News / Opinion / Columns
Richard Anthony Chemaly
We’ve learned a lot about ourselves from the pandemic.
The distance from which you can throw a ping pong ball into a cup, our penchant for high production value in 15 second videos, oh, and that we’re willing to believe a 100-word post by some anonymous Norwegian as truth because it was on Facebook.
Yes, this Covid thing has shown us many things, but there are some things we have yet to see. One that’s rather appealing to me is just how redundant it makes the law look at times.
In the midst of a lockdown, we had riots. Members of the executive branch had their fun, and about R500 billion appeared out of nowhere, only for much of it to disappear again. You thought we elected a bunch of clowns. It turns out they were actually magicians, yet the world keeps turning and the lights in South Africa remain on, at least for part of the day.
ALSO READ: Covid-19 has claimed nearly a quarter million lives in SA
But the big thing on the lips of many is how upset they feel that they are being forced to take a vaccine. I find this upset to be rather appealing, because it teaches us something we’ve never really used before.
There’s no law forcing anybody to have a vaccine. I’ve written about this before. The state could never do that.
However, private industry and employers have been able to drive such compulsion that it probably wouldn’t matter if there even was a law forcing vaccination.
Think about it seriously. There are laws forcing you to pay your TV licence but how many people actually do that? Hell, there are laws forcing people to wear masks covering your nose and mouth, yet people roam the streets with masks over their chins.
But if TV licences are attached to subscription TV bills, or shops refuse entry because you’re not wearing your mask properly, the legal obligation becomes irrelevant. Why? Because it’s not the legal obligation compelling you. It’s the desire to watch your sport or the desire to go buy your chocolates that makes you obey.
Naturally, the ignorant feel hard done by when their employers require them to vaccinate, because it feels more forced than having a law forcing them.
Weird, I know, but it makes sense. You won’t end up in jail or get a fine, but you’ll lose your job and that hits home significantly harder. Even if there were a law, the threat of jail is so minimal because the odds are slim to none that you’d even be caught out.
There are probably higher odds that you could successfully print out your own fake vaccine passport and get away with it, even if its serial number is #00001.
What’s amazing about private compulsion is that it requires a critical mass. Unlike with legal obligations, if just a couple of people or organisations try and impose it, the rest of us will laugh it off.
Now though, that enough organisations are mandating vaccines, there’s some form of self-regulation. If you don’t like it, go work somewhere else. If you can’t get a job somewhere else or if somewhere else also requires a vaccine, it’s still your decision, but even the freest decisions are not without consequences.
It’s a beautiful entanglement of freedom and democracy.
From a legal perspective, it truly forms the ideals of a republic and while those it does not suit will naturally disagree, as long as the state doesn’t force vaccines on you, you can’t claim that you’re forced to take the vaccine. You’re only “forced” because you want to keep your job and can’t find another one without that kind of force.
And that, dear friends, is balanced freedom at work.
My first ever column in The Citizen explored how the law is often not the answer as it looked at the law’s failures to protect women, transfer wealth, and create a better society generally.
Maybe there’s an answer to be found in this private compulsion.