Words by Stephanie, 22 NSW
COVID-19 is testing not only our health, but also our patience for freedom.
History has taught us freedom comes at a great price.
As the COVID-19 pandemic lays waste to the global social and economic landscapes, 2020 is no ordinary time. Politics and human rights aren’t immune to infectious microbes, and even the most democratic system cannot escape surprises, health-related or not, that come into direct conflict with their people’s freedom. As a result, we’re struck by policy after policy pertaining to social distancing, quarantine and self-isolation, altogether denying our needs as social creatures by nature.
But perhaps this is the only way we can save ourselves.
Freedom once isn’t freedom forever. In fact, after the world wars, many events in the following decades reminded us that the road to freedom is a never-ending one. The Black Lives Matter campaign reignited sentiments from the civil rights movement from half a century ago. Terrorist attacks continue to tear up our physical and mental havens. 70 years after the war, the U.S. elected a leader who pitted his people against the nation’s truth-seekers and separated children from parents who had innocuously come to seek asylum in his country.
The COVID-19 pandemic is just another historical disaster that helped air out our collective laundry, soiled with ignorance, selfishness and misanthropy.
As much as we desire freedom, it does not exist by default. Just as it’s impossible to wipe out the natural patterns of greed, prejudice and egotism we’re born with, we will always be hitting new walls, from individuals to a whole nation, on the road to liberation.
Freedom is a right we must earn and maintain through words and actions. At every twist and turn, freedom comes with a price tag, the merchant being someone new every time. Today, COVID-19 is our biggest test, and much of what we’ve taken for granted has been taken away from us. National borders are closed, flights are grounded, education has complexified, social gatherings are banned, and who would have thought of toilet paper as a trophy of supermarket melees in 2020?
COVID-19 holds our freedom hostage. Are we in fear? Very much. Should we fight for freedom? Definitely. But how?
Before we answer that, we must remind ourselves of this precondition: we want freedom that is sustainable. We want to hit the gym every day again, have picnics under the sun, and regain access to the pub around the corner every Friday night. This means we need to trade in temporary freedom by following health guides, limiting daily purchases, and practicing social distancing and isolation.
If we listen to those who have the expertise and confidence to power us through the pandemic, our society will more easily return to normalcy and reactivate long-term, day-to-day freedom for us.
This will also only work through our collective efforts.. Weeks ago, Sydney’s Bondi Beach was jam-packed with beachgoers, infecting over 20 individuals and potentially more. Thousands of untested passengers were permitted to walk off the virus-struck Ruby Princess cruise ship, generating over 600 new cases. In every corner of the world, there are people failing to comply with quarantine rules. While COVID-19 is an invisible biological force, those who say ‘no’ to compliance represent the moral, logical and philosophical loopholes that bring our universal freedom a step or more backwards. Unfortunately, to harm hundreds and thousands, we only need one person to plant the seed.
If humanity’s freedom does not exist by default, then there is no shortcut to obtaining it every time it’s been withdrawn. If the pandemic requires us to exchange our immediate individual freedom for something greater, then our cooperation is imperative.