Freedom vs. Responsibility: The US Conundrum

Sorry, folks, another post related to the current coronavirus outbreak in the US.

As of my writing this post Emerald City Comic Con is scheduled to continue in Seattle, Washington next week. This is an event that gathers together 100,000 people or thereabouts each year and crams them into a concentrated area where they are most definitely less than six feet apart.

It’s a bad situation for spreading germs in the best of years. There’s a reason the term “con crud” exists. But when you pair that with the fact that Seattle is a current location where COVID-19 is currently circulating in the population, you have a recipe for disaster.

Because all of those people have homes they’re coming from. They aren’t all Seattle residents. They will attend this conference and then they will return to their homes all across the country and perhaps across the world and, if they are exposed to coronavirus while in Seattle, will effectively and quickly spread coronavirus all across the U.S.

I don’t say this to be alarmist. It is what it is. And it’s already happening in the U.S., we just aren’t testing enough to acknowledge it.

But what this situation highlights is the fundamental conflict we face here in the United States. It’s the issue of personal freedom versus community responsibility.

On Twitter I’ve seen a number of people announcing that they’re cancelling their appearance at the ECCC. Almost all of them have cited personal health, family members with health issues, or, the latest, a young child at home. Those who’ve posted about continuing to attend have talked about their own relative health and giving their team members a choice to attend. None that I recall seeing have talked about their community.

Okay, great, they personally are young and healthy and if they are exposed they’ll probably get over it in a couple weeks. (Probably.) But what about their co-worker? What about the flight attendant who has to be in a plane with them? What about their Uber driver? What about the person who fills their prescription at the pharmacy? What about the waitress at their favorite restaurant? What about the old lady who takes the bus with them to her medical appointments? What about…anyone else other than that individual making their individual decision?

China was successful in mitigating this outbreak because they shut everything down. They are a society where that is possible. (And, no, I’m not advocating for us being that type of society. I’m just pointing out the difference.)

The U.S is so concerned with personal financial cost and personal liberties that we have failed to contain this illness. And that failure will kill people. And if we continue down this path, we will kill more people. Not just in the U.S., by the way, but around the world. Our failure to properly contain this spread will impact every other country in the world.

Now maybe those people attending ECCC won’t be the ones who suffer the consequences, but people in their communities will. And people around the world will.

You know, it’s weird how uncomfortable it makes me feel to call this out. It is so ingrained in me that we respect individual rights in this country that a part of me wants to defend the creators who are still choosing to attend ECCC. Don’t they have the right to make a living? To survive? To be paid for their work?

But this is the bind our country places us in. Because we as a country do not provide social safety nets for our citizens we have put these people in a position to choose between attending this conference, perhaps gettting a little sick, hopefully staying in business, and maybe killing a stranger somewhere down the line and, perhaps, bankruptcy.

A clear personal financial consequence versus a vague societal one. You know what choice the average individual will make in that situation each and every time. That’s why we have regulations and rules and government. Because sometimes the optimal personal decision is the worst societal decision.

Do I have solutions (other than a very strong belief that they need to cancel that damned conference and start actually fucking testing enough people in this country to get their hands on the actual scope of the issue)? No. But I think this situation highlights the central dilemma we need to confront in the United States. How do you allow people those individual freedoms while still encouraging the best social decisions? Because, as we’re about to find out, we’re all in this together.

(And, hey, if I’m being over the top and paranoid about this and it all fizzles into nothing, well, okay. I’d rather look stupid by being too concerned than see the other outcome.)

Author: M.L. Humphrey

M.L. Humphrey is a former securities regulator, registered stockbroker (although only briefly), and consultant on regulatory and risk-related matters for large financial institutions with expertise in the areas of anti-money laundering regulation, mutual funds, and credit rating agencies. Since 2013 M.L. has also been a published author under a variety of pen names and across a variety of subjects and genres.

3 thoughts on “Freedom vs. Responsibility: The US Conundrum”

  1. Funny enough, the same day you posted this was the same day they announced they are postponing Emerald City CC lol. But, I question their decision to only postpone it until summer. There is an ongoing belief, unsupported at this point in time, that the Coronavirus will suddenly stop being a problem when summer hits. Frankly, the con should have just canceled. First, because chances are Coronavirus will still be a problem by summer, and second, they’re asking all of their guests and attendees to last-minute shuffle travel and hotel plans, and may very well have to make them do so again once summer comes around and COVID 19 is still spreading.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I posted, went to lunch, came home, and they’d postponed, but I figured the issue remained for events like it so left it as is.

      I think there was a lot of resistance to them cancelling straight out. With a postponement they basically buy enough time for everyone to see how serious this is. And also it’s often easier to change a flight or hotel reservation than get a refund for it, so that might’ve been a factor, too.

      By end of March I think the picture of how ugly this is going to be in the U.S. will start to come clear. In the meantime I’ve begged both my mom and grandma to limit their activities for a couple weeks. If I’m wrong, they were home bored for a couple weeks. If I’m right about where things are headed, maybe they’re spared.

      I do believe we already have community spread in California, Washington state, the DC area, New York City, Colorado, Chicago, and perhaps parts of Florida but that’s from reading between the lines for the most part and not based on actual step-by-step proof I can show anyone. And because we have no travel restrictions in place within the U.S. presently that list will continue to grow, especially with March Madness and spring break coming up this month.

      Liked by 1 person

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