People who resist COVID-19 restrictions are often accused of being selfish and caring only about their own freedom. While that might explain the actions of some, moral arguments can be made against many of the restrictions.
Although simple appeals to “freedom” are indeed less popular today than in the past, we should not disregard them. Nearly all our responses to COVID-19 require balancing one concern against another, and individuals and institutions will come to different conclusions as they try to strike that balance.
Freedom implies the right to conclude something different than the state and order your life accordingly. That is no small thing.
Local Decisions for Local Circumstances
On a political level, many of our COVID-19 restrictions also violate the principle that rules should be made as locally as possible by people who understand specific circumstances, not by a distant lawmaker who can only at most know general trends. Some concerns about freedom arise when power becomes centralized.
There’s more: Requiring people to behave a certain way teaches them “truths” about the world, regardless of whether those things are true.
A few days ago, I was bicycling on one of Lansing’s trails, and I watched a woman walking ahead in the distance. Every time someone got close to her, she would put on her mask and step off the pathway into the grass until he passed — and people passed often, so this was quite a disruption to her walk. The risk to her, being outside in mid-Michigan with people passing her at 15 miles per hour, is extremely small, but she appeared too afraid even to take a normal walk on a nature trail.
Instilling this unnecessary fear in people is cruel. The governor of Michigan tightening the mask rule the day prior likely increased this woman’s fear. Rules that imply the danger is higher than it really is are worth fighting for precisely that reason. Keeping people in such a state of fear and anxiety is not only unkind, it is causing measurable harm.
A moral problem also arises from a desire to manage rather than inform the population. The woman on the walking trail should have received a proper explanation of the risk of her environment, which likely would have reduced her anxiety.
Many in both our political and media classes, however, have no desire for people to be well informed about relative risks. People who are afraid, after all, will engage in socially demanded behaviors. So why risk giving them an accurate picture of their situation? Politicians and the media are not informing the public so much as managing it, an impulse we must call out and fight.