The limits of the common good

The polarization of societies across the world has been painful for many of us. It’s sometimes split families, other times whole nations. Among the opposing views have been a gamut of different perspectives on how much or how little control we should have as individuals versus the state. 

Meanwhile, the state, perhaps democratically elected but often not democratically functional, provides greater or lesser amounts of infrastructure and services that supposedly facilitate the civilized operation of society. 

Among the views circulated by those who support the mainstream narrative has been this notion that the individual must give up liberty for the benefit of the state. This is a collectivist construct that could be viewed as somewhat analogous to the role of a worker ant within an ant colony. 

All the activities of the worker are focused on the benefit of the whole. It assumes without the teamwork of many thousands of workers and soldiers, each worker would be helpless and die. The real beneficiary of course is the HQ of operations—the royalty in the queen’s cell. 

It’s sold as collectivism, but in truth it is authoritarian. The queen ant, just like the authoritarians who control the world, gets to run the show and control communications. The view that an individual can exercise liberty within a society is increasingly depicted as selfish. 

It even sounds plausible if you really believe we are helpless when left to our own devices to exercise our own unalienable rights, including our rightful liberty to bodily autonomy. 

Liberty has of course many definitions, but the one I gel with most is that offered by one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and its third president, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson wrote in 1819: “Liberty . . . is unobstructed action according to our will: but rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will, within the limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.”

It’s much easier to give credence to sacrificing liberty when our societies are in crisis. And there is no shortage of crises to draw from. Take a virus that threatens public health. Or the prospect of a world war. But there’s plenty more that can be wheeled out whenever the need arises: rising sea levels; food shortages; drinking water shortages or even water wars; or cancer, heart disease, diabetes and dementia rates that break apart healthcare systems. 

The value of liberty has never been so evident in modern times as when we observe the invasion of Ukraine and what is happening there and also in Russia under the ostensible reason of it all being done in the best interests of the common good.

So let’s not think that any existential crisis we might be emerging from is something temporary. We need to address a reality that the increasingly globalized societal systems in which we live, which include highly controlled and censored systems of communication, the ability to muffle any counter views or dissent and a proven capacity to enact mass compliance in populations, will now likely try to maintain a more or less permanent state. 

What we must do now, and help others to do, is to focus our gaze away from these existential crises and onto a more likely and real outcome, which increasingly looks to be unrelated to these immediate crises. 

The one common factor appears to be authoritarian creep. That means giving up freedoms for the supposed benefit of the collectivist whole. This is an idea that has long been pushed by the founder of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, who wants us to sign up to “social contracts” that allow us to own nothing, but be happy. 

But when we dig deeper below the surface to examine the wider implications, even authoritarianism can be viewed as an intermediary step. 

Unopposed control over healthcare increasingly can lead to the application of specific technologies that are put forward as important new developments desperately needed to solve major challenges of our times, particularly as related to health and wellbeing, for a global population that has been primed to automatically accept such biotech advancements as ‘progress’ without open discussion. They are really Trojan horses.

Whether it’s gene-editing CRISPR or mRNA technology or even the ideas of machine–brain ‘enhancements’ espoused by Elon Musk, we need to consider their enormous implications. None of these technologies can compare to the extraordinary sophistication of the human body to adapt and even heal itself. 

But aside from any technological limits, the greatest worry is that there will not be open discussion about their effects on individuals, just as there was suppression of evidence about solutions to Covid.  And we have no idea about the long-term effects of attempting to ‘enhance’ the genius of nature in these ways. 

Without an ability to exercise our right to free speech and bodily autonomy, we cannot do the things we as humans do best: to create and innovate, just as nature does. 

When we look back at human history, we recognize that human beings progress most quickly when they are allowed to exercise their free will in ways that don’t diminish the rights of others. 

Not only for themselves, but for the whole of society.