Freedom and Selfishness are not the Same Thing

This blog is not about writing, but about our society.

On Tuesday of this week, a federal judge voided a CDC mandate that people wear masks when traveling on airlines. Scenes of passenger cheering and throwing their masks in the air were on social media. Sitting next to them, their features, or what could be seen of them behind their still-in-place masks, glum, were elderly and immunocompromised adults, their hope for safety from the COVID virus suddenly ripped away from them.

“My body, my choice,” whether it refers to COVID vaccination or wearing a mask and social distancing, could just as well be rephrased, “my health and the hell with yours.” Americans (and not just Americans, but many people world-over) have felt not only put-upon by having to mask up or vaccinate to protect vulnerable people around them but have felt threatened and incensed by what they perceive are restrictions of their freedom. Suddenly, the welfare of all Americans, old as well as young, sick as well as healthy, are not important compared to the freedom to behave according to what is best for one’s self-interest. It’s Ayn Rand on steroids.

In an effort to justify doing what one pleases, anti-vax proponents have manufactured fake data, subscribed to conspiracy theories about government or corporate plots, and made heroes of fringe scientists or legitimate scientists with whacko theories, to support their reasons for not wearing masks or getting vaccinated. Simple-minded thinking was elevated to the level of profundity with claims such as “’since people who are vaccinated still get COVID, we’re not protecting anyone by getting vaccinated, since both vaccinated and unvaccinated people pass the disease to others.”  Simple-minded thinking because, even as vaccine effectiveness waned, the proportion of unvaccinated who got infected was anywhere from 2-8 times as high as the proportion of vaccinated who became infected, and therefore could pass along the disease. Or claims that CDC data showed that “thousands of people died after being vaccinated,” which is true, but had nothing to do with their vaccination status. The  VAERS portal of the CDC is open to anyone (not just health care providers) who wants to report an adverse effect following a COVID vaccine. The reports are not substantiated, and even a tiny bit of critical thinking would ring a warning bell because, when a disproportionate percentage of vaccine recipients are elderly or nursing home residents, many of them would die in the next several weeks following vaccination. In fact, if one took the age of people being vaccinated and multiplied the number of recipients vaccinated in each age category, then compared it to the death rates for people of those ages, it would be clear (as the CDC has pointed out) that there is no excess of deaths among the vaccinated when these numbers are corrected for the age of the vaccine recipients.  But simple-minded thoughts support distorted selfish thinking.

Freedom can encompass compassion and concern for one’s fellow human beings. In a modern society, we exercise much of our concern for those who are less well-off than we are or less fortunate, by enacting government social programs that provide a safety net for them. This is as much true for health measures as it is for financial well-being. You’re not freer if you don’t help those who aren’t in as good health as you are, you are just more selfish.  And if you couch your concern for yourself above others in religious terms, and by some stretch of imagination define your religion as one that is concerned with preserving freedom above helping others, then you are also a hypocrite. Taking extra precautions to ensure that you don’t pass along a deadly disease to those who are most vulnerable to it is not a restriction of your freedom, it is a statement about your ethics and your humanity. Too few of us are making that statement these days.


Casey Dorman is a writer and novelist. His latest novel, Ezekiel’s Brain, is available form NewLink Publishing on Amazon 


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