In a video released today on YouTube, recorded over a Skype call where Dr. Melanee Thomas, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Calgary, and scholar Lisa Lambert from the University of Lethbridge were socially distanced and self-isolated in their own homes, the public caught a glimpse of the type of authoritarian control that thinkers in Canadian society are interested in enacting.
The question this video set out to answer is “Should People Breaking COVID 19 Social Distancing Rules be Punished?”
Their answer is “yes,” and it’s one we should all take note of, if only to ensure that people who have and distribute these kinds of liberty-squashing ideas are never elected to any political office, nor given the opportunity to write directives or guidelines for the Canadian public at large.
Thomas’ specific area of study is the causes and consequences of gender-based political inequality. That’s the kind of thing that once you start looking for it, you see everywhere, whether it exists or not.
Lambert, who also specializes in gender, noted that their primary question in endeavouring to find out how people should behave during the pandemic, is “why don’t people just follow the rules?”
They came up with a host of answers, including that those who were willing to follow the rules, or “willing participants,” did so only after they had clear reasons why. She notes that an additional group of people, termed “rational egoists,” will follow the guidelines if it is in their best interests.
One of the best ways to make sure that these restrictions are in their best interests is to let them know that if they don’t do it they will be fined. Being fined, Lambert argues, is not in a person’s self interest.
She recounts a story in which she stayed properly physically distanced from a friend of hers in public, simply because she didn’t want to get the fine. She brought a tape measure to a meet up with her friend, just to be on the safe side. The fine in Calgary is $1,200.
“One of the reasons having those sanctions is really important is because egoists, behaving in a way that’s good for them and not necessarily good for everybody else, can make willing participants feel like idiots for following the rules,” Lambert notes.
Meaning that the sanctions are necessary to keep willing participants from feeling like fools for following the rules while those who are not following the rules are not punished for it. The punishment isn’t for those who aren’t following the rules, but to encourage the people who are following the rules to continue doing so.
If Lambert and Thomas’ names are familiar, it’s because one month ago, the two scholars wrote an alienating hot take for CBC about “why rule breakers need to be punished.”
The video echoes their essay. Thomas and Lambert refer to those who resist lockdown orders as “egoists” and advocate for a reality where “willing participants must see that the egoists are actually punished for breaking health rules.” This, they note, is based on Elinor Ostrom’s political science theory.
Once sanctions are in place for the breaking of these common norms—masking, social distancing, self-isolating, no touching—those who follow the rules can shame those who don’t. And if shame doesn’t work, punishments and fines will.
Whether it’s five people in Ontario being fined for a small gathering on a beach, motorists getting tickets and being turned away at the Ontario-Quebec border, or Alberta police being encouraged to give out $1,200 fines for social-distancing slackers, the march toward authoritarianism trudges on.
These watchers, punishers, sanctioners, and justifiers of the removal of liberty and freedom from our lives need to be watched. By playing on and placating human nature and our tendencies to do as our hive encourages us to, they are pushing, cajoling, and yes, forcing our culture and society away from individual expression.
We’ve been pushed and prodded, and if social scientists like these had their way, we would be locked in our homes, deprived of vitamin D, human contact, and fresh air until such time as a vaccine was developed and the population forcefully inoculated with it. This is a concept based in fear, negative thinking, and is founded in a view that demeans human beings and their interest in leading a free life.
If Thomas and Lambert had their way, the overreach of petty tyrants in communities across Canada would not be temporary. Watch out for ideas like these, they serve nothing but the suppression of humanity to authoritarian interests.