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This is how Americans now interpret freedom: Not as a political condition in a democratic society, but as a constant chant of "you're not the boss of me." This is not freedom, or at least not freedom in any political sense. It's a child-like understanding of autonomy. /1
In "The Death of Expertise," I wrote that people reject expertise as a kind of shout of autonomy, a way of saying that no one can tell them what to do. Thinking adults once understood that this is not the same as "freedom." But we are all about self-affirmation now. /2
This is what happens when people believe that "freedom" means "telling everyone no," whether it's at work, or at a doctor's office, or in a group activity of any kind. It's a stage toddlers go through, but they grow out of it. This is permanent childhood. /3
And yelling "no!" at experts and public safety officials is empowering. But only in the sense children understand power: The raw ability to defy someone else. It's not in any way about citizenship, which is how adults balance group obligation and individual freedom. /4
The protesters demand this empowerment, but without any consequent responsibility. Adults would say: "I accept this risk." Children say: "Let me do what I want and if things go bad, it's not my fault and you have to help me anyway." They just want all this to go away. /5
"Find me someone to blame, pay me for the harm this pandemic has caused me, and don't tell me about any of my obligations to make sure the human or financial costs don't get worse. Just make *me* whole, and let the other kids worry about whether they're getting a cookie." /6
So, be thankful for the adults around you wearing masks, staying in, working with the public at risk to themselves in an ER or even just manning a cash register at the grocery store. Citizens are adults, and we have to get through this despite the overgrown children among us. /7x
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