That’s Politics

The coronavirus pandemic is six months old. In the Netherlands we reduced it to manageable proportions. The measures are relaxed. We regret six thousand deaths. The measures lasted about seven weeks. The risk in the Netherlands is now comparable to that in the 3rd week after the virus entered into the Netherlands. That is the 10th week of the pandemic as a global phenomenon. The question is how to prevent the virus from exploding again in the Netherlands. We do have the advantage of having gotten to know the virus better.

Fig. 1 New Infections per week in Nederland

C.E. hears the strangest theories and views. From the statistician de Hondt (who “statistically” shows that the aerosols are the one condition that ensure transfer of the virus and states that social distancing should therefore be abandoned, taking an approach that is strongly reminiscent of the way in which Lucia de B. was once found guilty) the free-thinker Engel who suspects a conspiracy behind publications in Science and The Lancet and, on the other hand, argues the importance of a fundamental right to free personal development, almost in the spirit of the black lives matter movement in the US and that of the anti-racism movement in the Netherlands.

These are important topics. Political ones. Or about what we can do when we have to choose between moral, legal, economic and intellectual risks for others and for ourselves.

Let me give a few examples. Moral: Are grandchildren allowed to visit their grandparents within two weeks of attending a festival or Trump rally? Legal: when can mayors prohibit demonstrations against coronavirus measures that infringe on their rights and when not? Economic: How certain must we be about the medical efficacy of a measure in order to accept its economic consequences? Intellectual: When can a president of the US factfree call something from a newspaper fake news or an opponent in the elections criminal?

For each of such questions, the answer lies not in science but in politics. C.E. thinks that the concept of freedom of speech is due for a reappraisal. Apparently something is going on with that. China passed a law restricting in Hong Kong the freedom of expression (as the Western world understands it). The reason China used for that is exactly the same as the reason President Trump currently uses daily in his tweets to back his executive orders to consider protesters of the black lives matter movement as criminals.

One possibility to emerge from this quagmire is to recognize that fundamental rights have a specific function and must be interpreted from situation to situation. This is an intellectual approach that can count on little support for the time being. Fundamental rights conceal taboos in practice. In other words, a practical appeal to a fundamental right usually shows in practice that there are privileges for one that were gained at the expense of another and that are covered by different stories that are often untouchable to the parties that take cover behind them.