Americans' short-sighted focus on 'personal liberty' ended up limiting another type of freedom

As the U.S. crosses the 300,000 COVID-19 deaths milestone, let's take a step back and look at what got us here.

But first, let's tip our hat to those who aren't where we are—to the countries that took swift, decisive action, got the population on the same page about what needed to be done, and kicked pandemic ass. The countries that not only have a tiny fraction of our death toll, but who also have been able to resume normal life in all its glory.

While mandatory quarantines for travelers and contact tracing systems for any cases that slip through the cracks are still in place, countries like Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Thailand, and Taiwan are experiencing a level of collective and individual freedom that America—and much of Europe—simply does not have right now. People are attending concerts, plays, sporting events, weddings, etc. without masks or social distancing. People can hug one another without worrying about killing someone. It's literally like a whole other world.

Sure, some of those countries are islands and they all have smaller populations than we do. But the U.S. is bordered by just two countries. Thailand borders four and Vietnam borders three, including China—and our not controlling the coronavirus spread has nothing to do with people crossing our physical borders. And as far as population goes, our large size accounts for raw numbers, but not deaths proportional to population.

Check out the deaths per million statistics among these countries:

Australia: 35

New Zealand: 5

Vietnam: 0.4

Thailand: 0.9

Taiwan: 0.3

United States: 924

We currently have the 12th highest deaths-per-million rate in the world. So much winning, we're sick of winning, right?

It's been said a million times that it didn't have to be this way, and it didn't. But while our government has been blamed for its abysmal response to the pandemic—and while those criticisms are legitimate—that's not the whole problem. It's nice to think that if we had a president that listened to public health officials and provided coherent guidance, we'd be in better shape, and we probably would be to some degree. But a big part of the problem is the American people ourselves.

I love us, but a huge key to controlling a pandemic is getting a population on the same page and getting people to make personal sacrifices for the greater good. It requires a collective commitment, and I'm just not convinced the U.S. is capable of that without a serious rethinking of what our core national value actually means.


The world knows—because we really, really like to shout it from the rooftops—that the U.S. is all about freedom. It's what we were founded on, what we take pride in, and what we cling to as our highest ideal. And we most often define freedom in terms of personal liberty—the right to live our lives the way we choose.

But in a pandemic, personal liberty can be problematic. I know that's hard for some Americans to hear, but it's true. If we all just do whatever we please, we end up right where we are—with an out of control virus killing a 9/11's worth of Americans every day, ten months in, and the ongoing economic hardship that goes along with a half-assed, incohesive attempt to maybe save businesses or maybe save lives. We've ended up with the worst of both worlds—mass death and economic demise—largely due to Americans' insistence upon personal freedom to the deadly and devastating exclusion of everything else.

Let's be clear about the fact that the federal government has not established any mandates or restrictions that violate American freedoms during the pandemic. Decisions about mitigation measures have been left to the states, which is both good and bad. The United States is huge, and logistically it makes more sense for local conditions to guide local responses. However, our borders between counties and states are imaginary lines with no checkpoints or restrictions for travel, which makes for a lot of holes in our collective pandemic control.

I'm not saying that the government should go all willy-nilly with our freedoms; I'm saying that Americans are short-sighted in our vision of what freedom actually means. Too many Americans have exercised their personal liberty in a way that limits our collective freedom (because it leads to out-of-control viral spread) and also ends up limiting personal liberty anyway (because out-of-control viral spread means having to take measures to keep our healthcare system from getting overwhelmed).

I know some people say "collective freedom" isn't a thing, please see the difference between daily life in the U.S. and daily life in Australia right now. Our Aussie friends are living a far freer life than we are, both individually and collectively, because they chose to sacrifice individually so that the whole society could be free from the virus. That's what collective freedom looks like, and they didn't succumb to tyranny to get it. That could have been us, if we stopped seeing everything that isn't "go ahead and do whatever you want" as tyranny.

In a viral pandemic like this one, doing whatever we want is inconducive to true freedom. We're watching this play out in states that were reticent to implement restrictions until now, as hospitals spill over and mandates become necessary for public safety. People exercising their personal freedoms with no regard for public health guidelines results in out-of-control viral spread, which results in social and economic devastation as huge numbers of people get sick and die.

Exercising personal liberty without personal responsibility in a viral pandemic leads to limited freedom for longer, with a lot more pain and suffering, than using our liberty to do what needs to be done to prevent that.

I can already see people bringing up Benjamin Franklin's quote—"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Some version of it comes up any time the government tries to enact anything Americans view as limiting their freedoms, but there are a couple of problems with bringing it up now. Franklin, as it turns out, was specifically talking about a dispute over taxes to fund securing the frontier, not public health in a pandemic. (And despite what people might assume, his quote was actually pro-taxation.) While that quote pushes all the right "my personal freedom" buttons, I'm quite sure that Ben Franklin would be losing his mind over Americans rejecting public health guidelines in the name of "I do what I want" if he were here today.

As an American, I appreciate our nation's commitment to personal liberty. I really do. But we seem to have forgotten that the founding premise of our republic wasn't just an inalienable right to liberty, but to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." When exercising personal liberty costs another American their life, then our national values are in conflict. "Give me liberty or give me death" is great when we're not in a viral pandemic, but "Give me liberty and I will give you death" is what we're currently experiencing.

Freedom can't be merely seen as an end, but as a means. In the next pandemic, I hope my fellow Americans will use their personal liberty to choose do what needs to be done to help us reach collective and individual freedom, rather than cutting off our nose to spite our face by insisting on a puerile version of freedom that only leads to all of us losing both.

That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

Keep Reading Show less
Joy

Teacher goes viral for her wholesome 'Chinese Dumpling Song'

Katie Norregaard has found her calling—teaching big lessons in little songs.

As educational as it is adorable.

On her TikTok profile, Katie Norregaard (aka Miss Katie) describes her brand as “if Mr. Rogers and AOC had a kid.” And it’s 100% accurate. The teaching artist has been going viral lately for her kid-friendly tunes that encourage kids to learn about other cultures, speak up for their values and be the best humans they can be.


@misskatiesings Reply to @typebteacher the internet gave me this brand one year ago and I haven’t looked back 🎶 ❤️ #fyp #misterrogers #preschool #aoc #teachertok ♬ She Share Story (for Vlog) - 山口夕依


Let’s face it, some kid’s songs are a tad abrasive with their cutesiness, to put it politely. A certain ditty about a shark pup comes to mind. Norregaard manages to bypass any empty saccharine-ness while still remaining incredibly sweet. The effortless warmth of her voice certainly helps with that. Again, she’s got that Mister Rogers vibe down to a tee.

“Miss Katie” has a treasure trove full of fun creations, such as her jazz version of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” but it’s her “Chinese Dumpling Song" that’s completely taking over the internet.
Keep Reading Show less

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

Keep Reading Show less