A woman receives a dose of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a vaccination centre in Karachi, Pakistan December 22 2021. Picture: REUTERS/AKHTAR SOOMRO
A woman receives a dose of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a vaccination centre in Karachi, Pakistan December 22 2021. Picture: REUTERS/AKHTAR SOOMRO

It is no surprise that so many of us find the whole Covid-19 thing totally bewildering. We never had to worry before whether we had a “right” or not. We took any jab available to protect us. Or didn’t take it. Simple.

Now “freedom lovers” everywhere are resisting governments, liberal and illiberal, when they talk about or introduce dreaded vaccination mandates. Yet others, apparently concerned for our rights, point to the injustice of vaccine shortages. Everyone has the “right” to be vaccinated. The implication is everyone should be.

Can there be a right to do something and a right not to do the same thing at the same time? The answer is yes. We are all individuals; we all have human rights. But in this, oddly, the rights bit is not the problem. The problem is the human bit.

Human beings are not only individuals. That is overlooked, if not forgotten, amid the hubbub of human rights rhetoric. Human beings are individuals and also social animals. That’s the stumbling block.

The trouble with this stumbling block is there’s no way around or over it. It’s not as if we are all totally independent individuals except on Fridays and Saturdays when we become social. We are interdependent every day of the week, when we ask our partners where the car keys are, go to the dentist, ask a neighbour for a cup of sugar, or catch the early bus. 

These are trivial instances of mutual dependence and co-operation, among countless trivial others, but the same spirit extends to the big things. Like rescuers turning out for days to save a single cave explorer or swimmer lost at sea; like the ideas we support and which political party we vote for. An individual right is involved everywhere always; so, equally, is a general obligation.

Perhaps all the talk of our unlimited “rights” is nothing more than politicians’ talk to get us on-side. Libertarians who feel there is no such thing as “the people”, ideologues who believe there is no-one and nothing but the masses. Has Covid changed any of this? Is that what it may help to do over time — change things?

Paul Whelan
Via e-mail

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