Excerpt – Turkeys Not Bees
COMING OF AGE
CHAPTER 1 MAVERICK
I slipped my face mask down and looked around the circle of half a dozen friends, sitting around our home barbeque, drinks in hand. They helped themselves to food from a side table and ate with plates on their knees. They were university people. I had returned to the university two years previously after 6 years in industry.
Megan was my girlfriend, a psychology PhD student on an athletics scholarship. She had recently won a gold medal in the 2032 Olympic Games in Brisbane, our home town. We were agreed not to have children until we had completed our PhDs. We had both caught coronavirus at the Games. Now we were celebrating her discharge from hospital at the rented house where we lived. I had been detained at home by police, for leaving quarantine without discharge.
‘Can you go out, Chance?’ asked Don, like me a physics PhD student. His unusually level gaze searched mine. He was serious, rather po-faced. His quiet opinions were well-informed, moderate and widely respected.
‘No, I must stay here,’ I said between mouthfuls. ‘They’re keeping tabs on me with this.’ I held up my phone. ‘They call me from the police station several times a day, using a GPS to check I am here. It’s nanny state over-control. I don’t deserve this.’ There was anger in my voice.
Our garden had an enormous leopard tree. A flock of rainbow lorikeets flew in and commenced a deafening racket of excited shrieks.
The group looked at me as I ate, curious. They had heard me rant before, but not about the ‘nanny state’. It was the first time they had seen me angry. I was 28, with 3-day stubble, tall and fit looking, wearing a long-sleeved shirt, blue with vertical white stripes, hanging loosely over blue jeans and running shoes. No-one said anything. They might not understand what I meant by ‘nanny state’.
‘Is it right they can treat me like a nanny correcting a child?’ I said, shouting to be heard.
‘Perhaps you blew it when you broke quarantine,’ said Don, shouting above the din.
‘The quarantine time had ended,’ I said. ‘They should have discharged me.’
‘Where does your detention allow you to go?’
‘Can you have visitors?’
‘More than 1.5 metres away and wearing a face mask. Does anyone mind that I am not wearing mine?’
It was hanging around my neck. A few were wearing theirs.
‘Why aren’t you wearing it?’ asked Don. He wasn’t criticising me. He knew I was making a statement and that I would welcome his question.
‘How could my mask protect you, if your own won’t?’ I responded. ‘Me wearing mine won’t make any significant difference to you. The fabric is a coarse weave. It could reduce the number of virus particles I inhale slightly, but I’m prepared to take that risk.’
No-one disagreed with me but they weren’t entirely convinced, because virus transmission processes were not public knowledge. My unmasking was petty, but it symbolised my dissent from the conditions of my detention. No-one seemed to mind.
The lorikeets left as abruptly as they had arrived.
‘What are they on?’ someone asked in a quiet voice that seemed loud. ‘Hemp?’
‘If people fear I will infect them,’ I said, ‘making me mask up is not the answer. They can distance, or stay at home, wearing their masks if they wish. I have agreed to wear a mask with visitors. That would protect you, achieving for me a benefit of altruism, as if you were kin. The philosopher Immanuel Kant would require that if I wanted you to wear a face mask, I should wear one myself, because not wearing a mask would be selfish, irresponsible or merely thoughtless. But I don’t want you to wear a mask. I don’t care if you put down your masks. If you agree, I will keep my mask lowered and take my chances. Is that okay?’
Most of the others slipped down their masks.
‘Why did you leave quarantine without being discharged?’ asked Nick, from under his Stetson.
He worked as an environmental scientist, doing impact assessments for infrastructure development. He was a hippy with an obsession for American country music, which explained the Fu-Manchu moustache and cowboy hat he wore everywhere.
‘I had waited to be discharged but they were delaying and it seemed interminable. It was possible they were delaying hoping to pressure me into accepting vaccination.’
‘Could you have been more patient?’ asked Don. ‘Maybe they were held up.’
Before starting a PhD in physics, Don had worked for a construction company, testing structural strengths of buildings. His authoritarian views were the antithesis of the anarchist Nick’s.
‘I was like going crazy,’ I said. ‘I’d been shut in the Olympic Village for a week and when I had tested negative I had to get out of there. Quarantine is oppressive, preventing exercise and fresh air, creating guilt and illness where there was none before.’
‘You seem to have entangled with petty officialdom,’ said Nick. ‘I can see they have ground you down. You have been through a lot. I’m sorry this happened to you, Chance.’
‘Could you have been infectious?’ asked Don trenchantly.
‘No. I had tested negative.’
‘Didn’t they accept that?’
‘No. They arrested me for breaking their rules in going to see Megan who was in quarantine.’
‘What did you expect?’ said Don. ‘Their job is to protect everyone.’
‘They are authorised to control spread of infection and I wasn’t a risk,’ I said. ‘I had done my quarantine. I was demanding my rights to leave as a free citizen. There’s no law preventing a hospital visit. It was nanny state over-reach.’
‘What the hell is a ‘nanny state’?’ Don asked.
‘It has many controls,’ I said. ‘Some countries like Singapore are reputed to have many more regulations and restrictions on citizens’ lives than in other countries. Germany was freest in a recent survey of regulation of alcohol, tobacco, food and vaping in 30 European countries.’
‘Maybe Germans are least well off.’
‘Many are within their rights to want to be without those regulations. Governments have legislated to control thousands of products and situations unnecessarily.
‘I use the term ‘nanny state’ to describe regulation by all federal, state and local governments in Australia today. When I don’t wear a mask, it is not just being contrarian. It’s contempt for over-protection by Australian governments.’
‘It seems like you are breaking restrictions allowed by emergency health legislation.’
‘I have explained why not wearing a mask is of no significant consequence,’ I said. ‘People should take personal responsibility for their health, not foist it onto the community.’
‘You are out of step with the rest of us,’ said Don.
‘Getting out of step could help to halt a march to doom,’ I said. ‘A Canadian journalist and magazine publisher said:
‘. . . Australia is becoming the world’s dumbest nation . . .(because of) the removal of
personal responsibility and the increase in the number and scope of health and safety
laws.’ Tyler Brule, 2015
‘He argued that Australian cities were over-sanitised,’ I said. ‘Many of the laws have been implemented in the expectation that they will reduce violence or improve health and safety. In many cases the excessive laws are being accused of restricting freedom, ruining livelihoods and small businesses, turning the nation into a nanny state.’
‘We’re steeped in nanny state laws,’ said Don, with his hands behind his head. ‘We have mandatory bicycle helmet laws, gun control laws, prohibitions on alcohol in public places, plain packaging for cigarettes, pub and club lockout laws and permits for picnics on a beach. These are only a few. They are ridiculous. A senate enquiry investigated laws and regulations that restrict personal choice ‘for the individual’s own good.’ It is an oxymoron. Australia’s criminal legislation has gone too far.’
‘Our gun control laws are reasonable. Other nations envy us.’
‘That may be an exception. A nanny state excessively controls, monitors, or interferes with people’s private actions or behaviours that are deemed unhealthy or unsafe.’
‘What is state-like about a nanny state?’
‘The term is an echo of ‘nation state’, which is a political entity whose domain is an independent state. A nanny state has a nanny figure parodying a monarch. The government is inflated and domineering, resented by the people.’
‘It could be worse. You could be in prison.’
‘This is a kind of prison. They’ve taken away my freedom. I have not broken any laws. I oppose their takeover.’
‘My right to go where I want and help Megan compete. She could miss the World Championships.’
‘She did brilliantly at the Olympics.’
The Olympics had been held in Brisbane earlier that year, 2032.
‘She did. The Australian Olympics Committee wanted to stop her using our flow technique, but the IOC allowed her to compete.’
‘Why did the AOC want to stop her?’ asked Don.
‘She wouldn’t accept their coaching. When she was successful coaching herself, they tried to ban her technique.’
‘At least you and Megan are together now,’ said Don.
‘Have you been vaccinated?’ Don asked.
‘No, neither of us have,’ I said. ‘It could be why they wouldn’t discharge me.’
‘Why did you refuse?’
‘There is not enough evidence of benefits and too much risk of side effects.’
‘But suppose a vaccine was available with strong evidence that it was safe. Would you accept vaccination?’
As usual, Don’s view was moderate.
‘I would do what’s reasonable,’ I said. ‘If it would protect me and others from infection, or reduce the severity of illness and there was no risk of side-effects, I would take it.’
‘Doctors have advised getting the vaccine,’ Don said.
‘I want more facts before I make up my mind,’ I said.
‘What if everyone made up their own mind?’
‘Then I would be a fool not to.’
I said it as a pun, but no-one laughed. They didn’t believe I would want to conform. My reputation was as a maverick, unorthodox and independent-minded.
‘What will you do?’ asked Don.
‘I’m stuck here for a month. After that I will be free to campaign.’
‘Will you get the jab?’ he asked.
‘No, I will oppose any coronavirus mandate,’ I said. ‘Doing the right thing’ means continuing my life in good health, with a free conscience, as an individual. One jab wouldn’t be the end of it: it could be the start of a series of vaccinations and treatments that could have serious repercussions. Once the nanny state has the upper hand, all kinds of forcible treatments could follow.’
‘What treatments are you talking about?’
‘Of the mentally ill, including euthanasia.’
‘Some treatments might be of benefit.’
‘Some might be harmful. My objection is institutional rather than technical. The nanny state is overbearing. I may accept other treatments but my stand is against the threatened vaccination mandate, a totalitarian proposal. I must consider carefully what to do.’
‘Why don’t more people refuse the jab?’ asked Don.
‘There are reasons for and against. Not many of us can keep an open mind, as if Schrodinger’s Cat is both alive and dead, waiting for conclusive information. Most people plump for having a jab, accepting there can be harmful consequences.’
‘Why do you say a mandate would be totalitarian?’ asked Nick.
‘It’s a system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state,’ I said.
‘We haven’t gone that far yet,’ Nick said.
‘We are getting there,’ I said.
‘Hopefully the pandemic will be over soon,’ said Megan.
‘I hope so too, but unless we oppose it, the problem of nanny state totalitarianism could be permanent.’