Another discussion about civil rights and lockdown: considering prejudice and fair play.
There seems to have been an absolute uproar regarding the possibility that the over seventies should be legally obliged to stay at home, while everyone else is allowed a greater degree of freedom, while there does not seem to be similar uproar about legally obliging everyone to stay at home.
I appreciate that part of this is down to practical issues, such as the notion that people would have to carry identity documents to prove that they were not over seventy, but still, I don’t think that explains the whole of it. Why should we feel an immense sense of injustice when one group is singled out like that, and not more of a sense of injustice when exactly what we would complain is being done to them is being done to everyone?
This is something that can be noted in other situations as well, for instance, if an employer paid their one white staff member an unjustly low wage, as opposed to a situation where they exploit all their staff members equally. However, in that situation, I suspect the implied racism is argued to be more sinister than plain, universal greed. The injustice when done to more people is greater as an injustice, but this is balanced off by the particular moral depravity of racism. I am not sure if I am convinced that this actually stands to the extent to which we tend to take it, for it would seem to me that a respect for the humanity of some is more readily extended to the respect for the humanity of all, than respect for no-one’s humanity.
I can also see that a feeling that something which is the same for everyone is different from placing restrictions on one group of people. For instance, I would tend to argue that if an ID is required for buying age restricted products, it would be fairer to require it from everyone, rather than merely from those who look in the eyes of that particular checkout assistant as if they are under 25. That everyone should have to put up with this irritation and inconvenience for the sake of protecting children and teenagers seems fairer than to say that only people who look in a certain way should.
I do agree with that argument as far as that sort of situation goes. However, the lockdown isn’t that sort of situation. Some children still have access to education while others don’t – on the grounds of what their parents do. Many people are still working, if hardly as usual. Those who live alone are confined alone (I did not touch another person for more than three weeks in the early part of the lockdown – indeed, I was not in the same room with another person for a day short of three weeks – I was using Skype video, and it is no alternative); those who live with others are at least not completely deprived of human contact – but are potentially having to live in a close confinement with them in an extremely stressful situation. I have a house and garden, and can easily exercise without coming into contact with anyone (not necessarily a positive); others can’t come in and out of their homes without using shared lifts or staircases.
I think “fair play” can be brought in when it is the same for everyone (that is, everyone pays the same and everyone has the same access to the advantage gained) but in neither direction is this the case. There is both the issue of the fact that the lockdown is much severer for some groups than others, in a way that is practically unavoidable, and the fact that, as most people don’t seem to be at serious risk, their gains are much more limited (they won’t be significantly ill, though they would suffer if infrastructure broke down). As in the case of a lot of others with similar health problems: there was 100% chance I would be made very seriously ill by lockdown. I am not at risk from COVID-19, as far as anyone knows, though I would be from structural breakdown (having said, does severe lockdown not run the risk of causing such breakdown too?). Could one suggest therefore, that the policy constitutes indirect discrimination? I don’t have a clear opinion on that. But it is interesting.
Anyway, perhaps it would be reasonable to say in this case: if it is wrong to tell the over-seventies that they have to be confined at home, while no-one else is, despite the fact that this policy is probably a very logical one from the economic/illness/protect the NHS point of view, it is presumably wrong to tell everyone who isn’t a keyworker that they have to be similarly confined. This would actually lead to the conclusion that severe lockdown was never a legitimate policy in the first place. Given that my other lines of thought have tended to lead me more to “it’s wrong for this length of time,” I am somewhat perplexed by this.
Whatever else can be said, however, I think that considering legitimacy of restriction of normally important freedom in the context of epidemics and other natural disasters is overdue. Human rights declarations tend to focus on other types of situation. If these considerations are taken seriously, they cannot be set aside because people might spread disease any more than they can be set aside because someone might start a riot.