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Point and Counter-Point: COVID VS a core Belizean value – FREEDOM

Posted: Monday, September 20, 2021. 2:31 pm CST.

Тhе vіеwѕ ехрrеѕѕеd іn this аrtісlе аrе those оf the writer аnd nоt nесеѕѕаrіlу those оf Вrеаkіng Веlіzе Nеwѕ.

By Dorian A. Barrow, Ph.D., Florida State University: In our National Anthem Belize is not called “The Land of the Free” for no good reason. Although Belize is a multi-cultural/multi-ethnic society there are some core values that we all share, and a salient one of those core values is Freedom. Freedom is the absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic governments. Core values, like freedom, are the fundamental beliefs of a person or a community. These guiding principles dictate behaviour and can help people understand the difference between right and wrong. Core values also help communities, like our Mennonite Communities for example, to determine if they are on the right path and fulfilling their goals by creating an unwavering guide.

But core values are not the lone partner in our social contract. For any society to work there must also be available Public Goods, which in economics refers to a commodity like water or a service like healthcare or law enforcement, that is available to all members of the society. Public Goods are commodities or services that benefit all members of the society, and which are provided for free (even though we have to pay for water and now for swabs if we are against taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines) through public taxation. Public Goods are the opposite of Private Goods, which are inherently scarce and are paid for separately by individuals.

Societies will disagree about which goods should be considered public goods, their differences are often reflected in the nations’ government spending priorities. For example, the fact that the People of Unitedville has little or no water running in their pipes is not as much a priority for this Briceno Government as is paying for enough vaccines to ensure that every eligible Belizean can be coerced to take the two jabs, even though a large percent of the eligible population are hesitant to do so, including those who will never take the vaccine even with the government’s current coercion harassment to do so. In general, coercion harassment happens when someone pressures, repeatedly asks, or threatens another person in an attempt to change the person’s mind.

Making a person say yes, or making it very hard or unsafe to express non-consent is also a form of coercion harassment. Coercive control is a strategic form of ongoing oppression used to instil fear. The abuser will use tactics like limiting access to key institutions if you cannot produce a valid vaccination card, limiting access to money, to employment, or monitoring all communications, as a controlling effort. Though coercive control is normally grounded in gender-based privilege, political elites all over the world are increasingly using it as a tool to fight the COVID Pandemic and to coerce their citizens to get vaccinated.

Clearly fighting the COVID Pandemic in Belize is a Public Good, but isn’t Freedom also a Public Good, it being one of the cornerstones of our democratic form of government? My answer to that question is a resounding YES, since the two main criteria that distinguish a Public Good are that it must be non-rivalrous and non-excludable. Non-rivalrous means that the goods do not dwindle in supply as more people use or consume them, non-excludable means that the good is available to all citizens. So yes, freedom meets all the criteria of a Public Good. Despite this, GOB seem to be burdening the freedom of the ‘non-vacciners’ in the society in various ways including threatening to charge them or put them in jail if they refuse to comply with the vaccination and latest statutory mandates, denying them some other public good like public education if they refuse to comply, subjecting them to stigma, but most significantly imposing increased levels of coercion by making exceptions more selective in-favor of some communities (like San Pedro, Placencia and Hopkins over others like Spanish Lookout), more difficult and more burdensome.

For me, the latter issue is important in itself since it also demonstrates a point that my Philosopher friend Steve Nembhard would say is properly ‘philosophic’. As Gerson (2021) has argued, vaccination is communitarianism in its purest, laboratory form. The choices of citizens are restricted for a clearly (even mathematically) defined social good. But shouldn’t the common good argument extend to the moral and social health of communities as well? Certainly, our non-vacciners, including our wealthy and powerful Mennonite Communities, who are leading the charge in challenging the State on this issue, even taking them to court, thinks so.

My view is that in these matters the government, and our political elites generally, must be a lot more thoughtful in their deliberations and in recognizing there must be a balance between the common good and individual rights, especially so when those individual rights like freedom are in and of themselves also Public Goods. We must continue to stop believing that mere private assertion of a right is sufficient to end a public argument. It is not, especially when the exercise of that right, in this case to chose to become vaccinated or not, has unacceptable public consequences or when the sum of likely choices is dangerous to a community. Our political elites leading this COVID fight must realize that sometimes we need 90 percent of the public’s support to make the right choice, or innocent people, especially our rural population where their Sundays that they use to travel to and from their communities will be taken way, will continue suffer.

Please feel free to challenge any or all of the claims above and lets gets this discussion going on what lengths are we prepared to go to protect our individual freedoms.

Dr. Dorian Barrow is an educator with a long history of involvement in education in Belize, having served as a Lecturer at the University of Belize, and as Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Education. Dr. Barrow is an eminent professional who is well respected both locally and abroad. He is serving as an editorial member and reviewer of several international reputed journals and has authored many research articles/books related to education. Apart from education, he is also a sports enthusiast.


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