Citizen concern bill

By Corine Dehaes, teacher

We publish this letter from a Kairos reader, who is concerned about the choices that are being made and what they will mean for « us » and society. 

 » The individual freedom, it is finished!  » asserted Emmanuel André, answering to Ophélie Fontana at the time of one of its recent interventions to the JT(1). The shock. Did I dream? Did he really say those words? One replay later, I know I wasn’t dreaming. These words were really pronounced, seriously, without batting an eyelid, in a TV news with a large audience, by one of the eminent scientists who serve as our guides in our Covid wanderings.  » Individual freedom is over « . Really?

Of course, I understand the intention. Emmanuel André had indicated that he was in favor of more restrictive measures than those that were in effect that week (around October 20), expressed concern about the galloping progression of the epidemic, and stated that the common good required that every citizen be forced to respect the injunctions, prohibitions and obligations formulated by the government, willingly or not, with no other choice.

But I cannot subscribe to such a way of seeing and saying. I am a citizen of a free and democratic country and I intend to remain so. Democracy is based on core values, such as freedom, which cannot be trampled on, even in times of serious crisis. Yes, the epidemic progression is alarming, yes, measures must be taken, but not just any measures, not just any measures, not at any cost.

If Emmanuel André thought he would strengthen the support of the citizens with his « strong » words, he did not win mine. He even ruined it for good. Of course, I recognize the danger of the virus, I am not a « coronasceptic ». Of course, I recognize that we must look for ways to actively fight, that we must avoid overcrowding the hospitals, that we must take care of all the patients. But do we have to deprogram democracy to do this? Harm him? Knowingly departing from its principles and values?

Should we accept to be dragged, slowly but surely, into a Chinese-style system where surveillance, control and repression are king? Where thought is locked in a narrow prison, with no room for critical manoeuvre? Without dissent, without counter-power, without creativity? Where freedom of conscience is suffocating under an arsenal of obligations, prohibitions, regulations and sanctions?

Will we, under the pressure of the virus and the measures the government chooses to deal with it, give up expressing ourselves, abandon our diversities and become uniform? Are we going to resign ourselves to living all masked, all robotized by the observance of « barrier-gestures », all obsessed with distancing ourselves from the other, without reflecting, thinking or criticizing?

Are we going to allow ourselves to be caught up in the single-mindedness of the health and safety approach and allow curfews and the police state to take hold for a long time?

Are we going to live under orders, all tidy and docile, convinced — or pretending to be — of the infallibility of the scientific council, spying on the possible dissident neighbor (he doesn’t wear a mask!) to stigmatize him as anti-solidarity or uncivil, or even denounce him? Are we going to let ourselves slide without reacting on this path, which history has shown us, less than a hundred years ago, leads to the worst criminal excesses?

Are we going to adhere to the paradoxical injunctions that are flourishing —  » when you love your loved ones, don’t get too close  » (seen over and over again on France 2 in the summer and fall) — and that have an unfortunate resemblance to those of Big Brother in 1984(2)?

Why can’t a real and vast citizen debate take place on these subjects? A debate that would take place at all levels of society? Who would hold everyone accountable? Who would mix specialists and non-specialists, decision-makers and voters? A debate that would allow everyone, if they so wish, to express themselves as responsible and committed citizens, and not to be treated like an ignorant and weak child, who is told what to do or think, and who is threatened with sanctions if he or she does not blindly obey?

I am a free citizen in a free country. I want to live in a free, open, creative and generous society. A society that is able to maintain, and even strengthen, all these qualities in the face of adversity. A living society. A society of adults that is constantly enriched by its own diversity.

We all have skills. And it is up to all of us to think about putting in place adequate measures to fight the epidemic. The views of epidemiologists and economists are not the only ones to consider! There are many others, which should not be ignored.

In this way, we will exercise our individual freedom all the more strongly and all the better. And we will have more control over our choices and more solidarity. Individual freedom is not « over ». It is rather now that it must begin to unfold as it has never done before, now, thanks to this crisis, that it can authentically speak its name. Solidarity, far from requiring the extinction of individual freedom, on the contrary, feeds on it. If we put solidarity and individual freedom in opposition, we condemn democracy to lose its soul.

If our decision-makers persist in leaving us, the citizens, no room for manoeuvre and if we let them, our democracy will die, as it did in China(3). I don’t envy the Chinese in Wuhan who are celebrating today because they are  » virus free « . They are in fact no longer free at all. Asphyxiated by relentless censorship, permanently tracked via their smartphones, socially marked, forced to be totally transparent about their health, the Chinese can no longer breathe without the Party being informed. Is this what we want for ourselves?

May we seek solutions together to the serious crisis that affects us. May we do so with great heart and commitment. But not at the cost of freedom.

Notes et références
  1. JT 13h RTBF – mercredi 21/10/2020
  2. « La guerre, c’est la paix. La liberté, c’est l’esclavage. L’ignorance, c’est la force. » in Georges Orwell, 1984, Folio.
  3. NDLR Pour qu’elle y meurt, encore faudrait-il qu’elle y soit née un jour.

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