To The Editor,
The letter to the editor of Mr. Fraser in the September 23, 2020 issue of The Review titled” What happened to freedom?” requires a thoughtful response. Freedom of speech permits the expression of opinions from well thought out to thoughtless streams of consciousness. A well informed citizenry is the bedrock of democracy; hence, its constitutional protection. Not all information is informative. It is the point of this article that we have a responsibility to critically analyze the opinion and information that is disseminated and to speak out. That would necessitate a reasonable application of logic to facts. There lies the basic reason to reject the suggestion of Mr. Fraser that being required to follow Covid-19 health guidelines is a tyrannical exercise of government authority. The tyrannical theme is irrational for the following reasons:
- Referencing U.S. Attorney General Barr’s statement comparing lockdowns and stay at home orders to slavery is making use of a baseless pronouncement to ground an indefensible position. The fact that Mr. Barr is the U.S. Attorney General is of no importance considering that no facts are provided to substantiate his position.
- Fraser called upon the dictionary to define slavery as “the submission to a dominating force”. That is an interesting strategy since according to Webster, it turns out to be the second most benign of definitions for the context. The mildest is “drudgery, toil”. The most toxic would be “the state of a person who is the chattel of another”, “the practice of slaveholding”. The fact is that the definition Mr. Fraser quoted - submission to a dominating force – misses the mark. Simply put this is because Mr. Barr’s national historical context is that of the “person being a chattel of another” where loss of freedom, brutal force and death was the way of ensuring its regime. It was not simply “submission to a dominating force”. As a result there is no “fit” to use Mr. Fraser’s expression with what is happening in many countries with respect to Covid-19 guidelines. In an effort to substantiate the “fit” with his benign definition of slavery, he bemoans the loss of decision making by the individual in “virtually every aspect of daily life”. The state does so through health officials “sanctioned by government forces and enforced by government agents” as he has it. This is an interesting choice of words. They are meant to characterize constitutionally authorized and lawfully appointed government health officials and enforcement agents by duly elected politicians with abuse of power. Again to borrow his words, it simply does not sound right for lack of any factual background.
- In an attempt to justify his tyrannical theme Mr. Fraser abandons his original definition of slavery as submission to a dominating force. He then makes references to the more toxic definition of slavery of the person as a chattel of another with the imagery of the whip carrying slave master on horseback. This is, of course, to control the chattel slave. There follows an attempt at comparing the slave owner to horse mounted riot-geared, baton-holding Australian police in crowds of citizens. We are told that the context being that these citizens were refusing to submit to the will of their political masters. I am afraid that this is far off to borrow Mr. Fraser’s words. The only similarity between the two scenarios is the horse. What does the mounted slave master or the riot police have to do with Covid-19? Simply stated nothing. There is a total disregard in Mr. Fraser’s exposé for the concept of the constitutional responsibility and jurisdiction of government to ensure the safety and health of its citizens.
- There is a tacit acknowledgement of a health risk when it is argued that risk assessment is not left to the individual. What follows is an astounding notion that the government takes onto itself this function to ensure the productive capacity of its citizens. This argument is both illogical and counterproductive, not to mention that it conflates concepts. The first contradiction is that a lock down impedes productive capacity. The second is the death of individuals without lockdown ensures the total loss of the capacity of the individual. The third is that it ignores the constitutional responsibility and jurisdiction of government with respect to health and safety. To leave risk assessment to individuals without any background in epidemiology subjects the rest of the population to unskilled and amateurish decision making. We now have an idea of the consequence of such risk assessment as a result of the non-compliant behavior leading to a potential second lockdown and the infamous case of Mr. Barr’s boss, The Donald.
- A power similarity is advanced by Mr. Fraser between the master-slave relationship and power addicted politicians. This is grounded on the requirement that a government official’s pre-approval must be obtained before any action is undertaken. The similarity fails on several counts. For one, to describe all politicians as power addicts does not reflect reality. History and the present day are full of examples of politicians unselfishly working for the greater good; Angela Merkel, Tommy Douglas, Elizabeth May, John Lewis to name a few. This is clearly an overreach and fails to make the point. Secondly, it conflates the politician’s role with that of the government official overseeing compliance with rules and regulations passed by the former. Lastly, the argument assumes that power is only used for nefarious reasons. It ignores its function as a means to execute well-planned and well-meaning legislative objectives.
- Next Mr. Fraser contends that wearing masks no matter its efficacy discloses the underlying purpose of eliminating individualism. Not to belabour the point, but there is a failure to recognize the legitimate responsibility and jurisdiction of government to protect and keep safe its citizens from contagious and aggressive viral health dangers. In that case individualism is trumped and the security of the collective takes precedence. Half recognizing the need to protect ourselves, he further finds umbrage with the motto that we are all in it together. This is because there would be no comparison between the masked government civil servant working at home and the bankrupted masked entrepreneur. This conclusion does not pass the test of scrutiny. First, it ignores the fact that the entrepreneur chose to take the risk of going into business initially, while the government worker sought the security of employment as a factor. Further not all businesspersons suffer the same fate.
- The penultimate argument advanced is unstated. It invites the reader to draw a conclusion that some manipulation is at play to the benefit of corporations. This is based on the notion that large profits stand to be made as a result of the pandemic leading to an accumulation of power. Surely it cannot be suggested that the virus was unleashed in order to profit. Further profit compensates the risk taker who invested in the development of successful vaccines.
- Lastly, Mr. Fraser draws a link between Camus’ “the welfare of people” being “the alibi of tyrants” and tyranny defined as government oppressive power and his chosen definition of slavery. That subsumes that the government guidelines such as lockdowns, stay at home laws and the wearing of masks to protect the individuals from the consequences of the Covid-19 virus are oppressive. It is not because these measures are neither unreasonably burdensome nor overwhelming or depressing as a whole to make use of Webster’s definitions.
To answer your question “Was Mr. Barr wrong?” Yes, Mr. Fraser, he was and so are you.