THERE IS NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN
It has been a month now that the government edict to stay at home has been proclaimed. Many have lost jobs, and there is a natural resistance that is evolving among the restless among us. The question of individual rights and freedoms is raised. Is it not my right to control where I go and what I do? This philosophy has evolved into a political movement of Libertarianism that emphasizes freedom of choice, voluntary association, and holding the individual’s judgment as the holy grail of how we should live. There are right-leaning and left-leaning Libertarians. But both pit governmental authority against individual opinion. Why should I wear a mask when I am not sick, why should I vaccinate my children when vaccination has some risk and has in some cases shown not to be completely protective? Why should I stay at home when I need to get back to work? There are only two certainties, death and taxes. People die all the time, how is that different from this virus? The country’s and my personal economic condition is deteriorating while I sit at home bored out of my mind. It is my decision to risk my life if I deem it necessary? We live in a democracy. How can the government tell me what to do?
Those are the arguments I hear from friends, the radio, talk show hosts, and sometimes I even have these thoughts myself. There is, however, an overriding principle. Humans live in social groups. Only hermits can act out their fantasies. Our actions impact others. We have social responsibilities that go beyond our personal being. When our freedom impacts society adversely, society has a right to regulate what we do. Willie Sutten, when he was caught, was asked why he robs banks? His answer, “Because that is where the money is.” I have always wanted to be rich, but I can’t go to banks, like Willie, and take what I want. My right to be rich is infringed upon by other’s rights not to have their wealth stolen. My right to refuse vaccinations interferes with the population’s rights not to have a carrier of disease spread the plague and shorten their life span.
Mary Mallon was born in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland. She came to New York and was a cook working in restaurants, and also for a number of families that hired her to cook for them. Everywhere she went, people got sick with fever and diarrhea; some even died. The disease that caused this illness was determined to be from a bacteria, Salmonella Typhi. She was not ill and appeared perfectly healthy. At least 50 deaths from Typhoid fever were attributed to her.
She was held in quarantine from 1907 to 1910. But when released, she went back to her old job of cooking. This time she moved on, when people got sick, to the next cooking job. Authorities failed to catch her until 1915. She spent the rest of her life in jail and died in 1938 of pneumonia. History assigned the name “Typhoid Mary” to her.
It was Rudolph Virchow, a German pathologist of the 19th century, who gave us the word “zoonosis,” a disease that originates in animals and then is transmitted to humans. In its more aggressive form, it can then spread from human to human. There are many zoonoses, Swine Flu, Avian Flu, Ebola, Malaria, Anthrax, Trichinosis, Rabies, Plague, COVID-19, etc. Our close association with animals started with the domestication of animals, going back to the late Pleistocene, beginning 129,000 to 11,700 years ago during the last ice age. The Middle Ages brought humans and animals together even closer, when farmers brought their animals into their houses for warmth and to guard them. Because we lived in close proximity to animals, their bacterial, viral, and protozoan diseases could now jump to us quite easily.
When our freedom interferes with the freedom of others, a compromise must be negotiated. We can only exercise our freedom if it does not take away the freedom of others. That principle is what allows the imposition of shelter in place dictates, immunization mandates, social distancing rules, and the wearing of face masks. South Dakota resisted implementing social isolation for much too long in the name of freedom of choice, with many unnecessary deaths. This recent pandemic has been a new experience for us, but it is not unprecedented. 1918 gave us the Spanish Flu, named because of a misunderstanding. Spain was neutral in World War I. The first case of that Flu was actually March 11, 1918, in Kansas. Because there was censorship, as not to reduce the morale of the troops, it was not reported. Spain, on the other hand, was not bound by that censorship and reported all the gory details, including that their king, Alfonso XIII, came down with a severe case of it. That cinched it. From then on, it was “The Spanish Flu.” Quarantine and masks were the order of the day. There is nothing new under the sun!