On Liberty and Snowball Fights (And Lockdown)

Updated: Jan 31

By Oliver James Pike

The recent imposition of a £200 fine for those engaging in snowball fights should be a wake-up call for anyone who foolishly believes we live in a free country. While such bans are minor and petty this very nature proves how much control the state can and does have over every aspect of our lives. This ban is also somewhat symbolic as snowball fights have been the target of health and safety hysteria and draconian restrictions instigated by teachers who despise any activity that carries with it even the slightest of risks. In light of COVID-19, the state has wholeheartedly taken on this paternalistic persona along with the broad aim of regulating joy.

At school, we were told countless legends to discourage snowball fights and even advocate for bans. One such legend was that someone had once lost an eye when a pebble had found its way into a snowball. We were too uninterested to question whether these elusive injured veterans of snowball fights past were from our school or even existed. After all, we had no intention of following this rule. But I have always gone back to this moment and seen it as symbolic of health and safety gone mad. Now in light of the government intervening in snowball-related matters, it has come to represent the collective lunacy of people willing to throw away their freedoms the moments some threat or risk emerges.

The harm principle underpins much of liberal thinking on the role of the state. If someone is through there actions going to harm another then the state is justified in intervening. The debate then becomes about risk to ones self. If someone is suicidal it is widely recognised that intervention is necessary yet the question becomes far more difficult when considering euthanasia. The same debates apply to drug legalisation and seatbelt mandates. Whatever principles are applied when regulating liberty they must be consistent why for example will schools outlaw snowball fights and tree climbing yet will actively promote contact sports that cause far more injuries every year than playground hijinks? In terms of the state why will it lump huge taxes on alcohol and tobacco while simultaneously being apathetic towards the harmful overuse and abuse of prescription drugs. (This will likely become a deadly crisis as the mental health problems caused by lockdown will likely be dealt with through a tsunami of SSRI prescriptions)

If people choose to meet, knowing the risks that come with that, both have decided to accept the risk (so to does any subsequent individual choosing to meet with any of these people). If someone happens to be vulnerable they should ,as they have been doing, protect themselves. However the young who (if free from underlying health conditions) are unlikely to show symptoms let alone die, are increasingly disobeying the rules seeing them as wholly useless to their safety or others if they happen to live away from home. This lack of compliance has been widespread. We have seen cyclical protesting in the streets, huge lines outside bars when they were allowed to partly open and almost daily reports of raves and house parties being raided. More recently the move from police Scotland to introduce a form to report on lockdown breaches is clearly a move to clear up the phone lines that will no doubt have been blocked up with sordid tales of birthday parties and Starbucks coffee trips. The very fact that we need so many lockdowns proves their failure (or at least the failure of the British public to adhere to often outrageous restrictions for an endlessly expanding timeframe). Lord Sumption argues that "Ordering the young and healthy to isolate so as to avoid infecting the vulnerable, when the great majority of the vulnerable can keep themselves out of harm's way if they wish, is not rational" . His suggested approach not only sums up not only the ideal approach but evidently is the attitude taken by many already who blatantly breach lockdown restrictions while those concerned shield themselves.

There is also a stark similarity between the fearful snowball bans commonplace in Schools across the country and lockdown. We have shut gyms and churches resulting in a developing mental health crisis. The virus has become the new pebble in the snowball and productive and valuable businesses being run is the new snowball fight. We have banned the sale of "non-essential goods" because to sell anything other than food is deemed too risky. Sadiq Khan has even suggested masks be made mandatory outside in London. The confusing opening and closing of schools is yet another example of this unscientific approach. Every time the government wheels out the latest r curve graph and tells us that everything is being driven by science people begin to get wise to the fact that there is little consistency and as a result of a lack of opposition in parliament there has been woefully little consideration of what all this will mean for peoples civil liberties and daily freedoms.

There has also been a cynical ramping up of fear from the government. At the start of the pandemic, we were told not to panic as most people would be asymptomatic and death rates would be low and hit those with underlying health conditions disproportionately. This remains true (subject to new strains). Why can we not focus on shielding the elderly and vulnerable and allow the rest of society to restart? The position changed when the government wanted to enforce rules more stringently. If the government wants people to stay home then apocalyptic accounts of NHS hospitals run off their feet and death rates skyrocketing will be used. When less strict lockdown measures are needed the government will try and obscure the very messaging they were producing just weeks before in an attempt to save face. The situation is what it is but thought the government has intensified a project of fear whenever it is required should be noted.

More and more research is emerging questioning the benefits of lockdown when it comes to halting the spread of the virus and in light of the reported spike in suicides and deaths from an undiagnosed illness. Instead, we fearfully hope that lockdown works and blindly walk into its arms with alarming regularity. We appear willing to sacrifice anything to deal with the pandemic but as with snowball fights and everything in life, risk must be accepted as part of the deal. To close down society and with it people's lives in this way is a horrendous result of the pessimism and fearful over-regulation over every aspect of our lives that is fast becoming the defining motif of this decade.