We act irrationally when we are afraid, and we have a tendency to disregard the rights of others when we are blinded by moral superiority.
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On this episode of the Authors Corner, Ethan sits down with AIER’s Design Technologist and Interim Editorial Director, Lou Eastman, to discuss the ideas in his latest article “On the Tyranny of Freedom.” When Lou isn’t busy carrying AIER’s online media presence on his back, he occasionally finds the time to write insightful think pieces on topics pertaining to human liberty. His latest article explored the psychological forces that led to the drastic curtailing of our liberty in the age of Covid-19.
To start off, Ethan had to get something off his chest by immediately jumping into the middle of the article by asking what Moby Dick has to do with all of this. Lou explains that in short, Captain Ahab, the whale’s hunter, represents a pathological altruist obsessed with finding monsters to destroy. It is a powerful metaphor for those today who wish to force their wills on otherwise free people in pursuit of their own twisted vision of a better world. They believe every problem and injustice is the fault of otherwise irresponsible people and their free wills that must be curtailed.
This brings us to the year 2020 and Covid-19. Nobody needs a reminder of the madness that ensued and the freedoms we have lost. However, one thing that we certainly should remember was how free and by consequence, how prosperous the world was prior to the lockdowns. Freedom is directly linked to human flourishing. Commerce, invention, travel, culture, and civilizational vibrancy are all possible when society is open, not closed. That is why it is worth exploring the forces that lead otherwise free people to reach for the chains of safety and subjugation.
When it comes to Covid-19 there are two basic factors at play: fear and altruism. Fear of course is represented by the notion of an unseen outside invader with the potential to cause harm. Human beings have always been suspicious of novel and foreign entities, whether that be outsiders or unfamiliar ideas. An obsession with resisting an alleged outside invader has inspired free societies to adopt authoritarian practices time and time again. The second factor, altruism, may sound nice on the surface but as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In this case, it was the unhealthy as well as the unrealistic obsession of protecting everyone and everything from the virus. Our otherwise benevolent intentions to save society from a virus led us to do very malevolent things to one another.
A major observation from this analysis is the importance of understanding human nature. We are not perfectly malleable beings capable of transforming our innate behaviors to fit a mold. We act irrationally when we are afraid, and we have a tendency to disregard the rights of others when we are blinded by moral superiority. We have seen the worst of what we are capable of doing to each other when we give in to these fervorous tendencies, not just in the age of Covid-19, but throughout history.
However, much like civilization can be subdued and subjugated, it can also be reclaimed and liberated. Although the tyrants of today may have gotten the best of us, the crisis that gave them their power to begin with is fading. We face a new opportunity to right the course of society and much like all those who came before us who faced adversity, the future is ours to decide. Lou articulates this quite eloquently in his concluding statement which reads,
As the world begins to reopen, we should all take careful stock of the freedoms and liberties we have retained and ones we may have lost. Most importantly, however, we should shake off the hooks, lines, and sinkers of the world’s tyrants and enforcement sycophants to begin again with a fresh perspective.
Yes, we got ourselves into this, and yes, we did this to ourselves. But at the end of the day, our behavior was simply human nature. What we can control is what we do after the fact. We can continue to kick ourselves down the sorry path of regret and self-pity or we can pick ourselves up and choose to retake control over our lives.