In the summer season of 2021, I spent per week in northwest Montana. It was simple to neglect there was a pandemic occurring. People had been zip-lining, mountain climbing, whitewater rafting. The household who lived subsequent to the home that we rented invited us—whole strangers—into their house for drinks (sans masks), and all of our youngsters performed collectively a bit every day. At the finish of our journey, we noticed a beat-up truck with a beautiful bumper sticker: “Safety Third.” We laughed at what gave the impression to be an ideal summation of the carefree perspective that allowed the rugged form of liberty we had seen in Montana.
Seven months later, a lot of the nation stays in the grips of authoritarian overreach. The draconian insurance policies which were carried out to “shut down the virus” have failed. In truth, it has been apparent for the higher a part of a 12 months that the virus can’t be “shut down.” By now, it needs to be clear to everybody that the pandemic is being leveraged by the media, company entities, authorities, and the medical institution to justify extra regulatory madness, imposing management over the trivialities of day by day life.
So far, this energy seize has gone largely uncontested. In less-densely populated states like Montana, residents retain a great deal of particular person liberty, and massive states like Texas and Florida have protected private freedom. But most of that is due to the election of conservative-minded officers, somewhat than any organized widespread resistance. Indeed, the publicdemonstrations towards Covid tyranny in Europe and Canada have dwarfed any American opposition by way of dimension and frequency. This needs to be a supply of embarrassment for a nation with such a wealthy historical past of liberty and civic engagement.
Why, then, have Americans been reluctant to push again towards the abuses of energy which have unfolded since the onset of the pandemic? Sadly, the reply appears to be not a lot “fear” as security. An obsessive concern for security is a selected form of worry: It is a generalized apprehension of the world and the other ways it threatens our consolation and well-being. That so many Americans are so nervous about their very own security and that of others—resulting from an sickness that over 99 p.c of individuals will survive and totally get better from—speaks poorly of any free nation. But it’s particularly unbecoming for Americans, as a result of we’ve got by no means been a “safe” individuals.
“But who are ‘we’?” I can hear the leftist scolds singing in my creativeness. “That’s not who we are!” was a favourite phrase of Barack Obama, albeit one which was at all times deployed cynically. For him, “we” betrayed our identification when (and solely when) the public expressed distaste for the coverage whims of the progressive left. But since these halcyon days of Obama ended, it has turn into trendy to fake that the American polity is so various that it’s unimaginable to make any generalizations about our collective identification. Fortunately, that’s false. We have many shared traits as a individuals. And “safety” has by no means been a defining concern of any Americans—whoever they’re and no matter their heritage.
The native Americans who had been right here earlier than European colonization: Were they involved with security above all else? Many tribes had been seasonally nomadic in response to the varied abuses and calamities inflicted by nature. Other tribes maintained nice warrior traditions. In their time, “war” was not a matter of urgent a button from the security of a distant laptop, as it’s at present. It was a noble, hand-to-hand check of energy and braveness on behalf of your neighborhood. When the Europeans arrived, the native individuals fought valiantly and doggedly to avoid wasting their households, houses, and lifestyle from a strong and technologically superior foe. These will not be the behaviors of individuals consumed with fear about “safety.”
The early European colonists to America didn’t sail throughout the ocean as a result of they needed to kill Indians. And most didn’t undertake such a harmful journey as a result of they anticipated to get wealthy. Anyone involved with better consolation, stability, and even wealth would have been higher off staying in Europe in the seventeenth century. But their monarchs didn’t enable free follow of faith. The New England colonists had been individuals of such nice religion that they would go away their ancestral houses and threat loss of life—together with the loss of life of their kids—to go on a sea voyage that may finish in utter destruction. In the greatest case situation, the pilgrims would arrive safely on the shore of an unknown, inhospitable land, the place they would want to start the monumental work of constructing a brand new society from the floor up. These will not be the behaviors of individuals paralyzed by fears about “safety.”
What about the African peoples offered into slavery and introduced throughout the ocean in situations that undermined each shred of human dignity? For centuries, these individuals endured the inhumanity of chattel slavery: No one can name the situation of the American slave “safe.” Runaways weren’t on the lookout for security, both. They sought liberty. The journey to freedom might be lethal, and even when it was profitable, there was treasured little security available in the north: There was hatred and violence towards black individuals there, too. That’s to say nothing of the dangers and hardships they confronted in procuring their very own meals, their very own land, and their very own work in a brand new area of the nation. And when discrimination and abuse endured for a full century after emancipation, black Americans protested and resisted this remedy, once more risking life and limb. These weren’t individuals obsessive about “safety.”
What about the individuals who pushed additional west? The Americans who set out into uncharted lands, crossing the continent in a wagon practice at the tempo of an ox? They launched into that trek in full data of the menace of great sickness, of assaults from hostile Indians, of winter so extreme that they could merely freeze or starve to loss of life alongside the approach. They took these dangers on the assumption that they had been heading west to a greater place—not a safer place, however one with a better promise of human flourishing. The identical will be stated of the Asians who got here to a land with a tongue that couldn’t be extra completely different from their very own, however who however thrived whilst they labored to exhaustion constructing a community of railroads.
The nice waves of immigrants who got here from Europe in the nineteenth century? Those individuals weren’t coming right here for entitlements: Unlike at present, there have been no guarantees of debt forgiveness, or free education, or employee’s compensation, or welfare funds, or common well being care. They left their households and houses for the chance of prosperity and liberty. They acquired on the boats with the understanding that securing these advantages would depend upon their very own effort and arduous work. They knew it wouldn’t be “safe.” But they weren’t on the lookout for security.
We had been the first nation to ship individuals to the moon. We have extra turnover in our higher class than most international locations the world over. Fortunes are misplaced and made and misplaced once more in the pursuit of innovation and progress. That’s not what occurs to individuals who play it protected. The actions of the on a regular basis Americans aboard Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, saved numerous lives on the floor. Storming a cockpit stuffed with murderous terrorists shouldn’t be the habits of individuals preoccupied with security.
The American character is outlined by three issues that unite all the completely different teams of people that make up our nation: mobility, risk-taking, and optimism. We’re movers and we at all times have been. A fearful individuals don’t transfer the approach Americans do. Safety calls for that we take cowl—that we keep in a single place. But we hold shifting. Even in our darkest occasions, we keep our optimism. That optimism is evidenced by our risk-taking: People who consider that issues can’t or received’t get higher don’t make the calculated dangers that Americans make.
All of this begs the query: Are we nonetheless the identical individuals as we had been? Are we nonetheless a cell individuals with hope for the future? People who stay our lives as if we’re masters of circumstance somewhat than its victims?
Quarantines and lockdowns, particularly for a virus as generally survivable as Covid-19, are decidedly un-American. They undermine our pure inclinations for mobility and free motion. The thought that everybody should take an unproven, fast-tracked vaccine, not merely for their very own security, however for the security of others, is another manifestation of this monomania. Required masking continues, regardless of the restricted proof that material masks scale back transmission in any important approach. One can not deny the absurdity of rules that ask restaurant patrons to cowl their faces lengthy sufficient to stroll to a desk, solely to unmask after being seated. The demand for vaccine boosters represents an entire new degree of worry over security. The vaccine gives nice safety, we’re advised. It is, ofcourse, “safe and effective”—however not efficient sufficient to stay your life with out worry, in a approach that turns into the American spirit. Better get one other booster. Just to be protected.
We are actually getting into our third 12 months of pandemic madness. Many of the measures that had been taken in early 2020 had been justifiable as a result of we confronted a novel virus about which we knew little or no. We can not declare that form of ignorance. Covid-19, usually talking, shouldn’t be a lethal virus. Nevertheless, we’ve got sacrificed immensely to attempt to hold Americans protected. We have completed the lockdowns. We have completed the masking. We have completed the contact-tracing. We have completed the double-masking. We have completed the vaccines. We have completed the boosters. We have completed the public shaming. We have requested individuals for his or her papers. We have made their employers comply. We’ve completed all of it. And Covid remains to be right here. The truth is, it would at all times be right here. Covid received. But we don’t should turn into a defeated individuals.
The query now’s how we are going to reply. Will we be Americans worthy of the identify? Or will we stay in worry, compromising all the things—certainly, compromising who we’re—to make sure that everyone seems to be just a bit safer? Are we prepared to make these sacrifices? Are we prepared to demand them of our youngsters? For how for much longer? And for the way lengthy will we enable our authorities to make such choices for us?
Americans should now make a selection. It’s not merely a selection about how we wish to stay. It’s a selection about who we wish to be. Those who fetishize security posture themselves as virtuous individuals; they fake that their considerations are an expression of a deep, abiding take care of others. But it is a lie. Ultimately, safetyism—the place the avoidance of hurt turns into a approach of inhabiting the world—is a radical type of self-regard. To elevate security to the standing of an idol reveals a worry of life; it conceals a pathological mindset the place fear and uncertainty turn into a controlling presence. It is solipsistic navel-gazing, a decadent wallowing in anxiousness and self-pity.
The dehumanizing points of safetyism are disguised by infinite platitudes about the well-being of others. But insisting upon others’ compliance to be able to stay a safer life (in spite of everything, we are able to by no means be solely protected) is finally an expression of private weak point. It is a betrayal of the nationwide character. Taken to the scale of society at massive, safetyism threatens the dignity of our individuals. The time has come for a collective embrace of threat—the inherent threat that’s the value of freedom in an unsure world. The time has come to reclaim our dignity, to turn into once more who we’re—and who Americans have at all times been. Safety third.
Adam Ellwanger is a professor of English at the University of Houston-Downtown. He is the writer of Metanoia: Rhetoric, Authenticity, and the Transformation of the Self, out there in paperback this April. You can observe him on Twitter @PhysicianEllwanger.