Sunday, May 03, 2020

Are lockdown protesters heroes or just selfish and ill-informed

We've all seen images of the anti-lockdown protesters outside the legislatures of Anerican states like Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, even California (even, I am embarrassed to admit, a handful in Ontario). It seems to be a peculiarly American thing - albeit with a few copycats - and a peculiarly right-wing thing to boot.
Who are these people, and why do they feel so compelled to engage in this kind of civil disobedience? Are they just there out of purely selfish motives? Or are they folk heroes protecting the rights of downtrodden Americans, and guarding against the incursions of the red menace of Communism?
I'm sure that, if asked, the protesters themselves would think of themselves in the latter category, protecting their First Amendment rights (for the record, the First Amendment to the US constitution reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances"). "Freedom", to these people, is more important than anything else, more important than the wishes of governments, more important even than life itself or the lives of others (witness the "Give me liberty or give me COVID-19" placards, a play on Patrick Henry's pivotal cry during the American War of Independence).
These are extreme views to be sure - you could call them libertarian if you wanted to be generous, although many libertarians would probably object - but they may well be the motivation behind at least some of the protesters.
Another motivation may be the absolute horror felt by some (again, extreme right-wing) Americans to the spectre to what they see as communism, or indeed socialism in any form. Is the Governor of Michigan a Communist, then? Clearly not, but some Americans (and probably ONLY Americans) see any kind of regulation or government intervention as "communism", insofar as they understand it, which is, yes, ridiculous, but neverthless true (witness here the woman in Denver, Colorado, screaming, to a healthcare worker of all people, to "go back to China").
So, yes, some of the protesters are probably motivated by either or both of these political views in an extreme form, views that are not in themselves abhorrent, but probably misplaced in the current exceptional cicumstances. Some of them are probably just desperate people who need their jobs back in order to feed their families in a country where the social safety net has all but disappeared. Which brings us to the category of selfish and thoughtless.
There has been an ongoing debate for decades, centuries even, as to whether libertarianism is just another word for selfishness. What you feel about that proposition depends, almost entirely, on your own political inclinations. My own feeling us that many, if not most, of the "Operation Gridlock" protesters and their like are indeed acting out of selfishness. They want their old lives back, they want to get their hair cut at a barbershop shop or hair salon, and, probably in a lot of cases, they just want to be able hang out in their favourite bar. So do we all, but most people have the common sense and magnanimity to realize that, if we want to return to the good old days, we need to hunker down for an extended period in order to wait out the coronavirus, which we know other way to defeat. To mingle and to pretend that there is no danger is to put our communities and ourselves - and, more to the point, others, including those more vulnerable than ourselves - at increased risk. It is antisocial and potentially dangerous.
Which brings us, finally, to the category of ill-informed and foolish. And here I choose to rest my case.

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