Do cultural commitments to ideas like freedom and liberty help or hinder Americans in their plight?
In this blog we’ll explore how American culture and values are potentially harming the country’s ability to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In an effort to decrease the Coronavirus death toll, governments globally are putting their citizens into lockdown; endeavouring to slow the spread of the infection and to reduce the impact on the medical services.
Collective vs. Individualistic Cultures
In collective cultures, such as South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam, where individuals are raised with an appreciation of the need to sacrifice their own desires to meet group goals, it’s far easier to garner support for such initiatives.
China’s collective culture without doubt helped prevent the spread of the virus as we covered in a recent blog.
Since high levels of hierarchy are typically an additional feature of collective cultures, then it’s far easier for authorities to enforce lock downs and drive social distancing.
However, in countries and cultures which place greater value on individual freedom and rights, it’s far more challenging to drive the collective sacrifice needed to deliver the greater good.
The Rights of the Individual
This is certainly true of the United States, which places considerable emphasis on the rights and freedom of the individual.
The concept of freedom is deeply entrenched in American culture, stemming back to the European settlers who established colonies in the North American continent.
Although many settlers were driven by poverty, many others were driven by a desire to escape the restrictions placed on them by the church, government, king and aristocrats.
The American Constitution, established in the 1700s, is a product of these events and was written to ensure that power sits with the people; affording them freedom, liberty and the right to key areas such as free speech.
The value placed on freedom and individual rights has influenced and shaped the American way of doing things ever since and Americans tend to be very committed to protecting this deeply held belief.
Can Your Own Culture Harm You?
However, is there a point at which such deeply entrenched cultural values can endanger wellbeing?
This certainly seems to be the case during the current Coronavirus pandemic in America.
Although many Americans are on board with the need to isolate, distance and to close public spaces, this isn’t the case for all, with some Americans using the concepts of rights and freedom in their arguments to push back.
Social media provides a great way of observing the role of cultural values in any culture or country.
Let’s take a look at some example comments on social media challenging coronavirus related restrictions:
I'm just amazed that there's no Republicans out there using their First Amendment rights! The Freedom to Assemble! Don't like how you're forced into a quarantine for a Democratic Hoax Virus? Go out there and make a protest about it! #coronavirus #hoaxvirus— Wolforian (@Wolforian1) March 22, 2020
SS: The first amendment to the constitution is supposed to guarantee the right of Americans to peacefully assemble with their fellow man.THAT IS, TO PEACEFULLY PROTEST AS A GROUP. What happens when I get together with >10 people to protest this insane coronavirus lockdown th…— A Solo Tripper (@a_solo_tripper) April 1, 2020
Wolfgang Wodarg té una altra visió sobre el #coronavirus: «The corona hype is not based on any extraordinary public health danger. However, it causes considerable damage to our freedom and personal rights through frivolous quarantine measures.» https://t.co/UxkPIn6ctw— Vescomtat de Bas (@xavierborras_) March 16, 2020
Culture, Values and Rights
The concept of freedom and individual rights have also been used to challenge the closure of gun shops by pro-gun lobbies, such as the NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation).
They argue that it is a fundamental right of people to arm themselves:
“Food, water, shelter and adequate medical care are paramount for survival, but so too is the ability for an individual to defend his or herself, their family, as well as their home, business and property.”
When New Jersey authorities threatened to prosecute anyone spreading misleading information relating to the virus, there were many voices citing that this action would violate the First Amendment.
Although Americans willing to trade civil rights to help tackle Coronavirus, now form the majority, it’s clear that achieving the measures needed to combat the virus will be far harder to achieve due to the deeply entrenched value systems of American culture.
Giving those who baulk at these constitutional violations a clear commitment to revoking them as soon as the threat of Coronavirus has passed, will go a long way in helping them to accept these arrangements as temporary and not as long term threats to the American way of life. Ignoring concerns may will, indeed, lead to these values having a deadly impact.