“When the people fear the government there is tyranny. When the government fears the people there is liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson
“Dawn was not yet broken as she let the dog in the back of the car, backed out, and drove down to the shore. A tattered banner hung from the gate that stated, “Stay home and save lives”. There was some traffic on the main road which calmed her slightly, but still she was looking in all directions, her body rigid, hyper vigilant. She was undecided about what to do if she were caught, lie and say she was going food shopping, a permitted activity, or tell the truth and suffer the consequences. She was going jogging with her dog on a secluded beach, but was unclear what the punishment was for this infraction.”
Sounds like the beginning of a novel about a dystopian world doesn’t it? But actually it is an exact recounting of how I started my day last week. In fear of my government.
We are under lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Suddenly governments issue one regulation after another, and there is such a degree of fear in the populations of the world that the majority follow the strictures religiously. Google and Facebook (the final arbiters of logic and rational behavior in our present reality) tell us to stay home and save lives. There are otherwise sensible people, Facebook friends, who feel they have the authority to post, “Stay the F**k home”.
Here’s my response, if you want to stay home, do so, but don’t tell me what to do. I know that “the liberty to swing my fist ends where your nose begins”, I mustn’t endanger someone else. But in what possible universe does my jogging alone endanger anyone? Even the argument that if everyone did it then it would be dangerous doesn’t apply because I go to places that are empty even when there are no restrictions.
“Let Science (with a capital S) guide our decisions”, we hear from many voices. However, science doesn’t work like that. In order to get reliable results using scientific method you need enough data. I would hazard a guess that in a year or two we’ll have some idea of the efficacy of the strategies of different countries, but already models predicting vastly exaggerated mortality have been shown wrong though some policies were put in place based on those predictions. Garbage in garbage out is the modeler’s motto. Therefore in the absence of reliable information it is essential to use common sense, and not pretend that there is magic (even if you call it science) out there which will tell you what to do.
I feel so threatened! Not by the virus, mind you, but by over simplified regulations that make little sense, and a cowed, compliant population.
During the first Gulf war in 1990, as new Olim, when the scuds were raining down on Haifa, my eldest was a toddler. We were asked to prepare a sealed room, and to put him in a specially designed gas mask every time the sirens screamed. We pretended it was a space mask and he loved putting it on. Schools were not cancelled and the children went to their classes with their gas mask kits. The city lit up with the children painting the gas mask boxes and even having competitions for the most decorative ones. That’s the Israel we lived in.
Then the second Intifada with evil men blowing up buses filled with innocents. We asked ourselves, should we let our children go to school by bus or drive them? School went on, we didn’t leave, we continued to work and go to cafes, and ride the buses, and finally we stopped the evil ones. The evil ones would blow up a bus and the next day it wouldn’t even be possible to know where it had happened, and we continued our lives. Some criticized the level or our resilience. Didn’t we care enough?
9/11 and the second Gulf War. Again missiles rained on Haifa, the supreme court building was damaged, a missile fell almost in the middle of the street going to our apartment building, another came within meters of Rambam Hospital, but somehow didn’t detonate, the Zim building down by the shore was damaged. Even under such circumstances we continued to live our lives. Cafés or restaurants that had a bomb shelter nearby could stay open, while those without a nearby shelter were required to close, sensible regulations. I was sitting in my favorite café when a siren went off. I put the saucer on the cup to keep my coffee warm and walked to the shelter with the other patrons at the café. When the all clear signal sounded we went back to finish our coffees and pastries.
The Second Lebanon war and my eldest, a toddler during the first Gulf war, was in the army. Yet again missiles rained down on Haifa and the north. We held our Shabbat and Tisha beAv services in the bomb shelter of the reform Synagogue because ours didn’t have a shelter, but we continued having services.
So what has happened to us now? Why, suddenly, has our society lost the ability to assess risk and act logically. This natural disaster is different from the terrorism and war we’ve experienced, where we’ve excelled at never letting our enemy feel they’ve succeeded. Nevertheless use our past experiences of not shutting down but instead to stand up straight, look at the situation and decide the level of risk we’re willing to take. The greatest risk is being unable to take appropriate risk.
Both the blind disregard of obviously sensible regulations, and the blind regard for obviously illogical regulations are equally disturbing.
I am proud that we Israelis can see the reality we live in and find ways to build an amazing quality of life despite our predicaments. Let’s continue that tradition, climb out of these restrictions and return to our lives.