Ahlgren: Panic, power and the pandemic

History has taught us that once power is given, it is never voluntarily returned.


We have lost our minds. We have said goodbye to any semblance of rationality or assessment of data and said hello to illogical alarmism. A virus we should have been diligent and cautious about has turned into a virus we should fear, give up our liberty for, and fundamentally alter our lives to avoid.

Consider this scene: I’m taking the elevator down to the parking garage in my building. The elevator stops halfway down, the doors open, and a young man in his mid-20s starts to walk toward the opening elevator doors but stops dead in his tracks when he sees me. We’re both wearing masks as required by our overlords. I look at him and tell him I don’t mind if he gets on the elevator with me. He declines and tells me he’ll catch the next one.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. More and more people are declining to share an elevator with one other person for 20 seconds while they’re distanced and masked. It’s now the norm to see someone in an elevator and ask permission to join them.

We’re living in a time where the government is telling us how many people can be in our homes, where we can and can’t eat, what we have to wear on our faces, what businesses can be open and how late they can be open. Yet, for some reason this seemingly minor event in my apartment building hit me like a ton of bricks.

I don’t think anyone over the age of 35 lives in my building. It’s safe to assume that a vast majority of residents in the apartment complex are relatively young and healthy. The survival rate for this demographic is 99.98%. Almost 100% of people infected in my age group will survive. But we’ve created a narrative that no matter what kind of health you’re in or what your age is, if you interact with anyone, you will get COVID, and you will die.

At this point, we are all used to seeing irrational behavior when it comes to COVID. Wearing masks as you’re walked to your table, only to take them off immediately when you sit down. Allowing grocery stores to receive crowds of people but “non-essential” businesses can’t have more than 10. Strangers yelling at others to wear a mask like a small piece of cloth is as effective as a vaccine. Airlines kicking families off of planes because their two-year-old was not correctly “complying” with mask orders.

We truly believe that a thin cloth prevents us from acquiring a microscopic virus. We are acquiescent to the government mandating our every move because we actually think tyranny is saving us. We are turning on our neighbors, friends, and fellow Americans for not bending the knee to anti-scientific alarmism. We have completely and utterly lost all rational thought to emotional, senseless fear-mongering.

How this virus affects an 85-year-old is not how this virus affects a 22-year-old, but we are all subject to the same restrictive policies. Schools are not even moderate vectors of transmission, but politicians still insist on closing them. Mask mandates have zero correlation to reduced case rates and lack any substantiated data to prove their effectiveness but are treated with the same legitimacy as a cure.

I can spout all of the statistics in the world to present the case that COVID is a virus to be wary of, but nothing to fundamentally fear to the point of destroying liberty and livelihoods. However, it doesn’t matter because the narrative stands — if you are not unrelentingly afraid of the virus, you are an evil, unempathetic science-denier who doesn’t care if thousands of people die. This false binary has found itself embedded in our politics as well as our culture. False binaries are the death of reason and the death of discussion.

There is a general rule in life: multiple things can be true at once. Nuance is our friend. With COVID, two things can be true at once: this virus is serious and we should take extra precaution in dealing with it, and this virus cannot be “beaten” or eradicated. We must learn to live with it, not alter our lives by naively thinking we can avoid it altogether.

Living life is one big risk assessment. We have individual liberty in this country because no two individuals’ risk assessments are the same. How someone who has a compromised immune system lives their life is not the same as those who don’t. It’s not the world’s job to cater to every single person’s unique risk factor.

A logical coronavirus “policy” when it comes to the public is quite simple. If you’re at risk, stay home and be safe. If you’re concerned, stay home and be safe. Take measures you believe are necessary to reduce the spread of the virus. As for everyone else, live your life. The health of an individual and the decisions surrounding it lies with the individual. As human beings, we have incredibly powerful amygdalae, the part of the brain that makes you feel fear. We are intuitive in doing what is best for our health and the health of our loved ones. The government doesn’t have an amygdala. The government has one thing — a desire for power.

Here’s the dirty, little secret: politicians know this. Within a span of months, 15 prominent Democrats were caught violating their own COVID policies. Getting haircuts, going on vacations, not wearing masks, participating in gatherings, eating indoors — all things you and I cannot do but our bureaucratic elite can. Politicians are allowed to make their own risk assessment but believe the people are too inept to do the same. The constant hypocrisy and illogical flexes of power have been taunting us as people’s livelihoods are being mercilessly destroyed.

The coronavirus is real. It’s spreading. It’s concerning. But it’s not the first or last increased risk factor we have to calculate in our daily individual risk assessment. If the government is allowed to use every single increased risk factor as an excuse to grab power, we will no longer live in a country based on principles of freedom.

I’m not here telling you to not wear a mask or to pretend coronavirus doesn’t exist. I’m not here telling you to not care about the health of others. I am telling you that how you choose to deal with your health is your decision. I am telling you that the health of others does not lie within your personal risk assessment.

This pandemic will go down as a catalyst for one of the biggest governmental power grabs. The threshold for what is considered necessary for the “common good” will continue to get lower as the government’s scope of authority grows wider. History has taught us that once power is given, it is never voluntarily returned. We are not incompetent children to bureaucracy. We can’t let politicians treat us like we are.