Since Coronamania, has freedom as a principle been diluted and have we as custodians been deluded? Have we entered a new paradigm where freedom is no longer a fundamental human right? It is a pertinent question during these times.
The definition of freedom, according to Oxford Languages, is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants | the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved“. Other notable definitions by Merriam-Webster “the quality or state of being free: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action” and by Cambridge Dictionary “the condition or right of being able or allowed to do, say, think, etc. … without being controlled or limited’’.
Freedom seems to be centred on one word – the ‘right’ or the ‘human right’. During the last year, this one simple word ‘right’ has been, for all intents and purposes, placed on hold across the much of the western world. Without this five letter word, where does this leave humanity?
Well if people don’t have the ‘right’ to act – for instance, the right to gather peacefully – it is arguable the loss the right to express opinion and speak openly negates a significant cornerstone of freedom and, in turn, democracy.
If you lose the ‘right’ to leave your house, does that not make you imprisoned? Over the last year, people could leave their homes but, as it was conditional, is this substantially different than ‘open prison’?
If you lose the right to earn a living, and must receive a basic income to survive, is this not simply slavery or servitude in another form?
Some will make the argument that curtailing ‘human rights’ in a serious health emergency to ensure control of the situation is necessary and only temporary. The concern is that any ‘non-permanent’ laws mandated during the emergency period become permanent.
For instance, Vaccine passports is another example which many view as coercive and, thus, infringing upon human rights and freedom. The EU Commission is considering actively bringing in this control measure in June under the guise of getting people to travel again while discriminating against the rights of non-vaccinated persons. This they have stated is only temporary while the pandemic is still ongoing (as per the WHO) but do they have the right to impose such a wide-ranging measure and is it proportionate or even effective and in line with human rights principles?
How temporary will these measures really prove to be and can you see them being removed or being extended? For instance, in an emergency, the vaccine passport may be deemed acceptable for a number of months.
Make no mistake about it, even during an emergency, these actions ensure people are not able to make free decisions due to the “coercion, or constraint in choice or action” [Merriam-Webster] and it is also certain that their “quality or state of being free” has been significantly affected. Additionally, it is arguable there is “the absence of necessity” where the evidence does not back any disproportionate infringement of freedoms.
A high bar should be in place before removing fundamental freedom: especially around widespread interventions. This high bar has arguably not been met even if the measures are backed by, on the surface, honourable intent to protect life at all costs and to only impose measures when strictly necessary. The adverse effects of the same measures have rarely been mentioned or even considered.
Over a year into this, many perceive that this no longer feels as temporary as wearing a mask for five minutes in a supermarket. For many, the reality of separated from family and friends across geographies is real and frightening and feels very much like they are “being controlled or limited’ [Cambridge Languages].
It is interesting to note that freedom’s antonyms are captivity, compulsion, constraint, imprisonment, obligation, oppression, serfdom, servitude, slavery. Do these words raise feelings of this last years’s experience? We can only hope that the near future brings back our experience of freedom in line with the definition and that freedom’s antonyms fade quickly into the past with Covid-19.