Wherever you look, there are signs reminding us that “We’re all in this together!” If this is some kind of social cue I’m not picking up on, it’s probably because I don’t know what the ‘this’ refers to. For example, during the Second World War, citizens of the Allied countries and those of the Axis countries were all in the same war, so yes, I suppose there’s a sense in which they were “all in this together.” But I’m guessing that what’s meant by these “We’re all in this together!” signs is that we’re all on the same side in this war with Covid 19.

Except that, well, we’re not. Some people are healthy enough that they’d rather we all take our chances with the virus than suffer the consequences of the lockdown. Is that selfish? No more selfish than those who’d rather we all suffer the consequences of the lockdown than take our chances with the virus. So yes, we’re all in this together, but only in the sense that citizens of the Allies and the Axis were all in the same war together.

My favourite restaurant is also the most popular restaurant in town, probably for the same reason it’s my favourite restaurant. But it’s unviable for the owner if it has to operate at fifty percent capacity. The same is true of flying. If the plane has to fly with the middle seat empty, the fare has to go up by fifty percent, in which case I can’t afford to go.

The libertarian solution to our not all being in this together is to give the would-be clients of restaurants and airlines a choice. This is a full capacity restaurant. Eat here and take your chances. This is a half capacity restaurant. Eat here and lower your chances. This is a full-capacity airline. Fly with us for $400. Or you can fly with the ‘safer’ airline for $600.

So, what’s the problem? That only full capacity restaurants and airlines would survive. But governments can’t allow that. Why? Because contrary to what the libertarian thinks we want, we want government to protect us from our own choices. So there won’t be any full capacity restaurants and airlines, there won’t be any less-than-full capacity restaurants and airlines, and so what we’ll end up with will be boutique-only restaurants, and a return to a time when flying was only for the privileged. Until …

Until, that is, the political pressure to de-privilege these privileges returns us to what we had before this paternalism-turned-elitism revealed its ugly head. That, at any rate, was Hegel’s conjecture about the dialectic of political forces. Paternalism produces elitism as an autonomous effect. That effect inflames resistance. And that resistance redounds upon that paternalism. ‘Tis always thus. And Covid 19 is unlikely to be an exception.

Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask

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4 replies

  1. You might want to expand your inquiry to consider the other part of the expression. Who is the “we” that we are all in with together, both domestically and internationally.


  2. Very practical analysis with a philosophical gloss. Well reasoned and well presented.


  3. I’m a retired senior, two daughters are easily working from home, one daughter is a nurse in a hospital, one son-in-law is wondering whether his small business will be able to stay afloat… in our family, ‘we’ are all in ‘this’ but we sure aren’t having the same experience.


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