Now is the time to sacrifice for our elders and the vulnerable among us
The extreme measures being taken in this state and the country to slow down the spread of COVID-19 has led to some fierce debates about the role of government vs. the liberty of individuals to make their own decisions.
Here in the Wenatchee Valley, Gov. Jay Inslee’s actions to shutter schools, close bars and restaurants (except for curbside pickup) and ban large gatherings hit a flashpoint when the owner of the Wok About Grill, Shon Smith, posted a defiant message on Facebook announcing he would not comply with the rules.
The posting started a firestorm of comments that at one point had 500 likes and 1,000 expressions of dislike. Smith ultimately chose to comply with state law, to his credit. We’ve all made decisions in the heat of the moment that we have regretted — at least I know I have.
I am going to try to take a step back and see if I can put this in a larger context of what’s happening in our society, because it is symptomatic of a fundamental divide in this country.
Those who liked Smith’s initial decision talked about their admiration for his support of employees who would miss paychecks, which is a legitimate concern. We all need to be concerned and take meaningful actions to support local businesses and others when social distancing is the norm.
The other major thread in comments by those supporting his message was that government has no right to take such a unilateral action and that individual businesses (and I presume nonprofits) should make their own decisions.
Those who expressed exasperation with Smith’s decision raised the issue of the impact of one’s actions on the community as a whole. We’re seeing the nightmare unfold in Italy where some seriously ill old people are not being treated because they lack the resources. They ignored it, as did the Trump Administration in the critical first weeks of the outbreak, resulting in a failure to be able to adequately test for the virus.
If we don’t slow the spread of coronavirus by social distancing and extreme measures like shutting down sports and entertainment venues, we could well see the same scenario happening here. That’s the crucial argument for accepting these limitations on our liberty.
There is some value in the Libertarian mindset, but it raises a fundamental question of what kind society we wish to have. If individualism is the only thing that matters, does that mean individuals have no responsibility for the most vulnerable in our society or for the community as a whole? Why does it have to be either/or? Can’t it be both/and?
Some time ago, a founder of the Tea Party and a devoted Libertarian, Matt Kibbe, had a dialogue with liberal activist Heather McGhee, moderated by Krista Tippett. They explored areas of common ground as well as areas of disagreement.
One of the things that McGhee appreciated about Libertarians was that they have been supportive of criminal justice reform to address the problem of mass incarceration in this country.
I was fascinated by Kibbe’s perspective on individual rights vis-a-vis caring for others. “Libertarians are guilty of deemphasizing the importance of community, deemphasizing the value of helping other people,” he said.
Kibbe emphasized the importance of cooperative action in community. “And this is not because somebody long ago passed a law,” he continued. “It’s because people working through their differences actually came up with a common set of understandings about how we could get along with each other.”
We need to be supporting businesses and everyone who is going to be struggling to make ends meet in the coming weeks. We have a lot of children who need to be fed, families to be supported, elders to care for, etc.
We have people on the front lines — medical personnel, firefighters, law enforcement and EMT’s who will be putting their lives on the line helping those who are stricken.
This is a time to put the most vulnerable in our community first and ourselves second.