We have heretofore lived our lives with the presumption that we possess the inalienable right to choose. We are self-governors, the main masters of our domains. Our lives are what we make of them. We can improve, act, and see results. We craft our futures.
We can travel, save or spend, work here or there, be this person or that, move, love, practice religion or not, dress up or down, drink liquor or not, have children or not and care for them in the way we think best, and generally be in charge of our lives within the limit of the law.
That is to say, we have presumed that we are basically free. We had purpose, direction, and a future.
In the course of a mere three days in March of 2020, most of that was taken away from us. Government executives took over without the mandate from legislatures or the people. They made a mockery of every slogan from American history: government by the people and for the people, land of the free and home of the brave, sweet land of liberty, and so on.
The media blared new slogans at us about distancing, flattening, sheltering, and then it started closing up almost everything we think of as the substance of the good life. We were locked in our homes, forcibly separated from friends and family and even faith. They killed commercial society. They killed choice. They killed freedom.
Everything we supposed was true about our lives was smashed underfoot, enforced by new police states that sprang up around us, while the media urged even more stringent controls and the US president foundered in endless press conferences and shifting policies, while the US Congress threw away many trillions in tax dollars. Practically overnight, we were reduced by states to sheltering animals with only the privilege to go to the grocery store to snag our next meal to eat at home, while otherwise having our liberty and property being slaughtered by governing officials.
On March 28, 2020, this site warned of a coming wave of drug overdoses, domestic abuse cases, and suicides, based on existing empirical literature on unemployment and sudden financial crisis. However, that’s only the most conspicuous result. There is also the less-obvious way into which the shutdowns eat away at our hearts, spirits, and souls.
In the days since, I’ve sensed an existential crisis that compares for me only to the time I was thrown behind bars for the failure to pay a speeding ticket and found myself in the strange position of relying on favors from people who cared nothing about me while being cut off from everyone I love. That experience changed me forever, such that I never again took my freedom for granted. All of America has gone through this now, not just for one day but for a ghastly six weeks in which our freedom and rights as human beings have been taken away.
I’ve read in F.A.Hayek when he noted that the most horrible toll of wartime statism was psychological, “an alteration in the character of the people.” He describes the feeling of being treated like a cog in a machine and how that leaves us all feeling thoroughly dehumanized. I’ve noticed this happening to friends of mine, who in these awful Zoom hangouts we have suddenly started breaking down into tears of desperation.
Jeffrey A. Tucker – American Institute for Economic Research – April 28, 2020.