Remember when we used to travel? So many times, at the airport, I was removed from the lineup up at the security gate for a “random” search. It happened so often that I began to question the randomness of it.
The airport authority would run their hands over my person, or direct me to the x-ray machine so they could examine my internal organs. It was a personal violation that I reluctantly subjected myself to because I saw the sign at the airport which said something to the effect, “you have a right to refuse this search and we have a right to deny you entry.”
The staff would open my luggage and rummage through it, and then make me take off my shoes. How many times did we all corral together at the luggage belt in various stages of undress, hopping on one foot while we put our shoes back on, trying to put ourselves back together, find our coat, our watch and other personal effects that rolled along on that conveyor belt in plain view of all strangers?
There are so many examples of how we, as citizens, relinquish our personal freedoms and allow our privacy to be violated, in exchange for some benefit. Think of that latest iPhone or Android app that you just downloaded and the 8000- page Terms of Agreement that you just scrolled through to click on the “Agree” button, so you could start using your app. Think about Google Maps, tracking your daily journey. We are pervaded by violations of our privacy, on a daily basis, and we have conceded to this, in exchange for what we believe to be some benefit.
If our foot is a little too heavy on the gas pedal, we get stopped by the police, who interfere with our right of mobility. But we have conceded to this, collectively, for the benefit and safety of ourselves and others.
The rules by which we live have been developed collectively, over thousands of years. Some of our social contracts stem from documents such as the Rights of Man (which excluded women in 1789). Articles in the Rights of Man included such statements as, “Liberty consists of doing anything which does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has only those borders which assure other members of the society the fruition of these same rights. These borders can be determined only by the law.” It also includes the statement that, “The law has the right to forbid only actions harmful to society.”
At present across this country, we are having discussions and conflict about collective versus personal rights, freedoms and liberties. On one hand, we have groups arguing that the state has no right to infringe on their personal freedoms. They invoke, among others, the principle of private property being an inviolable and sacred right and that “no one can be deprived of private usage.” This includes their right to make a living. On the other hand, we have groups conceding to state-wide lockdowns and business closures, and have relinquished our right of freedom of mobility, agreeing not to travel, not to hug each other, and not to visit our elderly.
When human beings began asserting their rights as collectives and as individuals, they created a contract to live together, and did agree that the law is the expression of the general will. We agreed to select representatives that would design laws to express the general will of the people.
We have agreed to suspend those laws, for a period of time for the collective benefit of society. We agree that the collective has become more important than the individual at this time, because we are faced with a viral threat in COVID-19. As we face this catastrophe, we have determined to do it together, as a collective. We have put our individual needs on the back burner, in the interest of our neighbours, and our community. It is a conscious choice we have made to live in the spirit of our social contract with each other. We have weighed our personal needs, and rights, against the needs and rights of others to make an informed choice about what rights we are willing to give up. We do this with the knowledge that our rights are sacred and inalienable, and that these rights were hard earned. We are all expressing the general will, in the spirit of a contract that was largely developed during a revolution to overthrow authoritarian or totalitarian rulers. That is why I find it ironic when people call us sheep.