Sure, society needs its contrarians, just as it needs its sceptics, to offer an alternative view. If nothing else it creates a pause in the flow of the mainstream to consider deeply a subject after the chatter has subsided. But there’s contrary and there’s nuts. And there’s dangerous.
One can, of course, say one doesn’t agree with a person, but will defend to the death that person’s right to say it. But in a pandemic, where the transmission of possible death is but a breath away, the maxim doesn’t hold, cannot hold. And really would you want to defend someone who can draw the shaky conclusion that they could just as easily fall off a cliff and die, but the state hasn’t banned cliffs with that of this pandemic? Perhaps if the cliffs started marching towards aged care homes . . .
The maxim cannot hold in utterances from the political stage or from the local Bunnings. Perhaps if the speaker were in a cave 1000 kilometres from the next human then, possibly, yes. They can assert their rights, such as to not wear a mask. No one will hear him, and thus to all others, their words don’t exist. However, what weight should one attach to that right in a pandemic? None.
Individual freedom in such a time as this is a luxury, an indulgent spoilt brat play. As Daniel Andrews made the point, and displayed heroic self-discipline in not exploding in doing so, there’s no freedom of choice when that freedom can lead to your or someone else’s death.
What, then, is the equation at work? My freedom of expression is worth more than your life?
Wear a mask.
Warwick McFadyen is a desk editor for The Age.