By Letter to the Editor on April 16, 2020.
It may be akin to passing gas at a funeral right now, but it is nonetheless worth remarking on the astonishing facility with which many of our presumed civil liberties have been swept aside in the face of the current threat from a faceless microbe rather cryptically named the novo-coronavirus – a.k.a. COVID-19. All of sudden, a bunch of guys you wouldn’t otherwise want to lend your car to for the afternoon – Doug Ford, Jason Kenney, Viktor Orban, Boris Johnson, Donald Trump – are telling us to get off the streets and out of public places and stay there until told otherwise.
My gawd! They’re using cop cars with loudspeakers in some places! Now this is, of course, in pursuit of foiling an insidious and pernicious contagion, and therefore laudable on the face of it. However, it does otherwise beg a certain degree of reflection as to the durability of what we might otherwise assume to be our “freedoms” – the two great pillars of which are freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
It’s already an increasingly creepy world in which society is morphing rapidly into a mish-mash of virtual streaming images and bits of text on digital devices of one form or another. This has suddenly accelerated to the nth degree as we rebound off the ubiquitous threat from the virus and scurry into safe spaces from which we peer out at one another and the broader world. Hey, remember this old McLuhan saw? – “The medium is the message.”
Laughably dated, of course. But waitÉ Yes, just what is the message in this medium? Well, for a 70-year-old like me, and a creature of a communitarian socio-political tradition, the message is quite clear – when danger strikes at the heart of things, do not band together in solidarity to face the threat, as has been done for a thousand years or more, but rather flee apart into burrows and succumb to Order.
OK, OK, it is clinically necessary and simply pragmatic under circumstance. Yet it is also profoundly Orwellian in nature, and the abiding concern will be when and to what extent this extraordinary suspension of freedoms will be reversed and placed back in its dangerous box. For it is the nature of power to enjoy power. Everything we are as free people seeks to be wary of that volatile and malignant rot.