In Finland, there is a sigh of relief when children accidentally hurt themselves. Just as many U.S. cities and states have certain unique claims to fame, so do most countries. In Finland, one cultural oddity is that parents don’t frantically help their children avoid mistakes. Error is embraced because it signals rapid learning.
Bill Gates has often said success is a lousy teacher. Well, it seems Finnish people have long intuited Gates’s view of progress — erring that teaches us how not to err. Finnish kids learn how to get by via stubbed toes, skinned knees, and broken arms.
The Finnish approach to life came to mind while reading about our political class’s latest lapse of reason on COVID-19: Dancing has been banned at weddings in Washington, D.C.
Yes, D.C. authorities have decreed dancing a threat to our health. And it’s not just the shuffling of feet. For weddings in our nation’s capital to be compliant, attendees must also not stand. Apparently, the novel coronavirus takes a break when you’re sitting. So, make sure you sit, and, if you absolutely must stand, do not dance — you might anger the virus!
If there’s good news about this vacation from reality that we continue to endure, it’s that what’s ridiculous ultimately swallows itself. The unwarranted curtailing of freedom nearly results in decrees that bring new meaning to absurdity, which, yes, now include rules against moving one’s feet with joy while standing.
“But wait!” some will say, “D.C.’s pols are in a tough spot. They have our lives and health in their hands. When people dance they breathe and sweat around others breathing and sweating. People could get sick and die. Stop being dismissive of the politicians. They’re trying to save our lives.”
Not really. If the coronavirus is aroused by standing and dancing such that our health and mortality hang in the balance, what’s the point of rules from the Commanding Heights? Seemingly forgotten amid all the hysteria about a rapidly spreading virus is that the more deadly the virus is, the more any sort of political force becomes wholly superfluous. Who requires rules against standing and dancing at weddings if standing and dancing at weddings become associated with sickness, hospitalization, and death?
“Not so fast!” some will still holler, “While it’s surely true that many of us have common sense, and will adjust our behavior in response to a spreading virus, not everyone has common sense.”
Missed by all the nail-biters in our midst is that the very people who lack common sense, who have a tendency to be skeptical about expert opinion — or who think weddings without dancing are like bikes without tires — are crucial when a virus is spreading or when any threat reveals itself.
Those who don’t do as they’re instructed and shun “expert” advice produce essential information. By acting differently — frequently opposite to the consensus — they provide us with indispensable knowledge.
In the case of COVID-19, the rebels help us understand if allegedly aberrant behavior truly does lead to sickness. Their actions will either validate expert opinion, lead to its rejection, or at least provide clues that greatly enhance our knowledge. Without the contrarians, we the people are rendered somewhat blind, and so are the experts.
Missed by politicians and their expert enablers is that rules are anti-health precisely because they deprive us of naturally occurring “control groups” whose actions generate knowledge. Lest we forget, the movements and actions of free people are market signals like anything else, and stifling such signals doesn’t make us better off or smarter. Indeed, centralized planning of human action that certainly doesn’t work in good times most certainly doesn’t work in uncertain times.
Ultimately, it’s becoming increasingly necessary for those with common sense to get back to living their lives as they wish. Some will avoid dancing and weddings altogether, some will only sit at them, and some will shuffle their feet and flail their arms with reckless abandon. Regardless, we’ll know much more after each makes his or her individual choice. As it turns out, freedom works.
John Tamny is Vice President at FreedomWorks, and author of the new book, “When Politicians Panicked: The New Coronavirus, Expert Opinion, and a Tragic Lapse of Reason.”