVID-19 responses, quarantine measures and numbers of infections.

So yeah, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. We’ll remember the freedom of 1990 – 2020 fondly, when we could travel to most countries around the world and there were little restrictions in place.

The next 10-15 years will be interesting to watch, with the world becoming an increasingly divided place – even with the coronavirus pandemic solved by vaccines.

The price of freedom

Let’s talk about freedom for a bit. Do you value freedom, or would you rather be safe?

If you don’t value freedom, then close this window and go back and wait further instructions from Big Brother.

If you do value it, have you ever asked yourself what is the price you’d pay to defend that freedom? Or the price you pay for having it?

I have. I will always prefer a system that recommends and allows people to decide for themselves over an oppressive, overstepping leadership that uses guns to dictate policies. Think about it, they tell you it’s temporary. Then elections come and those get postponed. They might cancel elections altogether, to avoid the risk of contamination. This is in spite of the fact that we have tools and technologies to vote online – with face recognition, fingerprinting and document verification with liveness checks. Would you then defend your freedom?

Something to think about while in shelter-in-place vs military orders to stay in your houses, depending on your country. Think about your governments and decision makers. Do they deserve to be given power again or if you much rather give that power to better people?

Stop cheering for imposed restrictions, cheer for people freely electing to protect others. These imposers are only gaining confidence every day that they can take a little more freedom, and people will still be ok with it.

Photo by Toni Lluch on Unsplash

4 replies on “Freedom in the time of COVID-19”

I love freedom but I disagree with you almost entirely. The fundamental difference between restrictions being imposed now in Europe vs restrictions in communism is that the ones imposed now are temporary and legal, with power to do so stemming from the Constitutions that we all voted for and exercised by democratically elected leaders. Even if the normative acts imposing the restrictions bear the name of military ordinance, their adoption is based on the democratic and civilian framework.

It is the government exercising their duty to protect us and protect all of us. Sure, the model differs from country to country, from testing and tracking in South Korea and Singapore, to full on curfews in Romania, France, India and others, to recommendations in the US and UK and to doing nothing in less well off countries. But the measures all depend on cultural factors and their respective legal frameworks. South Korea has for example the power to intimately track sick people and even warn others viaextremely intrusive measures because of past epidemic scares which did not materialize in other countries.

Relying on self organizing and voluntary compliance with recommendations leaves everyone dependent on the rate of compliance with the recommendations (even those who follow them) and can leave out the poorest and most vulnerable out of the protective blanket of self organization. The total curfew approach is also in line with the most basic emergency management principles which, from my direct experience, are prioritize human life above anything else and that it’s easier to de-escalate than to escalate. This last one is of particular importance given that the virus is new and information about it is scant.

But the self-organizing of freedom lovers can still be exercised even in the tough, full-on curfew model. Given that these measures are adopted legally, they can be challenged in courts that are independent at least in principle from the political decision-makers. This can also be applied to potential election postponements and it will be interesting to see the volume and outcome of court challenges to the mandatory isolation measures imposed by freedom-loving Texas on anyone flying in from heavily affected areas in the US (so the curtailment of a fundamental right).

And I would much rather trust measures devised and funded by governments rather than benevolent gods of business for the simple matter that in the case of governments the buck ultimately stops with the people (both through legal responsibility and through elecrion mechanisms) and not the shareholders or their personal images of grandeur. And I would much rather trust my government issued ID rather than any tech driven mechanism (until there are sufficient and enforceable rules in place) given the horrendous track record of tech companies on privacy and their underlying incentive to monetize my identity.

On the parallels with history, I think it’s relevant to look at this from a wider perspective. Human history can be seen as a continuous, millenia-long struggle to increase rights both in number and in coverage. The 30s were a time when democratic rights and principles as they are in place now were either brand new or non-existent. Even in countries with long-standing democratic traditions such as the US and the UK, universal suffrage is an extremely recent win, happening ONLY in 1928 in the UK when women were enfranchised and 1965 in the US when black people were enfranchised. But now we have at least one generation of universal democracy even in former communist EU members. So we are much better positioned to weather the potential freedom storm.

Finally, on thoughts to the future, my hope is that we’ll have a collective realisation that we are all in this together and start tearing down borders more than we are putting them up. There might be a slight recoil in that at first, but I think this is inevitable in the grand scheme of things. Drawing on the wide historical lens and a bit on Francis Fukuyama’s misguided 1992 proclamation, the end of history will be marked when every single person living in the world will have access to and will be able to effectively wield ALL the rights.

The whole point of what I was saying here is to avoid that recoil and fight for your rights. People who have not fought to defend their own rights are less likely to value them. Also, in business, if all people are shareholders and all shareholders are the people, then businesses being interested in shareholder value would cover everyone. We disagree because you want the government to tell you what to do in times of need, while I want to tell the government what to do, not the other way around.

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