Terms such as freedom and liberty are often thought of as being clear cut in what they mean – everyone agrees on what those words mean. Or do they?
I think most Americans and Kiwis would agree everyone has a right to be able to drive on public roads. However we understand that driving can have serious repercussions if one doesn’t have the necessary skills to to do so safely. In order to limit the amount of harm, drivers need to provide evidence that they have the necessary skills to control a moving vehicle – a driver’s licence. Once you have shown you can competently control a motor vehicle, you retain that right until you prove that you no longer hold the necessary skills – a serious driving offence or a failed eyesight test for example.
While the US constitution guarantees some form of firearms ownership for the purposes of a “well organised militia”, and NZ doesn’t even have a codified constitution, both nations to have a long standing tradition of gun ownership, which might be reasonably be viewed as being a “right”. In Aotearoa New Zealand, the consensus is that the right to gun ownership is similar to the right to drive. It’s necessary to prove your competence to own and use a weapon safely, and this is done by a testing regime no less strenuous than that which applies to driving a vehicle.
My impression of the US is that the right to own, and perhaps more importantly carry firearms is more divided. While I think the largest block hold views not too dissimilar of the predominant view here, there are significant blocks that hold different views. At the one end there’s the card waving NRA membership that demand nothing less than a completely unregulated, uncontrolled “right” to own and carry weapons, even opposing background checks for goodness sake! Anything else is an attack on their constitutional “rights”. At the other end of the spectrum there’s a small group who call for the repeal of the 2nd Amendment or at least a reinterpretation of what it really means.
So when it comes to firearms, opinions in the US are more divided on what rights and freedoms mean and what limits, if any, should be imposed when balancing the rights of the individual against the rights of others, including the community as a whole. I believe most people understand that as well as rights, we have responsibilities, and that those responsibilities, if they are to be fairly shared, may need to be regulated in some way. I think the same is true when it comes to covid-19.
In his post “Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Peter Davis – Vaccine passport and smoke-free law” Peter Davis draws on the NZ experience of how the attitude towards smoking has changed over the decades – from one where smokers were exercising their “rights” to smoke and non-smokers had little or no recourse, to one where the dangers of second-hand smoke are understood and now prohibited in workplaces and most public venues – and how this precedent might be applicable to covid-19. It’s worth the read, and it might help some of those still sitting on the fence to understand why the unvaccinated may find they have fewer “freedoms” than the vaccinated.
Given that the evidence overwhelmingly confirms that one in three people who contract covid-19 have at least one symptom of long-covid, even 18 months after first being infected, the impact of long term health and social costs are, as yet, unknown. How can anyone on their right mind claim their “right” to unrestricted movement surpasses my “right” not to suffer long term health issues caused by their recklessness?
In many ways, we have been playing pandemic “Russian roulette” for decades – especially as the cost of international air travel has declined significantly. By way of example, when I first travelled to Japan in 1971, the return air fare cost the equivalent of 75% of my annual salary. International travel was not something one did without some long term planning and saving. It certainly couldn’t be undertaken on a whim. If I was still in the same job in January 2020, the same return journey would have cost as little as 1.5% of my annual salary. Pre covid, a trip from Aotearoa to Australia could cost about the same as a night out at an upmarket restaurant.
We must acknowledge that with so many people moving around the globe we have indeed become a global village. In the past the relative isolation of villages, towns and nations meant that pandemics were relatively rare, and when they did occur, they spread at a slow pace. That is no longer true.
We are far more mobile these days (well, pre-pandemic), than we have ever been in the history of our species, and this presents a greater risk of new infectious diseases spreading at uncontrollable rates across the planet. In many ways I think we have been lucky that this pandemic has been relatively mild, especially when it comes to fatalities. We may not be so lucky next time. And as sure as night follows day, there will be a next time.
It’s wishful thinking to assume we will ever return to pre-covid days. It’s not going to happen. The public (well most of us) now understand the harm a pandemic can bring – something epidemiologists have been warning us for years while we and the politicians we elect have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to their message.
As I see it we have two options: freedom from documentation and a restriction on movement, or freedom of movement accompanied by documentation, vaccination passports being one of them. I know which I would prefer. How about you?
30 Sep, 2021 at 11:16 pm
Well put together Barry and I agree with you. I think freedom of movement should be accompanied by documentation, including a vaccination passport. Without that there should be no travel allowed.
1 Oct, 2021 at 4:49 am
Great essay Barry. As an international blogger, I’ve grown used to people in far away countries caring about the happenings in the US. But as I read your post, I wonder why. All of these ‘freedoms’ people tout throughout my country come at a huge cost to freedoms of others. Personally, I think the freedom to protest without some yahoo waving a gun in my face greatly outweighs the freedom to carry said gun. My freedom to go about my business without unvaxxed people breathing germs around me outweighs a person’s freedom to spread such germs. We’re hobbled by debt, destroying the environment, trashing our democracy–I feel there’s no reason to watch America except as a bad example.
1 Oct, 2021 at 9:48 am
There’s a saying “When America sneezes, the world d catches the flu”. For better or worse, the political and economic power of the US does affect us.
Your summary of the US is close to the opinion of many observers and in light of the saying above, a good reason to keep a close eye on it.
1 Oct, 2021 at 7:39 am
Point well taken! I see your remarks as an excellent argument for education reform. Among the many issues that have plagued us Americans, one is an embarrassing lack of critical thinking skills. What we are currently witnessing is an intelligent (some not so intelligent), albeit amoral group of folks, easily leading millions of at least high school educated Americans down a rabbit hole chock full of absurd and ridiculous conspiracy theories that have life and death implications. For instance, getting a COVID shot magnetizes my body. A woman testified to that in front of a congressional panel.
Now having said that, there’s another aspect to the resistance to getting a vaccination and that is: self identification: Good ol’ boy.
My neighbor’s twenty-five year old grandson refuses to get vaccinated. He’s intelligent. He’s a dependable wage earner. He’s a responsible outdoorsman, i.e., hunting, fishing. Now, he will not get the shot because he has internalized the Trump notion that doing so makes one appear weak and unmanly. Real men don’t get COVID shots, and they don’t wear masks. End of story. He cannot move out of that frame of mind. And he won’t. I think if he found himself dying of COVID in a hospital he would scream to the end that it’s a hoax.
So when it comes to freedom, a man with the above described mindset literally believes that it is the liberal establishment that is trying to fool him into a prison-like culture of controlled behavior (which, ironically, his own political party is in fact doing). In short, he absolutely believes he is the one who is free. And regardless of the facts: that people are dying, that scientists and doctors know what they are doing, that vaccinations save lives, he steadfastly believes that it’s all a lie and to be asked to show proof of vaccination is nothing more than an evil infringement on his freedom.
The only thing that might change his mindset would be something ten times worse than COVID and hey that could well be on the way.
1 Oct, 2021 at 10:42 am
Here, TV ads fronted by sporting heros and other admired personalities remind us that domestic violence is not okay. Nor is ignoring it okay. Ads are directed to men reminding them that it’s manly to ask for help if it’s required, and real men stop their mates (friends) from diving drunk. Similar style of ads promote covid-19 vaccinations.
I don’t know how effective they are in the US, but here they do have some effect in changing prevailing attitudes, even if it does take decades. Some might claim its a form of social engineering by government. I view them as health advisories.
1 Oct, 2021 at 2:24 pm
You guys are light years ahead of us. I can’t say that I know of any such messaging that overtly attempts to soften “manly” behavior. If you watch current U.S. movie previews, a reflection of social values, you’ll see a massive line up of movies that reflect a basic world view: solve your problems with a gun or guns. The political divide, Republican conservative vs. Democrat liberal, has infected almost every aspect of our culture. The one hope is that generally speaking our youth are not blind followers of either Republicans or Democrats, and they seem to be genuinely concerned with major issues such as education, health care and the environment.
1 Oct, 2021 at 8:15 am
I prefer mandatory vax. But I accept that others don’t. The exact same arguments occurred with 1918 pandemic masking and smallpox vaxing.
I live in Los Angeles county and we have some of the strictest “proof of vax” requirements in the US. And they’re about to get even more strict. I support it. I don’t support the anti-vaxers (those who have no legit medical risk) who believe they should have “freedom” not to vax without any consequences. I was in a store when someone argued that freedom meant that he was allowed to shop w/o a mask, not that the store owner was free to deny him service. People seem to have lost understanding that freedom does NOT mean “freedom do whatever you want, whenever you want, without consequences… your rights are more important than other peoples”.
1 Oct, 2021 at 10:23 am
Your reference to smallpox is to the point. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand no one was vaccinated against it as it didn’t exist here. However if Kiwis wished to travel abroad vaccination was mandatory as every nation required proof of vaccination before entry was permitted and NZ also required proof of vaccination before anyone, including returning citizens could enter.
1 Oct, 2021 at 4:22 pm
I didn’t know that. Thanks for the 411!
3 Oct, 2021 at 4:00 pm
Since both groups are able to transmit the virus, limiting the mobility of one group seems more like a moral judgment. It does appear that having a vaccine will make you much more likely to avoid serious illness or hospitalization, but the same can be said for those who have survived the illness already, and who have acquired natural immunity.
In terms of “freedoms,” limiting innerstate travel is something that concerns me deeply, not only because vaccinated people are already largely protected and don’t need to be so fearful, but also because traveling in your own vehicle is an excellent way to practice social distancing.
When it comes to international travel and customs, most of us are familiar with at least some basic forms of healthcare regulations enforced by the destination country or recommended by our country of origin. However, for the US in particular, such restrictions on travel within the country itself is unheard of. (For comparison, mainland Americans don’t even need passports to visit Hawaii or Puerto Rico.)
These types of restrictions go against the very fabric of American values that the country was built on: freedom of speech, freedom of choice, and a right to pursue upward mobility and happiness. I’m thinking of the California Gold Rush, the Oregon Trail, etc.
If there is anything I can stress it’s that unvaccinated does not automatically equate to illness, as you can be unvaccinated and still COVID-free. And vaccinated does not automatically equate to being virus-free, particularly for those of us who live with little ones who could be asymptomatic. For now, for me at least, a vaccine passport is nothing more than symbolic.
3 Oct, 2021 at 6:59 pm
When our borders do open, it would seem that those entering this country will be required to meet two conditions: proof of vaccination AND evidence of a negative covid test within the previous 72 hours. Additionally arrivals may be required to isolate for a period of time if not from a covid free region: self isolation for 5 days if from “safe” regions, to mandatory 14 days quarantine in a managed facility. The US and the UK would both fall into the latter category.
You’re right that being vaccinated doesn’t fully protect the unvaccinated, although it does seem to reduce the odds of transmission. As vaccinations are currently only for those 12 and above, this leaves children at risk. And in some ethnic groups here in Aotearoa New Zealand, half the population is under 15.
From my perspective, my right to move about freely without facing undue dangers eclipses someone else’s right to move about placing me and others in danger. It’s the same attitude that Kiwis have regarding the carrying of weapons. No one is prevented from owning, carrying and using weapons, but only where it’s safe to do so. That most definitely is not anywhere people go about their daily lives unarmed.
Freedoms take many forms, and no matter how you measure them, the US does poorly, seldom ranking in the top 20 nations internationally. That includes the freedoms you say are the fabric of American values.
As a person living in a nation that typically ranks first or second in freedom, I’m convinced that even when (it’s not a matter of if) a vax passport becomes a way of life, we’ll still enjoy a level of freedom that Americans don’t have, no matter whether or not the US adopts vaccination passports.
4 Oct, 2021 at 6:31 am
I have to say I agree on the freedoms bit. I’ve noticed that citizens tend to be happier in countries where they trust their governments to look out for basic access to health care, childcare, etc. Those countries tend to have more people willing to act towards the common good because they actually believe that it works.
Whereas Americans struggle with feelings of mistrust due to government-sanctioned medical experimentation in the not-so-distant past, politicization of the vaccine, and leaders fanning the flames of division, fear, and intolerance.
A few things I wished we would have done more of is to educate the most vulnerable populations about the efficacy of the vaccine instead of spending so much time wagging our fingers at healthy young people, for whom the vaccine may not be medically necessary. These vulnerable groups in the US would include the elderly, immune-compromised, obese, and those with other pre-existing conditions among us.
Unfortunately, with access to healthcare being more of a financial ballgame in the US, most doctor’s offices did not have enough vaccines to offer their patients. They are widely available at larger commercial pharmacies and grocery stores, but being able to have a conversation with your trusted medical provider about taking the vaccine would have been an important piece of the puzzle. Instead, the approach was to have the very same government that people don’t trust be the one to try and convince people. After a year and a half of social isolation, the approach now is to further isolate people from the few things that make them happy and to cut off their livelihoods.
Also, there’s a group of people in the US right now that are up in arms about the fact that immigrant groups, such as political asylum seekers are not being required to undergo vaccination, though COVID regulations are being enforced for tourists.
All in all, I think I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, but the point of contention is that an unvaccinated person poses a grave danger to a vaccinated one. That’s the part I don’t understand, because I was thinking that having taken the vaccine and catching the virus after would have the same effect as, let’s say, catching a cold.
14 Oct, 2021 at 9:34 am
Barry, your article provides a sensible summary of some of the key issues. In some ways we are all victims of inadequate personal perceptions and selective memories of history. Perhaps in order to shift public opinion we need to identify then answer the most serious weaknesses in current thinking. Keep up the good work. Bill