Why is there a lockdown? Whose job is it to protect you from Covid? Your own or the government’s?

It is a fact that for people under the age of 50 in good health coronavirus is not much more dangerous than ordinary flu. The risk increases for those over 50, for those with existing health conditions, and for those over 50 with existing health conditions.

This means, (speaking about the UK), that millions of people are enduring severe lockdown restrictions (and quarantine measures at the border) who are not personally at great risk of dying. Of course, it is true that by reducing the rate of infection in this group the more at-risk groups are protected, since it means they are less likely to become infected. Nonetheless millions of people are having their lives severely restricted. They are being denied the right to take the rational individual choice to take the risk and live with the consequences.

Interestingly this “one size fits” all approach – discriminatory lockdown regardless of risk – is at odds with the professed values of Western civilization – of individual responsibility and freedom.

An approach that was based around the notion of individual responsibility would look very different. In such a model, there would be no lockdown. At risk individuals would be advised of the risks and would be advised to take responsibility for their own shielding. Their families would be responsible for taking the decisions necessary not to infect them. At risk people in institutional settings would be protected by policy measures. Those who are not at risk would be free to continue their lives – while being asked to consider the risk they could pose to others.

Such an approach would see much higher rates of infection but if individuals acted responsibly no higher death rates than currently. It would also slowly build up herd immunity.

Of course; many would not act responsibly. For example, many families would not take the necessary steps to protect their elderly relatives without legal coercion and as a result their Grandads and Grannies would die. But that isn’t the point; laws should not be based on the premise of irresponsibility.  (People do this but it is wrong. For example some justify legal abortions on the grounds that if abortions are not legal people will have recourse to dangerous backstreet abortions. They may well do so; but that is their problem). Laws should be made on the basis of key principles and values. The question of individual responsibility then needs to be addressed – at the level of civil society.

Why is there a national lockdown? The answer is because the wrong group is trying to solve this problem (an infectious disease on the loose). Government is trying to solve a problem which should largely be solved by individuals and civil society. This is because modern Government feels obliged to respond to and to deal with the threats such as Coronavirus in order to perpetuate the illusion that government is some kind of universal protector of the social body. A great part of the population no doubt expects government to save them. But this ‘protection’ comes at a huge cost in terms of individual freedom. And, as it turns out, and has been shown throughout the course of the pandemic, government is not very effective. It makes unwieldy decisions, and, in some cases harmful ones. In a democracy where the government is made up of careerists who are continually thinking about their re-election the decisions made are likely to be determined by their effect on the government’s popularity ratings as much as by anything else. (For example; the decision made by the UK government to ‘Save the NHS’ even at the cost of 16,000 residents of care homes was a decision made purely for electoral reasons; the current set of careerists realised they had to prevent TV images of overflowing NHS hospitals at any cost for personal career reasons. Saving the NHS is a prerequisite for re-election). In other cases bad decisions have been taken simply because government is not the right instrument to solve the problem. For example; instead of the see-sawing and unrealistic laws about mask-wearing and social distancing these decisions could have been left to individuals to take.  (The government’s chief adviser Dominic Cummins appears to believe this himself when he made his own decisions to take his family to the North and to then take his wife for a trip on her birthday despite the apparent breaches of the law involved in either or both of these decisions). It is even possible to argue the large number of bad procurement decisions made by the government (for example antibody tests which didn’t work) reflect that the government was not the best placed actor to solve these problems. The problem of a viral infectious disease on the loose should have been solved primarily at the level of civil society and individual responsibility. The role of government should have been limited to managing the institutions for which it is responsible, hospitals and public care homes, and for communicating accurate information to the public, along with, no doubt advice and recommendations.

Modern European governments have betrayed the Enlightenment  principles of individual responsibility and freedom. They are engaged in a con-job – the con being that they can protect (and enhance) the lives of their populations. This con-job is a collusion between two groups; on the one hand career politicians and officials who do exceedingly well by living off the state coffers and, on the other hand, a population of sheep who like and want to be led even though the health and life outcomes will be no better and probably worse than if they took individual responsibility. 

Interestingly what has happened it seems is this. The Enlightenment rejected the rule by religious authorities based on superstition in favour of individual reason and responsibility. But that remains an ideal. With religion pushed aside government now manages the flock in its place.  In place of superstition we have endless claims about “being led by the science” – claims which by the very way they pretend that the ‘science’ of an epidemic is simple and conducive to one-dimensional answers show that their authors have not in fact understood science and are, in effect, ruling, once again, by superstition.

Does it follow from the above that the author of this site has changed his position from his calls early on in the pandemic for a lockdown? Yes and no. No  – in as much as his chief concern at that point was that government should do something. That something could (should) have been to decisively protect care homes at the very least. And, further, if government was not going to do anything they still should have clearly communicated to people that the dangerousness of the situation and recommended that people act. The danger at that time was that people were waiting for the government to tell them what to do and the government was not doing anything. On the other hand, to some extent, he has changed his position. He has now understood the question of the pandemic more in terms of this fundamental question of the legitimacy of modern government and the negative treatment of the principle of individual liberty. He now sees the way the government has responded to the coronavirus epidemic as illustrative of a failure of the Enlightenment values to take hold. We still do not have a civil society of individuals taking rational responsibility for their lives. The corrupt Church has been replaced by a government of careerists (in cahoots with public officials) who sell the myth that government can improve people’s lives, in order to enrich themselves.

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer