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Individual Liberty and the Evolution of Consciousness

Monday, August 03, 2020

I've just finished reading former Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin's wonderful memoir, "Truth Be Told". www.amazon.ca/Truth-Be-T
She is a brilliant person -- with a Master's in Philosophy before she became a lawyer and then a judge -- and was at the Supreme Court from 1989 through 2017, a period during which many significant decisions of first instance relating to the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were written.

However, her memoir is by no means stuffy or impenetrable in style . . .she's always interested first and foremost in human beings. And one focus she considers is the need for courts to determine the limit between individual freedom and community responsibility -- a legal requirement which is in fact entrenched in the first section of our Charter. We don't have absolute individual rights in Canada; there's always a balanced and reciprocal responsibility to uphold the rights of others. It's part of our "peace, order and good government" stance.

This morning I've also seen the news that US Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now 87, had been dealing privately with chemotherapy relating to the resurgence of her cancer for four months. A Dem appointee, she does not want to step off the court in an election year, while another appointment would be made to replace her, and so she is valiantly doing all she can to keep on top of her onerous work load. US Supreme Court justices are appointed for life.

In Canada Supreme Court justices are not political appointees and they must retire at age 75 . . . McLachlin, who is still very much at the top of her game, says frankly she felt some reluctance to retire in 2017. But she says she's absolutely loving retirement! Since that time she's written two very successful books (a legal mystery was top of the charts for many months, her autobiography has been shortlisted for a prestigious prize) -- and in addition accepted a "part time" position on the Hong Kong Court of Appeal.

So much is now happening in Hong Kong: legally and politically!! So that should be a very demanding role for her!

When we think about individual liberty in a time of pandemic, there's quite a spectrum between Western and Eastern societies. The most individualistic Western societies attach fundamental priority to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", often interpreted through a capitalistic lens of wealth accumulation. The most authoritarian eastern regimes -- such as China -- can order individuals to comply with masking, distancing and sanitizing protocols (and with rigid controls on media, may not be accurately reporting their infection and death rates anyhow).

But: other eastern countries -- such as Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam -- reliably report significantly lower infection and death rates than countries which focus more on individual liberty. Long before COVID-19 outbreaks, there'd been a long Asian tradition of voluntary compliance with mask wearing on public transit and in crowded public spaces. I can remember in the 70s working in a Toronto hospital with many Asian-immigrant hospital workers where it was routine for those with mild colds or sniffles to come to work wearing masks: just part of their tradition. A sign of respect for the health and safety of others. Confucian traditions emphasize harmony, discipline, and the subordination of individual rights to communal responsibilities.

An article in this morning's Globe speaks to this tradition:


In Canada? We're a middle size country, a middle-size power (if that) and our traditions are somewhere in the middle too. There were Canadians who objected to Muslim women wearing full hijab, with their faces covered in public as contrary to our values of individual facial recognition: but not so much any more. There have also been Canadians who objected to wearing pandemic masks as an infringement upon their personal liberties. Some weeks ago, a 73 year old man in Haliburton cottage country got into an argument with a grocery store clerk, vehemently refused to wear a mask, displayed some violence, was followed home by police and in the ensuing stand-off when he took out a rifle, was shot and killed. Quite horrifying. But also quite unusual here. And yes: pretty well every where I go, I now see people wearing masks. Our COVID infection and death rates? Somewhere in the middle.

What today's Globe article suggests is that there's an evolution in social attitudes towards increasing collectivism (communal values rising in importance) when societies have experienced a pandemic.

A change in consciousness. From that place behind individual history and culture, from that place where we are all "humans" first and foremost.

What do you think? Does this pandemic have the power to propel such an evolution? And if so, would that be a desirable outcome?

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    If only it were so. The right wingers are alive and well in my province, along with the right not to mask. No sign of any communal love for sure. The almighty dollar, environment be damned, still in effect here. Fight that carbon tax, elect another conservative majority coming up. No one to challenge them. So status quo here.
    49 days ago
    Hubby appreciates the Japanese culture for care of each other and often quotes their train etiquette as amazing compared with the West :). For me I think of everyone as family, help the elderly, be an example to the Grandies, acknowledge strangers. Some people are so worried or concerned about their lives they think no one sees them. Probably worse now than ever before.

    I see you :)

    There are some who will never 'conform' to ideals, maybe coming into contact with people who acknowledge them will touch them.
    50 days ago
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    50 days ago
    There is a misattributed quotation that supposedly Dr. Fauci said to the people in this country who refuse to wear masks or stay away from large gatherings.

    Turns out that author Lauren Morrill said this during the arguments about why the US should have affordable health insurance and health care for all (what a concept, right?)

    The quotation is: "I don't know how to begin to explain to you why you should care about other people."

    That's how I feel about the whole thing. We now know that wearing masks cuts the viral transmission rate to manageable proportions. This can save lives. This can help our medical people deal with this pandemic. This could save your grandmother, or your father, or your favorite teacher. It could even save YOU.

    And if someone doesn't understand that, I truly don't know how to begin explaining it to them.
    50 days ago
    Lack of respect, lack of kindness.... Lots to think about.
    50 days ago
    Wonderful blog, you made many good points - THANK YOU emoticon emoticon
    50 days ago
  • ALICIA363
    I don’t know. And yes.
    50 days ago
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    50 days ago
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    50 days ago
    Stay well. emoticon
    50 days ago
    emoticon I don't know if the pandemic will have lasting effect on society but I really do believe the majority of people will find their decisions having a slightly different flavor as a result of how the individual was impacted by the pandemic. Not necessarily good or bad; just different. So maybe there will be a cumulative effect of change down the line.

    50 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/3/2020 3:54:22 PM
  • BJAEGER307
    50 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/3/2020 2:29:24 PM
    My fervent wish is that the world will come out of this nightmare a better place, with more of a sense of unity and commitment to equality and fairness.
    We are all one human race!
    50 days ago
    No comment on your question, but delighted when people consider kindness
    50 days ago
  • PHOENIX1949
    50 days ago
    Those who have commented before me have said quite a bit!

    I protect me AND you!
    50 days ago
    Great points and great blog, Congress woman Ruth has fought a lot of battles and she’s one tough cookie! Hope u have a great week.❤️🙏🏻
    50 days ago
    It is a balance, isn't it? All challenges and crises have the potential to spur us to change, individually AND collectively. I believe we have some collective responsibility to care for our neighbors, and that has to do with following "safe as we can make it practices". As we have learned more about how this disease spreads, there seem to be some relatively simple means to reduce risk, including mask wearing, and avoiding crowded conditions.

    Preaching "the golden rule", I can see why our governor wants it to be recommended and stressed rather than making it a law that requires enforcement. On the other hand, I can also see why our mayor made wearing a mask in indoor public places where six feet "social distance" could not be ensured a directed health measure, and enforceable (our health department actually closed down a few businesses that were repeatedly offending, not enforcing)... For the most part, it is not strictly enforced against individuals. But it could be, if an individual became a problem, such as your unfortunate incident.

    Meanwhile, since this pandemic isn't putting its hands in the air and surrendering, we as free societies have to figure it out, as we can't spend our way out of it, either. Whether we like it or not, we are all part of a HUGE science and social experiment! After listening to the governor and the education head of our state talk about plans for safe reopening of schools, and plans for exceptions and options... well, like I said a few days ago in a blog... we're doing the best we can, with the information we have, to balance the risks.

    I wish us ALL luck! A desirable outcome to me would be a kinder society that recognizes "we're all in this together".
    50 days ago
    I completely agree that there is a significant balance between personal freedoms and community freedoms. Just because one can doesn’t mean one should! I believe scripture says greatest law is a love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength and love others as yourself. I believe that’s a message to looking at community. It also says to love others as we love ourselves. That also speaks to community
    50 days ago
    Definitely being of a certain age, I do feel that many in this age bracket are expendible. And it is not only a feeling based on age . . . but ethnicity and other variables, as well. This is just not an acceptable attitude and I admire Ruth Bader Ginzburg's tenacity in wanting to stay involved as long as possible. I admire her so much.

    As much as I HEAR that we're all in this together, it doesn't feel like it sometimes.

    Thank you for this thought-provoking blog. As always.
    50 days ago
  • THOMS1
    My husband and I are just getting over the virus and although we didn't have to be hospitilized with a vent stuck down our throats it was still pretty rough. I am over it but my DH still has a way to go. It's hard being stuck at home when your feeling good but when you have the virus you feel just awful. The fever, chills, the aches and pains that's one thing but the exhaustion is quite another. If those people who think their freedoms are being taken away could have just one day of this virus and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy they would soon see the error of their ways. emoticon emoticon
    50 days ago
    There needs to be some respect for the community. I can remember being taught that as a child by my parents. Unfortunately a lot of my generation who became parent,s they wanted to be friends to their kids instead of parents and so neglected to pass that nugget along. Hence, we have a TON of people in the good old USA who believe (falsely) that being asked to mask is an infringement of their rights. They don't stop to consider that I have a right to NOT be infected by THEM. That is what masking is all about, protecting everyone around you from what you may unknowingly be spreading. While the elderly and those with underlying health conditions fare the worst of this infection, NO ONE is IMMUNE!! Not even kids.
    50 days ago
    Ideally, yes... this pandemic and the death and economic destruction would be enough to change people's hearts and realize that we're all in this together - that we must not always put our (selfish) desires ahead of the common good. Unfortunately, there are way too many people who see the death of the weak and the vulnerable as acceptable collateral damage, as a necessary sacrifice so they can keep living however they want to. To them, "freedom" means the ability to do what they want, no matter who they might hurt. To them, I would say, "Your right to infect others is not greater than my right to be healthy."
    50 days ago
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