Freedom!

Freedom!

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“Release Anxiety” sounds like a bullet point in a self-help book on mental health.

Yes go on, just release it, let it go, easy as that; and, whilst you’re at it, why not lick your elbow, teach trick cycling to a fish, believe Boris has your best interests at heart, or any other impossible kink you fancy defeating yourself with.

Of course you can’t just release anxiety at will; it takes years of therapy, or at least 15 pints.

But “Release Anxiety” is a real thing. It’s a phenomenon experienced by prisoners who, as they begin to anticipate the time when they will be free, start to fear it. After years of orders, predictable regularity and limitations, the thought of freedom, having to think for yourself, time manage, find a job, socialise, network, find a lover, or just make your own way in the wide world without the fear of the shank or the love of the bunk, becomes a terrifying idea. It’s not unknown for repeat offenders to do so with an unconscious eye to getting caught and being returned to the relative comfort of a regulated prison life.

Right now, after the longest, largest, untagged Home Detention Curfew in history; brought about because a reject from the muppet show, only able to come alive with a backhander shoved deep inside him, didn’t have the sense or courage to close air and sea ports when this island was under threat – many of us are steeling ourselves for life beyond lockdown and it scares the “bejesus” out of some of us.

Sustained Lockdown has deskilled us and now we might wonder: Will I know how to talk to people? Can I mute myself in real life? Will I fit into anything but pyjama bottoms now? How can I stand within a few feet of anyone ever again without feeling either fear for my own, or responsible for their health/life? How will I cope in a crowd? Do I keep wearing the mask even if I’m fully vaccinated, outside, and in a Force Eight Gale?

We also have to finally face all the things which Lockdown let us put off. The visits to relatives we hate. The workouts we’ve neglected. And what about the mountains of crap: The “F***ing Carole Baskin/Jackie Weaver” T-shirts, the clothes we’ve grown too fat for, the items we’ve replaced when bored and online shopping? It all needs to go to the charity shops or the dump or just has to be dealt with and it’s exhausting just thinking about it.

And the anxiety about all this is just another form of imprisonment. Less visceral but harder to break free from. We’re facing dilemmas most of us never even considered until now. Freedom, it turns out, like milk in the fridge or a love life, is one of those things you only really think about when you don’t have it.

Freedom is very much a meme. Not an absolute but an idea socially constructed and passed down through the generations, mutating as culture changes. And in this globally connected 21st Century, the definition of “freedom” has become the ultimate political touchstone. As we live under different regimes and different climates and yet speak directly to each other, we can compare our freedoms. It turns out to be the very slipperiest of human rights.

Trump supporters believe freedom is about individual choice and having as few regulations from the government as possible. Biden voters might see it as legislated freedom from violence or judgement based on aspects of your identity you cannot change. Brexiters claim national sovereignty is freedom while Remainers see it as life without borders. Anti-Vaxxers claim the freedom to choose what goes in their bodies, Covid Deniers claim unmasked freedom to breath on whomever they like, while the majority of the population welcomes a compromise to freedom if it offsets the potential harm that might be caused by allowing this disease to perpetuate longer.

Meanwhile, the protestor against vaccination passports agrees to a driving licence system. The vaccine refusnik supports imprisonment for murderers. Freedom is never completely free.

As Jean-Jacques Rousseau pointed out, when we live with others we are bound by an unwritten social contract. “I agree not to harm you if you agree not to harm me.” If we can live without fear of harm from each other then we can focus on advancing our civilizations. We are not free then to do or kill or hurt whomever we please.

Unfortunately there’s always the opportunity for forthright minorities to imprison the majority by reneging on the social contract. In the 50s it was the tiny class of nuke wielding leaders that terrified the world. In the 70s small groups of terrorists became the fear-du-jour and most recently the power that a minority of Covid deniers have, by staying unvaccinated and, therefore, letting the virus ping-pong between them until it mutates into something that can breakout again into the vaccinated population, is the latest way a vocal antidoxy can threaten the majority and leverage power.

We all agree that freedom’s a good thing, we just can’t decide what it is. Should we be free to say what we want? Or should we be free of threats and hate speech? Cancel Culture is a fear the right have that the left will curb their freedoms, yet their visceral condemnation of anyone who dares to be “Woke” is exactly the same in the other direction.

What Covid has reminded us is: none of us are really free.

Today’s freedom seekers despise the Vaccine Passport. But vaccinations for travel have been around for nearly a hundred years, as is the idea of carrying books in which vaccinations are recorded. None of this is new and all were aspects of those naustalgic days of the “Freeborn Englishman” that the Mayoral hopefuls like Laurence Fox and Piers Corbyn hanker for. People under 18 are restricted from entering pubs unaccompanied, likewise people carrying weapons, why not people who may be needlessly carrying a communicable and, potentially, deadly disease?

King of controversy Jerry Springer’s sign off was, “Take care of yourselves, and each other.” In a pandemic, taking care of yourself is taking care of each other. The voices of the lockdown sceptics, the covid deniers, the 5G conspiricists and the anti-vaxxers have found prominence precisely because their arguments for self-determination are no longer the bleating of oddballs and eccentrics but now, a visible threat to public health. More people see them now indeed, but what they see is a danger, selfish outliers, a threat to the nation.

Covid clarifies what we’ve always suspected: that we really are all in this together. If we live together, the poor, the rich and the minted-gated 0.001%, we are all vulnerable until none of us are vulnerable. The “free” individual is never free, they’ve just drawn their line of compromise somewhere different. We are firstmost a single species and we all rely on each other to protect ourselves. Please: get vaccinated.

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