The COVID-19 lockdown has driven many of us into the waiting arms of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and other streaming services, as we seek replacements for our social gathering habits. My current binge is the new season of Bosch on Amazon Prime, which premiered this past Friday. The first few seasons prompted me to start reading the source material: the twenty-two (so far) Harry Bosch novels. For the uninitiated, Bosch is a LAPD homicide detective, and the books are “crime thriller” procedurals. The character is cliched in countless ways, but author Michael Connelly makes it all work, and I’m into book eleven at this point with every intent of finishing the series.

Without delving too much into spoilers, the current season involves, as one of multiple plot lines, a fringe group of nutters that embrace the sovereign citizen gobbledygook that’s mostly an excuse to ignore laws they don’t like and pretend not to pay their taxes. Another plot line intersects with this group, in the form of a character described as a “libertarian.” The story unabashedly conflates the former, some of whom are prone to violence and anarchy, with the latter. As regular readers and people who understand libertarianism know, the philopsophy (at least as I interpret it) is not anarchic, and your rank-and-file libertarian doesn’t go down the sovereign citizen path, or the anarcho-capitalist path, or the other wacko-fringes. Unfortunately, those that aren’t fond of critics of big government (see: most of the media and the vast majority of entertainment produced today) don’t care about portraying the liberty movement honestly, so we get a plot line that (SPOILER) involves connecting a libertarian character to potential domestic terrorists.

I’d normally shrug this off with just a minor internally-voiced complaint, but a story born of the current lockdown highlights the issue. This past Sunday, several hundred protestors gathered at the state Capitol in Denver to voice their unhappiness with the coercive lockdowns invoked to combat the spread of the coronavirus. They were counter-protested by a handful of healthcare workers, in scrubs and masks, who stood in the middle of the road to halt vehicular movement. One screeching banshee stuck her head out a window to yell at one of the counterprotestors, and the photo quickly went wide on social media.

The intersection of liberty and pandemic is a difficult matter, but as I’ve written before, there is a libertarian case to be made for government interventions in behaviors when a threat is of sufficient magnitude, as appears to be the case with COVID-19. The matter is nuanced and the lines are fuzzy, unfortunately. This means that rational and measured gets drowned out by absolutist and hyperbolic. Yes, going into a crowded space when you are infected and infectious violates the rights of others. But, we don’t consider going to a restaurant when you have the sniffles an actionable crime, because of the two elements of risk: probability and consequences. A head cold’s “risk” level falls miles below COVID-19’s.

COVID-19 doesn’t rise to the level of Ebola, though, which has prompted some to believe the government has overdone it with lockdowns (I’d bet few if any of those anti-lockdown protestors would be out there if the mortality rate was 50%). As I recently noted, the political calculus favors over-reaction in the short term, and we of a libertarian bent serve our philosophy best by focusing on the longer term: the inevitable power grabs and liberty infringements that the government will attempt to cement into permanence after the crisis has ebbed. The anti-lockdown protesters may have valid points, and I’m not totally on board with the blockaders, but this isn’t the issue, moment, or form I’d elect to pursue.

Just as rational opponents of the death penalty don’t make John Wayne Gacy their poster child, those concerned with liberty should not go nonlinear in the faces of their fellow citizens at the peak of a pandemic crisis, especially when there is a liberty-compatible argument for at least some of the restrictions put in place. Advocating liberty is about winning hearts and minds, about showing people that liberty is the better way, and eventually about building the movement up to a size where politicians have to take notice and where the entertainment industry might think twice before disappointing us (one look at how the identity politics movement has so deeply suffused popular entertainment gives you an idea of how that might go).

So, be rational in your advocacy for liberty. After all, we’re libertarians because liberty is the most rational path (or at least we should be). As they say, choose your battles. Emotional responses may feel satisfying, but they often lead to later regrets.

And, if you’re one of those who has mistaken libertarianism for ‘fuck-you’ anarchy or “others’ rights don’t matter” selfishness, I quote a friend: Get off my side.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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