The Case Of Personal Freedom v. Social Responsibility

Dear Rich Lifer,

I think New York Governor Cuomo is doing an admirable job of managing a very difficult situation in his state, and I’m glad to see that the COVID numbers there are now starting to show some signs of improvement.

There is little doubt that social distancing has been an effective way to “flatten the curve” … lessen the strain on our healthcare system … and reduce the number of overall deaths caused by novel coronavirus.

At the same time, I remain a staunch defender of reason and individual freedoms.

Which is why I had to pause when I recently heard Governor Cuomo say that none of us have the right to risk someone else’s life. This was when he doubled the fine for not social distancing.

Specifically, CNN reported the following:

“‘It’s not about your life, you don’t have the right to risk someone else’s life,’ the governor said.

“He added that individuals ‘don’t have the right’ to take the lives of health care staff and people who are ‘literally putting their lives on the line’ and be ‘cavalier or reckless with them.’”

On the surface, of course, this seems 100% obvious and true.

Yet the reality is a bit more complicated.

Yes, sociopaths aside, the last thing any of us want to do is put someone else in harm’s way. Especially healthcare workers or other first responders.

But even before the coronavirus, we were doing it every day through all types of actions.

Living Your Life Risks The Lives Of Others… Inherently

Driving is a clear example.

The National Highway Safety Administration says 33,654 Americans died in car crashes in 2018, the most recent year for which data was available. 

Another 1,893,704 Americans were injured by automobiles that same year.

Clearly, driving puts others at risk.

I doubt there are many people arguing for a complete ban on cars.

We all inherently know that the real issue isn’t whether we have the right to risk other people’s lives by driving. It’s simply how to balance our personal freedom to drive with the inherent risks and responsibilities that come with motorized vehicles.  

The same is true with just about every other human activity – from errant golf balls to mismanaged barbecue grills.

What worries me is talking about these things in absolute terms.

The reality is that there is no practical way to reduce the transmission risk of COVID down to 0.

Just as there is no way to reduce the general risk of dying down to zero.

Quite the opposite, unfortunately.

Look …

When Social Distance Advocates Go Too Far

On one side, we have people completely ignoring the scientific evidence that social distancing is an effective way of keeping the rate of infection from going parabolic.

These are the people that Cuomo is directing his ire at. Rightfully so, in some cases.

At the same time, there are other Americans performing acts of vigilantism toward anyone they perceive as putting the herd at risk.   

Here’s one stunning example from KIRO-7, a local news outlet in Kentucky:

“A Kentucky doctor has been arrested and charged with attacking a group of teenage girls for not practicing social distancing after video of the violent encounter went viral over the weekend. 

“Dr. John B. Rademaker, 57, of Prospect, was arrested Tuesday on a charge of first-degree strangulation and three counts of harassment, according to officials with the Louisville Metro Police Department. Authorities declined to offer further comment in a post on Facebook, but released a statement to local media outlets.”

Here we have a medical professional so incensed by other people gathering that he physically attacks them?

Talk about irony on several levels!

Mind you, this is not an isolated incident.

Personal Witness To Social Distancing Vigilantism 

I’ve seen the same type of behavior personally, including a man coming at my daughter and I for walking toward the beach with surfboards under our arms.

In another twist of irony, he was screaming, “the beaches are closed, you’re going to get all of us kicked out of here.”

Wait, wait?

(Never mind the fact that the harbor patrol was on the beach watching surfers without raising any type of concern.)

I know another couple – with four teenage daughters – who got cursed at by a woman for gathering against public orders. 

Um, what are they supposed to do? Split the family in half and hang out separately?

By all means, let’s stay safe.

And let’s do what we can to protect ourselves and others at all times.

But let’s also stay rational and reasonable.

We need to strike a balance between personal freedom and social responsibility, and there’s always a healthy amount of gray area in the middle of those two concepts.

Suggesting otherwise – especially during a time of crisis and heightened sensitivity – doesn’t really help anyone.

To a richer life,

Nilus Mattive

Nilus Mattive

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Nilus Mattive

Nilus is the editor for the daily e-letter The Rich Life Roadmap and a Paradigm Press analyst.

Nilus began his professional career at Jono Steinberg’s Individual Investor Group, where he published his original research through a regular investment column. Later, he worked for a private equity business and spent five years editing Standard and Poor’s...

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