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David Bouchier: Obedience To Authority

Image by Sergio Serrato-Italia from Pixabay

We never appreciated the freedom to travel when we had it. Now, as we arrive at the end of August, another summer has passed by with no escape. The proud word “escape” was once reserved for absconding convicts or heroic prisoners of war. Now it suggests a whole world of rights and freedoms, and above all the right to travel.

Back in our schooldays there were always good kids and bad kids — those who obeyed the rules and those rebelled against the rules. The bad kids, now more or less grown up, have taken COVID as a challenge, like being kept in after school. They have been travelling and socializing without restraint — to Europe, to Disney World, family gatherings, rock concerts, motorcycle rallies, bars, restaurants and crowded beaches — because, hey, it’s a free country. Who cares what the teacher says?

Wealthy people and politicians naturally ignored all the rules from the beginning and flew off to desirable destinations without the least concern for themselves or anybody else. Some long-distance travel is essential, of course. But at this time of year most of it is just a way of passing time or checking off items on the bucket list. Each one of these adventures may have set off another ripple in the pond of infection. But the undeniable fact is that most of the rebels have survived, and probably feel smug about it. We must admire them, but we envy them too, just as we envied the bad kids at school who always seemed to get away with it.

This is a huge uncontrolled real-time experiment in immunology, and I hope someone is taking notes. We have two groups of experimental subjects, the voluntarily free and the voluntarily unfree. You can see why each feels annoyed with the other and doesn’t understand the other.

Most of us — the obedient minority — have followed the rules and canceled our beloved vacations. We had hoped to be in Europe last summer, and again this summer. In the event we have been forced to be ecologically correct and stay home. Statistics indicate that long-distance tourism is down by about half — good for the planet but bad for its restless inhabitants.

Are we being cowardly? Compared to the mobile and sociable majority it certainly feels like it. The pressure to be brave in face of the viral enemy is enormous but, in some situations, cowardice is the only sensible choice. The Charge of the Light Brigade is a good example. As the old proverb says: “Every man would be a coward if he dared.”

Serious and thoughtful people who have no interest in pretending to be brave or visiting Disney World say that true freedom is not geographical but spiritual and psychological — the kind of freedom that can be achieved through meditation, or fine music or a book. Cloistered at home we have had the opportunity to think about more important things, perhaps gaining a degree of calmness and insight. Saint Benedict instructed his monastic followers: “Remain in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” I hope this is some consolation for all those canceled plans and air tickets. Learn to know thyself — and learn to keep thy distance.

Copyright: David Bouchier


David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.