– We’ve been in that cave forever
– Three days is not forever
– It is with this family
The Croods, DreamWorks animated feature, 2013
UNLIKE the bumbling Stone Age family of The Croods, most of us have spent a lot more than three days in our caves over the past 18 months.
The roller-coaster of lockdowns and reopenings and the ever-changing restrictions are hard for everybody, although the burden isn’t always distributed equally.
Lockdowns are particularly tough on those who’ve lost employment or seen a hard-won business go to the wall, for those who live alone or in unsafe domestic environments, and for parents trying to do their jobs remotely while also schooling their children.
Globally, COVID-19 is so far responsible for more than 4 million deaths and an unknown ongoing health burden in over 200 million survivors. It’s taken a huge toll on frontline health workers, including those caring for the more than 700 patients with COVID-19 currently in Australian hospitals.
But let’s not forget the real victims here: the people who are – and I know you’re going to find it hard to believe this could happen in contemporary Australia – being coerced against their will into placing a piece of fabric over their mouth when in public places.
An abuse of human rights on this scale should be taken to the United Nations.
Except, no, they’re probably part of the conspiracy, along with Big Pharma, and the government, and all the doctors who are getting paid off to lie about vaccines.
So, what’s a freedom fighter to do?
Taking to the streets is a popular option, as recent protests against masks, lockdowns, vaccination and other public health measures in Australia and elsewhere have demonstrated.
“I fully support your right to hide in your house and wear a face diaper until you can take an untested vax developed by corporations that cant [sic] be sued for an adverse reaction as long as you fully support my right not to do those things,” read one sign at a Sydney protest earlier this year.
The focus on individual freedom has been a striking feature of protests and other activism against COVID-19 restrictions.
Perhaps I’ve missed it, but nowhere have I seen freedom protesters supporting those who’ve been hardest hit by the lockdowns, calling for more income support for those who’ve lost their jobs, for example, or for better health services in disadvantaged communities.
Instead, the small but noisy minority refusing to comply with public health measures inflicts their sense of personal entitlement on just about every organisation that has to interact with the public.
One GP told me last week about a patient who refused to wear a mask while waiting for an appointment.
Furious at then being asked to wait outside, rather than in the waiting room, the patient went on to make a complaint of discrimination. The practice’s insurer said they’d been inundated by similar cases.
Because what the health system needs right now is to be tied up responding to people who see a face mask as the ultimate attack on their freedoms.
Have a look at what’s happening in Afghanistan, people.
Seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes is generally credited with developing the idea of the “social contract”, a concept he, and other Enlightenment philosophers, believed could protect us against the self-interest that motivated all humans (or, as he would have put it, all men).
A man should be willing, when others were too, “to lay down [his] right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself”, he argued in his 1651 work, Leviathan.
When every man had the right to do anything he liked, all men would be “in the condition of war”, Hobbes wrote.
The cult of individualism bedevils our age, undermining the social contract and enabling those who seek to put even their most trivial desires ahead of larger common goods.
A fish rots from the head, as the old saying has it. The focus in our political culture on personal ambition ahead of public service, on point scoring ahead of substance, certainly sets a bad example.
Sadly, as lockdowns continue in some states, we’ve seen politicians from both sides engaging in those kinds of self-serving behaviour.
Still, who needs to worry when we have the Croods to guide our way out of the pandemic.
“It’s like that movie,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison explained to Channel 9 last week, describing his COVID-19 exit plan in a way that raised eyebrows, and not a little mockery, around the world.
“In The Croods, people wanted to stay in the cave … and that young girl, she wanted to go out and live again and deal with the challenges of living in a different world. COVID is a new, different world, and we need to get out there and live in it. We can’t stay in the cave.”
Jane McCredie is a Sydney-based health and science writer.
The statements or opinions expressed in this article reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the official policy of the AMA, the MJA or InSight+ unless so stated.