GOVERNMENT has an obligation of transparency and accountability to its governed citizens, at the very least in civil matters; this is the bare minimum of function. Above that, any good thing it manages to accomplish or noble principle it espouses is a net positive. Below that, any tardiness or unwillingness to produce explanations for its outright actions or the policies it burdens the individual with by proxy are telltale signs of malignancy.
Due to the relative infrequency of the former occurring, let's address the latter within the context of the present Covid situation.
C. S. Lewis is quoted as saying, "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber barons cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
As a friend recently pointed out to me, the only shortcoming inherent to this quote is the fact that nearly, if not all tyrannies, operate under this pretense. There is effectively no alternative; therefore it is wasted energy to be on the lookout for the robber baron. Throughout history, nearly 100% of all human oppression has sprung from the seed of someone thinking they knew what was best for someone else, and being disinclined to refrain from acting on it. Even the scourge of slavery was defended in such a way by Robert E. Lee when he wrote in an 1856 letter to his wife, "The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially, and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things."
In other words, the default response to a group of self-important busybodies who couldn't identify you by name if pressed yet claim to be restricting your freedoms out of a spirit of benevolence while not even providing the bare minimum of an explanation for their actions should be immediate suspicion at best, with outright hostility being a more logical and reasonable reply.
So how does all of that apply to our current situation?
Like most others, I was alarmed when Covid-19 first reached our shores. I stocked up on groceries, stayed inside or camped far away from town, and yes, even wore a mask for a while. I was concerned for my fellow man, and felt those choices were reasonable ways I could look out for him. The government was not content to sit idly by however and risk being seen as ineffectual, they had to do something. Accordingly, the first wave of restrictions rolled out. We were forbidden from going to the beach and other public places maintained with taxes, or being out past a certain time on roads built and maintained with taxes, or meet with more than a certain number of individuals in our own homes. By and large, most accepted these restrictions with a belief that they were for our own good, if only in some abstract way (this became harder to believe as politicians were discovered frequently ignoring their own protocols). At this point, I will go so far as to restate that at least some, if not all of these peculiar new rules, were thrust upon us by people who genuinely had good intentions at heart.
As the pandemic raged on elsewhere, other mandates came into play here — some of them quite reasonable and when measured by the metric earlier described, even "good." Testing incoming passengers is one such policy. It makes sense that in order to know what to do with positive cases, we must first know who the positive cases are. Even a mandatory initial quarantine followed by a second test is defensible, based on the fact that when exposed, an individual may not test positive until a few days later.
Other measures were not so sensible. Storeowners were compelled to purchase and install plexiglass barriers a few feet wide, to stop an airborne particle that apparently only travels in a straight line; these are far more successful when combined with the mandatory mask on the sales associates face at muffling communication to an almost comical Charlie Brown-esque level. Duct tape arrows and stickers were required to be purchased and installed everywhere, often in a frenzied and inconsistent manner. How many times have you seen a row of stickers, dutifully six feet apart, with another identical row two feet to one side? Masks were required to enter a restaurant, with the option of course to remove them and freely converse for two hours after. Sign-in sheets appeared everywhere (contact tracing is another reasonable action responsible for catching and containing a great number of positive cases); the sheets are a good idea in theory, but illegible or simply fake names are difficult to trace- an active team with a competent leader is far more effective. Should you be required to wear a helmet in an airplane? That is very nearly the level of lunacy we have reached.
And so it went. As you may be aware dear reader, I was recently arrested and detained several days in quarantine despite testing negative twice, five days apart, and having recovered from Covid myself several months prior. I have yet to be formally charged with any crime, but the experience itself deserves discussion. What was the explanation for that blatant overreach? Simply that I am not vaccinated, and thus supposedly a danger to the community. Any tourist or local traveler who may be disinterested in vaccination or is traveling with children too young to receive it, is automatically compelled to remain locked in their room for five more days after their second negative test. To the person unburdened by research and content to live under any tyranny that exists "for their own good," this seems reasonable. After all, it appears to make sense that unvaccinated persons would be more of a risk to the community. But are they? Is there anything to be gained by the community pending their extended confinement? Fortunately at this point we don't have to guess; Enough time has passed, with enough statistics adding up, that we can produce an evidence-based answer: no — especially after testing has been conducted.
It is indisputable that the vaccine protects the individual who receives it from severe symptoms, but it simply does not stop infection or transmission. This is a fact, not an opinion. Recently we have seen a large community outbreak. It remains to be seen who the initial case was, but there is a very strong statistical likelihood that it was someone vaccinated, quite probably even one of the task force or an essential worker exempt from quarantine entirely; it is also a statistical likelihood at this point that most of the infected are partially or fully vaccinated. I remain open to having my mind changed by raw data. Perhaps most important though, is the question of "How are those people doing?" Hospitalization statistics say they are recovering just fine. To that end, I ask, how long are we going to be subjected to ineffective measures that will strangle our already unconscious economy to death if allowed to continue? Why have productive members of society been forced out of jobs, why have businesses been regulated to the point of closing, why is the only reliable industry on the island (besides federal grant-writing) being hamstrung by restrictions that are surely keeping many away, and why now are we accepting literal imprisonment of people for reasons that hold no filial ties to truth? If the vaccine works to protect those who get it, and I believe it does, then why are we not yet fully open? To not act on that implies that it doesn't, and by extension therefore no reason to discriminate against those who choose to decline it.
There is more to be said about our situation here on Saipan, but admittedly most of it falls into the realm of opinion; so instead of burdening you with mine, I strongly encourage you to examine the facts, and form your own. Covid is an extremely lucrative opportunity for those with the right products and services to offer. We do ourselves no favors by assuming that all actions and policies are created for our mutual benefit, instead of financial gains by a connected few.
Laws and mandates cannot be based on feelings. We must balance initiatives that are created under the pretense of good intentions against hard facts. If we fail to do so, we surely risk perpetuating an eternal descent into enforced regulation contingent upon whatever catastrophe is trending, and the complete destruction of not only the individual freedoms the United States was theoretically conceived to protect, but also the easy-going island life many of us moved here to enjoy.
A freelance photographer, the writer is a Saipan resident.