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OPINION: Your freedom to swing your fists ends where my nose begins

Pathological libertarians claw against science with fanciful excuses to deny medical reality

“Your freedom to swing your fists ends where my nose begins.”

Like many quotes from history, this one has been altered and misattributed over the years, but what’s important is the notion.

What we’ve seen lately on the streets of Ottawa, at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, on border crossings across the prairies such as in Coutts, Alta., and closer to home at the Pacific Highway Crossing in Surrey, is what I call “pathological libertarianism.”

Libertarianism is, simply put, a political philosophy with an emphasis on individual freedom and the most minimal level of government possible. It is not a philosophy that suggests “people can do anything they want to, and nobody else can say anything,” according to a 2019 “what is libertarianism” article from the Cato Institute, a leading libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Sounds good, like many ideologies articulated by people employed by think tanks.

And briefly, the word “pathology” refers specifically to disease, but the word pathological has colloquially come to mean obsessive or compulsive.

Listen, we all want to do whatever we want whenever we want. But you can’t drink and drive, you need to wear pants at work, and when you are swinging your fists, if you knowingly hit me in the face, that’s assault.

Global pandemics are not new, but no one alive today has lived through anything like COVID-19. Throughout these last two years, we have relied upon doctors and epidemiologists and public health officials to make difficult decisions, weighing risk and reward, always changing and always based on science.

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In the face of that, we’ve had know-it-all talk-show hosts, podcasters, and other smug contrarians swilling the anti-science, Kool-Aid, a drink too tempting for some to resist.

Like petroleum-invested industrialists who refuse to accept the reality of climate change, or pulpit-entrenched ideologues preaching a 6,000-year-old planet in the face of the reality of evolution, now we see the pathological libertarians among us clawing against science with fanciful excuses to deny the medical reality we all face.

It started with “COVID is a hoax, it’s just the sniffles,” then came “masks don’t work.”

Then vaccinations came along and the anti-vaxxers crawled out of the muck, gasping up the oxygen they so sought ever since the MMR-autism fraud was discredited.

And while the discourse is still about science and those who are anti-science, it is more subtle.

Those swinging their viral fists, refusing to get vaccinated or to wear masks or adhere to public health measures are hitting the noses of the rest of us, whether we are immunocompromised or not.

The pathological libertarians aren’t necessarily bad people. Those in Ottawa and Windsor and Coutts and Surrey, most are good folks but are clearly misguided on truth and science. They have certainly taken notions of liberty and “freedom” to a pathological level such that they are, again to use the metaphor, swinging their fists and hitting the noses of the 90 per cent of us opposed to such behaviour.

Protest is an important civil liberty and we have seen a lot of that in recent days and weeks. But we have also seen ignorance and selfish behaviour causing billions of dollars of damage to the economy, and untold hardships to residents and small businesses.

The pandemic is, and was, already coming to an end and we are moving to a period of human history where COVID-19 will likely become endemic, still with us but hopefully as manageable as influenza.

Restrictions and mandates were already being lifted by the day and the week, yet these radicals with an anti-everything ideology just needed to create division, continue sharing misinformation, and sow division and discord the likes of which I have not seen in my lifetime.

It’s as if we were all on a plane that was crashing, we all jumped out in parachutes, and a few feet from the ground these pathological libertarians cut the chute, landed on their feet, screamed “Freedom!” and claimed the plane was never going down in the first place.

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