381 - Freedom vs Security | Scoins.net | DJS

381 - Freedom vs Security

DJS' covid update / commentary at #379


I read here [1] that a prominent anti-vaxxer has died from covid complications having had no vaccine. I put aside any direct reaction to that loss. We trade various freedoms for state intervention, which in Britain we call security. This particular campaigner, Kelly Emby, has several relevant quotes worthy of scrutiny:- “the vaccine is not the cure to Covid, and mandates won’t work”(August 2021); “My fundamental belief is that government should be very small and I don’t believe in mandates,” (2019) “I don’t think that the government should be involved in mandating what vaccines people are taking,” she said. “I think that’s a decision between doctors and their patients … If the government is going to mandate vaccines, what else are they going to mandate?”

I think it is the first of these that has the most validity. A vaccine is not a cure for covid, she (almost) said, and she is entirely right, but since when has the idea that a vaccine is a cure held any truth? If we have a large enough majority of the population vaccinated then, for some diseases, we can eradicate them and thus have a 'cure' for the problem that disease represents;  for other diseases the best we can do is limit the spread (prevalence), hopefully to a low level that we then declare to be 'acceptable', as in militarily acceptable losses, where the additional use of resource to lower the losses further still is determined to be not worthwhile.

The issue of whether a mandate is ever acceptable—clearly for her, never—is another issue altogether. I say again, we trade off freedom against security. Some freedoms declared by one party are what another party would call stupidity, such as the freedom to go out and damage yourself. Or worse, to go out and damage others. I've danced around this issue several times recently and it is clear to me that there are societies in which we demand the freedom to be stupid (that is, to make decisions and take actions that others see as nonsense). For me, there should be a line drawn where such actions do damage to others. This breaks down into second-party injuries, which one might view as direct ones, and third party injuries, which one might view as indirect consequences. I see a 'free' society allowing people the freedom to make bad decisions, but I'd prefer to live in a society where this freedom runs out at the point at which those decisions have effect upon others.

In the case of non-vaccination, society as a whole might well view the unjabbed as dangerous. The risk to the unjabbed is a freedom, but the risk caused to the jabbed majority (created by the unjabbed) is unacceptable and the extent to which being unjabbed is unacceptable will define the losses of freedom that being unjabbed cause. You want to work in healthcare, you must be jabbed; to me that is a direct and very sensible trade no different to having to have DBS approval (criminal check) to work with children. We could go as far as listing the antivaxxer in the same way as we keep the Sex Offenders list; people declared to be (or to have been) a menace to society. I don't think we will go that far, but I think we ought to discuss whether that is appropriate. I would far prefer that we avoid the mandate and do persuasion instead, with implicit penalties (losses of freedom) for failing to comply. That is still not a mandate, only a regulation for compliance. Again, we trade off freedoms for security. If you are one who is reluctant to be vaccinated for whatever reasons then that freedom (to be unvaccinated) is traded for the security of everyone else by denying access to some situations such as choice of workplace. In effect, having a vaccination becomes just another certificate toward employment and inclusion. Which then allows an employer to list among the several required qualifications that an employee be up to date with a list of required vaccinations.

In what we think of as communist countries but perhaps more accurately described as command economies, the state has a lot of control of behaviour. This lack of freedom (as perceived by the West) is a trade for a wealth of security where the state undertakes the care of its people. In such societies a command/mandate such as 'go into lockdown' is part of the trade-off for collective security. You do not argue, you comply; if you choose to disagree, there will be repercussions, often surprisingly immediate and severe. Thus, in terms of the pandemic, China stands out as having controlled outbreaks with remarkable success, while the 'free west', Europe and Northern America, has had a torrid time. The significant difference is the acceptability of command from a state level; this is the trade-off of freedom against security. This is not a black and white difference; the 'communist' state does not deny all freedoms just as the 'western' state does not permit all freedoms.

Returning to 'Normal'; a new Normal

Life after COVID: most people don’t want a return to normal – they want a fairer, more sustainable future

What people say they want, what they really want and what they are prepared to do to enable change are all different. I'm quite certain that many people will happily say they want change for the better, particularly if they can leave the drive for that change (those changes) to someone else. Of course I want a 'better' life, but am I prepared to do anything about that...  I think the default state is inaction.

The paper [21] uses the delicious phrase pluralistic ignorance, which is what happens when public discourse is not reflecting people’s actual opinions. Or, in my opinion, the perceptions of those two things do not match. Many would like to continue to work from home, with its reduced commuting: of course they would, for they can see this is less effort for apparently much the same gain. Another effect of the pandemic was to cause one's locality to become a feature—increased civility might describe this—and surely that too is a benefit many would like to keep. Whatever the attached costs, they appear to be sufficiently well hidden that these two are benefits at no cost to the individual.  My immediate question to those pushing this image is to ask how many it includes; more particularly how many it excludes, those who must go to a location for work, such as school teachers. I've covered many of the consequences in earlier essays. All the 'build back better' initiatives garner short-term support but make assumptions as to who is going to do the extra work and how anything extra is funded. Particularly, as I see it, wherever change is required among those who have been hard(er) pressed during the pandemic. As for pluralistic ignorance, the conclusion was that the majority of people who want a progressive future think they are in the minority. This has consequences, since apparently people shift their opinions (attitudes, behaviours) towards the perception of majority opinion, even if wrongly perceived. So a shift towards 'normal' is expected because 'everyone else wants that', which makes that version of normality all the more inevitable. And then, in a self-sustaining and circular way, that return to status quo becomes all the more likely, simply because the perception is that those for change see themselves as the minority. This in turn has consequences for democracy since it implies that people’s actual preferences never find the political expression that they deserve. 

A prime example is the health services; the pressure to achieve the near impossible is leaving this business with people opting out in numbers, exaggerated by the pandemic itself making it difficult for there to be new additions, so the normal turnover of people has had Out exceeding In, again enlarged by Brexit causing many foreign health workers to exit permanently. So we say we want 'more' health provision but we haven't the bodies; it takes a very long lead-time to change that, and we are also not prepared (politically) to fund this. Thus the (Tory) politicians appear to be driving us towards a US model, quite oblivious of the truth held by most Brits (my opinion) that health care is largely free. I agree with anyone who says we should be healthier and I've written at length on that, without much progress and a lot of repetition. In essence we need to move responsibility for health so that the individual does more to achieve and maintain health, while feeling a goood deal of support and encouragement to do so.

The experiment described in [21] asked, among other things, for participants to express preference between strong government and individual autonomy. Strong government was characterised as keeping the powers given/taken during the pandemic, but also 'taking strong action to deal with economic unfairness and [..] climate change'. I see these as bracketing my preferences: I am sorely bothered by the freedoms we have surrendered in the cause and course of dealing with the pandemic and I strongly want us to take individual responsibility for our actions. I'm ambivalent about the state monitoring our behaviour and at the same time my trust of what the state will do with such information is negative, in the sense that I trust (believe strongly) they will abuse every advantage they can access. At the very same time I want government to make significant progress on the issues of unfairness and climate change and I don't think that will occur if left to local community initiative. So I want both individual autonomy and strong government, without the abuse of power I see as all too attractive to any politician, none of whom I trust. Putting that another way; I see the 'strong government' descriptor as having two sides, one of which I'm for and the other agin; I do not see the label 'individual autonomy' as an alternative but as something we want at the very same time. I could not respond to the survey in any useful way.

Useless response is what happens all too often with the Yougov surveys I receive. Ignoring all the attempts to persuade me to opine on a brand (I carefully do not notice adverts, which is the tip of a 'berg-sized conflict with such surveys) but looking at the social and political opinions requested, I all too often find that the question has in-built assumptions with which I disagree. It is very tempting to abandon these surveys entirely, but I have persisted a year beyond my patience because I think they need to see outliers. Yet to date all my comments have produced no perceivable change in standard of question, no evidence that the questions have undergone testing and indeed I'd say that the questions are becoming worse. I used to be required to mark such stuff (as questionnaires) in Stats 1 coursework and these surveys often fail to reach adequacy under my memory of the mark schemes.

What I thought was the most significant result from [21] was the disparity between what people thought they wanted and what they thought everyone else wanted. I think the researchers thought so too, for they explored this at some length. The conclusions included:-  both countries (US and UK) thought that a return to normal was more likely than a progressive future, and they also felt it was more likely that the government would retain its power rather than restoring individual autonomy.

So the counter to this pluralistic ignorance is the provision of better information. Better meaning reliable, internally consistent, transparent, available, accessible – many positives. If we could see where social consensus lies then that trend towards the majority might well improve our lives. I wonder how an antivaxxer—where I mean someone unjabbed for any range of reasons, not only those who refuse vaccination specifically—feels, knowing that something like 10% of the population is in the same position, as applies to the UK as a whole; further, I wonder whether there is a change of that opinion if the minority is twice as large, as in my immediate locality.

[1]   https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jan/06/kelly-ernby-california-prosecutor-dies-covid

[2] https://theconversation.com/life-after-covid-most-people-dont-want-a-return-to-normal-they-want-a-fairer-more-sustainable-future-173290?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20January%204%202022%20-%202164621433&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20January%204%202022%20-%202164621433+CID_a2f7b9a2d712b1fc01a846626fcb027f&utm_source=campaign_monitor_uk&utm_term=most%20people%20dont%20actually%20want%20that

[3]  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-021-00961-0  Losses, hopes, and expectations for sustainable futures after COVIDStephan LewandowskyKeri Facer & Ullrich K. H. Ecker  Do read this; I recommend the summary, about ¾ through.  I could wish for page or line numbers so as to reference where in the document to find what I quoted.

From the coronavirus dashboard, the published map of vaccination.

I discovered that the un-jabbed in Blackpool is 20%, while nationally it is 10%. So there is a measure, though it is presumptive to call inaction an expression of attitude. I wonder then if someone who is a conscious refusnik feels differently knowing that they are in a minority of 10% or 20%? Does a refusnik in Blackpool feel twice as 'right' as one from Inkbarrow, south of Brum?

Inkbarrow & Flyford Flavell  1st dose 94%, 2nd 90%, 3rd 77%  (between Evesham and Redditch)

Blackpool                             1st dose 80%, 2nd 73%, 3rd 53%    

Manchester                          1st dose 67%, 2nd 59%, 3rd 35%    

Newcastle centre                 1st dose 47%, 2nd 39%, 3rd 19%      

The very low uptake areas are (all) within major cities. There's another patch of high uptake between Sheffield and Buxton.

Other quotes on freedom vs security found here

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin

The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either. –  Benjamin Franklin

Those who are ready to sacrifice freedom for security ultimately will lose both. – Abraham Lincoln

The people of my country want the two freedoms that spell security: freedom from want and freedomn from fear. – Aung Sang Suu Kyi

 If social stability goes pear-shaped, you have a choice between anarchy and dictatorship. Most people will opt for more security, even if they have to give up some personal freedom. – Margaret Atwood

IT IS A MISTAKE to suppose that all men, or at least all Englishmen, want to be free. On the contrary, if freedom entails responsibility, many of them want none of it. They would happily exchange their liberty for a modest (if illusory) security. – Theodore Dalrymple

The story of the Western world since 1945 is that, invited to choose between freedom and government 'security,' large numbers of people vote to dump freedom every time - the freedom to make your own decisions about health care, education, property rights, and a ton of other stuff.  Mark Steyn

 Freedom, security, convenience - choose two  Dan Geer

I added a note to the foot of the January covid page recording that the NHS, which employs 1.6 million people, has a shortfall of some 5.2% of staff (80 thousand) with as yet no vaccination for covid. This is an improvement on September's 110 thousand. There have been threats from the gov't to mandate vaccination for the NHS (the gov't owns the NHS? Is its employer?) but, with a week to go to the effective deadline, looks as though it will fold as the refusal numbers are simply too large even though the percentage is half that of the remainder of the population. I felt that the labels for who it is remains unvaccinated were pejorative, in the sense that, having read that there is a 19% refusal among acupuncturists, homoeopaths, and reflexologists, I found myself encouraged to attribute these professions as significantly less medically sensible. It might be more sensible to wonder at the lack of interaction with their colleagues in different disciplines.                                                                            20220202

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