If there is one thing history teaches us, it is that societies are more vulnerable during a time of crisis. Widespread panic is the quickest way to make people give up their rights voluntarily, and oftentimes in the moment, nothing can beat the relief and comfort of a feeling of stability and security. I would argue, however, that the thought of giving up any more freedoms, even if it gives us a sense of security, is far scarier than any possible crises that we could be undergoing. This statement seems hyperbolic, but I believe it to be true, and hopefully by the end of this article, you will too.
As an 18 year old living in the United States of America, I have to admit the amount of actual crises I have seen in my life are slim to none. The only true example I can speak about from actual personal experience is the one we are experiencing right now—the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like many other things in modern media, the truth about the coronavirus is not being told. The mainstream media is a very crucial institution of any society, but especially any democracy. It is very important that we are able to trust it, but that doesn’t mean that it has always been or will always be trustworthy. We can never be too wary of it. The authors of “How Democracies Die” said in a podcast with NPR, “[Trump] has convinced a fairly large segment of our society that the mainstream media…is purposefully lying and making stuff up such that a fairly large number of Americans no longer believe anything but Fox News. In the long term, it’s hard to imagine how that’s healthy for a democracy.” They’re right. This is not healthy for a democracy, but I would argue that Trump is not to blame for America’s distrust of the media—he has simply brought the issue to light. Americans distrust the media because it has proven itself time and time again to be untrustworthy. That could be a separate article in and of itself, but I’m going to expand on this point using our current crisis as an example.
A couple days ago, a video of two doctors talking about the virus went viral on YouTube. Dan Erickson and Artin Massihi discussed how the chance of dying (based on their research) from COVID in California is 0.03%, and then they questioned whether a statistic like that justifies people being out of school and work. Erickson then proceeded to say, “ER doctors I talk to say ‘It’s interesting. When I’m writing up my death report, I’m being pressured to add Covid. Why is that? Why are we being pressured to add Covid? Is it to maybe increase the numbers and make it look a little bit worse than it is?’. I think so.”
After reaching more than 5 million views, YouTube took the video down, claiming that it violated their community guidelines because it contradicted positions of the World Health Organization (as if the WHO is infallible). The veracity of the video is irrelevant to the situation. Many disagree with the video or the conclusions to which to doctors came, and that’s fine. In fact, it should be welcomed in a free society such as the one in which we live. What’s not fine is the video’s being removed so that this other point of view is no longer available. Freedom of speech is an important democratic principle and a protected civil liberty for a reason. The type of speech protected is not specified because the founding fathers knew how important it was to be able to hear all sides of an issue. Ideally only things that are true would be put out for the world to see, but who decides what is true? That is why censorship is never the option.
Democratic erosion no longer occurs in the same ways it used to. Gone are the days of revolutions and overnight coups—the more modern ways that democracies die are much slower and much more subtle. One such way is censorship of free speech or media of any kind. The less varying opinions that are available, the more uniform society as a whole becomes in its thinking, which, as evidenced in the past, is a very dangerous thing. No country currently in existence that censors its citizens or has almost a unanimous political viewpoint is one in which anyone would want to live.
No matter what your opinion is on the current state of our nation in light of COVID-19 and all it has brought upon us, whether you believe it to be over-exaggerated, not taken seriously enough, or somewhere in between, I hope you understand the gravity of all the decisions that are being made. Being well-informed is more important now than ever, even though it is very difficult to do so in a society when things that offer more perspective are being taken down. If we are not careful, a crisis like this can take more from us than just our jobs and our freedom for a couple months, it can begin slowly stripping away our rights and some of the most crucial aspects of a democracy. All the while, society will most likely sit by and allow it to happen in the name of security or not even realize it is happening all.
This is not an opinion piece about COVID-19, and if that’s what you got from reading it, unfortunately you have missed the point. This is a warning. Don’t let your rights be taken from you without at least being aware that it is happening. Most mainstream media will not broadcast the truth or will simply give you a warped version of it—or even worse, withhold it. There will not be efforts made by the government or the mainstream media to enlighten those who are in the dark—it is one’s own responsibility to enlighten oneself.
*Photo by Tory Bouchillon