15 March, 2021

Can We Return to the "Old Normal?"

Now that we have reached the one year point of "two weeks to flatten the curve,"[1] some states in the US are starting to reopen their economies. This is considered to be a great relief for many who have struggled to maintain a living during this time. Even for those whose livelihoods were wiped out, there is a sense of relief that they can finally try to rebuild and restart a "normal" life. Their hope is that they will finally be able to return to how things were before the "lock down" started. For some, this is bringing to the surface a question that others have been asking for several months; can we return to the "old normal?" After such a great and lengthy disruption, can our lives truly get back to the way they were?
During this past year, many commentators have been arguing that the real purpose of the lock down has been to condition us, to beat us into such a level of desperation that we will be happy to accept previously unacceptable demands by government authorities as a condition of "freedom." I particularly recommend the commentary of Dave Cullen of Ireland on this topic.[2] At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, I believe there is a lot of truth to this claim. On the other hand, another result of that desperation to which we have been subjected is that we may have forgotten the real problems that were part of the "old normal." 
I believe this is a real danger. Because it is less obvious, it is possibly a greater danger. We would like to think that going back to the old normal means that we are escaping government tyranny and returning to freedom, but isn't it really the case that the old normal made us so passive to centralized authority that we didn't adequately fight back against that tyranny when confronted with it? What I mean is this. Even the most conservative and libertarian pundits I have heard still say that our agreement to the original request, to lock down for two weeks to flatten the curve, was not unreasonable. We were dealing with a new strain of virus that seemed extremely dangerous. There was a reasonable concern that our medical facilities would be overwhelmed. This was the reason for that two weeks. It was not about waiting for a vaccine. It was not about "saving even one life." It was only about slowing the spread of the virus to make sure our medical facilities were not overwhelmed. We were told that, if we all agreed to the lock down for just fifteen days, millions of lives would be saved because our medical facilities would not be too overwhelmed to treat those at most risk from the virus.
We, who live in the most technologically advanced countries of the world, like to believe that we are free. We like to believe that our democracies have preserved that freedom and that, because we are free, we will not succumb to the type of tyranny that has been the result of socialist governments. Just how naive are we? The distributist idea is that government exists to serve the needs of families living in community, those specific needs that go beyond the natural authority of the individual family. Each higher level of government exists to serve the specific needs that are beyond the natural authority of the lower levels. The socialist idea is that individuals exist to serve the needs of society. This is the primary and fundamental fault of all forms of socialism. It is this aspect of the socialist ideology that makes it an inherently unjust system, both politically and economically. 

If you still believe that we who live in Western democracies have not succumbed to the socialist idea, you really need to consider how passively we accepted the lock downs for the past year, what many of us are still accepting right now and for an indeterminate time into the future. This reopening is not occurring in all of the United States, but only in some of them. This reopening is opposed by our federal government. There are also many other Western democratic countries that are opposed to reopening. I am not specifically talking about the concern over a virus, but the powers governments have claimed and the fact that our societies actually went along with those claims. 
Consider the things that really happened and that were really proposed by our governments during this time. After passively agreeing to a two week lock down to prevent the overwhelming of our medical facilities - "flattening the curve" - our governments proceeded to define what businesses were "essential" and what businesses were not. The essential businesses would be allowed to remain open while the rest would not be allowed to do so. Essential in what sense? This is a very important question. Western democratic governments claimed the right to declare what aspects of the economy were and were not essential and, by doing so, the right to shut down significant portions of the economy. It wasn't about what was essential to every day people in being able to provide for their living. The governments of the "free" world claimed the right to control the entire structure of the economy for what they determined to be "the good of the state." This is exactly the position of communist and fascist governments.
The fundamental problem with all forms of socialism is that it reverses the natural relationship between the state and its subjects; instead of the state existing to serve the greater society as needed without interfering with the rights and responsibilities of its subjects, the subjects exist to serve the needs of the state. The livelihoods of the people can be destroyed by the state if the state deems it necessary. We can be denied the right to socialize with each other, even to exercise our religion, if the state deems it necessary. We can even be essentially imprisoned in our homes simply because the state deems it necessary. We may want to think that this is an abnormality caused by the claim of a pandemic, but the reality is that no pandemic of the past, even ones far worse than this one, was considered justification for the level of totalitarian power currently being exercised by the so-called free world. 
This is not a sudden change; we have simply been asleep to the fact that we have been gradually acclimated to incremental increases of totalitarian power. These increases have actually been taking place over a very long time, setting the stage for what happened in the last year. Americans like to think of themselves as rebels against tyranny. Even if that was once true, today we are clearly passive subjects to an increasingly tyrannical government, a government that now openly laughs at the idea of constitutional limitation. 
The question shouldn't be whether or not we can return to the "old normal." The real question is, should we be satisfied with returning to it? If we mean returning to what was considered "normal" a year ago, the answer should be no. Instead, we should insist on the decentralization of government power, not just from the federal level to the state, but even decentralization of the current power of the state government according to the principle of subsidiarity. That, from a distributist perspective, would just be the start.
[1] What does it mean to "Flatten the Curve?", KHOU 11 News. 18 March, 2020.
[2] Dave Cullen's Computing Forever channel, https://www.bitchute.com/channel/computingforever/
Cover picture is public domain: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=360842

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