03 July 2020

Freedom, Regulations and Ideology

Welcome back. In my blog post Go Explore, I mentioned that, while I paid little attention to those protesting the lockdowns, I thought justifying the opening as American freedom was a bit much.

Although states have begun to reopen, ending the protests, I kept thinking about that claim of freedom. I dug a little and came up with an insightful commentary on the subject as well as a recent study that points to the relation with political ideology.

Commentary on Lockdown Protesters
Ronald W. Pies, MD, is professor emeritus of psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical University and clinical professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine. In his commentary, he distinguishes between freedom, which embraces responsibility and is guided by reason and virtue, and license, which removes responsibility, is incompatible with virtue and destroys community.

He also distinguishes between individualism and what he calls hyper-individualism.

San Diego freedom rally for California to open
(from timesofsandiego.com/politics/2020/04/18/).
The motto, Don’t Tread on Me, from the American Revolution, epitomizes the spirit of American individualism. But American society has always had a strong communitarian dimension. The community can be thought of as a bearer of rights, the holder of interests, to which an individual’s interests may be subordinate. The imposition of isolation and quarantines to contain infectious diseases is a prime example of communitarian priorities.

Dr. Pies empathizes with protesters voicing concerns about unemployment, missed opportunities and social isolation; however, he feels that protesters who characterized COVID-19 safety precautions as acts of tyranny revealed a troubled mindset, hyper-individualism.

Further, many protesters did not comply with directives on social-distancing or wearing masks, under notions of freedom. He characterizes this as a raw manifestation of license, not a mature construct of freedom. In his view, the actions are not rugged individualism but hyper-individualism, bordering on sociopathy.

Political Ideology and Regulations
Dr. Pies emphasizes that, while the lockdown protests were by the far right of the political spectrum, hyper-individualism is not the province of one political party or ideology. (Some of us remember the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests by the far left.)

Nevertheless, researchers affiliated with Miami, Utah Valley and Notre Dame universities observed the same reaction by conservatives, not liberals, against government regulations toward safer and healthier choices.

In a series of experiments, they found conservatives were more likely than liberals to use mobile phones in cars when their use was restricted and to purchase unhealthy foods and view smoking e-cigarettes more favorably after being exposed to consumption regulations from the government (e.g., laws or Food and Drug Administration warning labels).

FDA warning label on e-cigarettes (from
And here’s a touch of hyper-individualism again. These reactions by conservatives were not observed when the government’s message was presented as a notification rather than a warning or when a non-government source was used. Apparently, conservatives were only concerned and felt a threat to freedom if the regulations were government imposed.

Wrap Up
The research study points to the roles of political ideology and message source in increasing response to regulations, thereby mitigating the effectiveness of government public policy initiatives.

On 26 June, 46 states required masks to be worn statewide or had some requirement in certain locales (from abcnews.go.com/Health/us-states-require-masks/story?id=71472434).
Given the spikes in COVID-19 and people ignoring mask requirements, state and local governments could try framing the wearing of masks as a notification rather than a mandate or warning. It’s unfortunate that a mixed message has replaced national leadership. Well, keep your social distance; things are changing.

Thanks for stopping by.

Commentary on lockdown protestors in Psychiatric Times journal: www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/freedom-does-not-mean-being-loose
Study of political ideology and regulations in Jour. of Marketing Research: journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0022243720919709
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-06/uond-ghs061020.php

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