Sunday, July 5, 2020 | ePaper

COVID Pandemic Distorted Practice Of Human Freedom

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Md. Monirul Islam :
 As of May 30, 2020, a global total infected cases and deaths are counted for 58,28,159 and 3,61,549 respectively in 216 countries of the world, which indicates that entire world is entangled with COVID-19 pandemic resulting in the tragedy of commons at zenith. This dreadful situation of humanity calls for investigating the raison d'être of COVID-19 pandemic from the normative point of view. This write-up thus examines the grounds of worldwide COVID-19 pandemic by integrating the philosophy of politics, environment and economics.
Garrett Hardin, an evolutionary biologist by education who produced a scientific paper entitled The Tragedy of the Commons in the peer-reviewed journal Science in 1968. The paper mainly highlighted the growing concern of overpopulation, and he presented an instance of grazing land taken from the concept of English economist William Forster Lloyd while revealing the adverse effect of overpopulation. Hardin's theory also accentuated the tragedy of more freedom in a commons is responsible along with overpopulation for the tragedy of commons. Historically, absolute human freedom brought about harsh miseries for the commons and it is still in continuance. More importantly, recent COVID-19 pandemic worldwide is caused due to the distorted practice of human freedom in the enjoyment of property and power.
The reverse way of human freedom affects the commons by polluting the environment. For human needs and gigantic industrial productions, people put sewage or chemical, radioactive, and heat wastes into water; noxious and dangerous fumes into the air; distracting and unpleasant advertising signs into the line of sight. The estimations of utility are much higher than before. A rational man finds that his portion of the cost of the wastes he discharges into the commons is fewer than the cost of purifying his wastes before releasing them. As this is true for everyone, we are locked into a system of fouling our own nest, so long as we behave merely as independent, rational, free-enterprisers.
Recently, the issue has added vastly to the inclination of developed countries to the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and the more freedom of these counties engages them in the marathon race to increase industrial outputs and succeed the paramount stage of urbanization by emitting GHGs. Global climate change ultimately occurs by the dint of the utilities maximized by the more freedom-prone emitter countries worldwide. To check for GHGs, as compensation, carbon tax, polluter pay principle (PPP) are brought in; but it goes in vain as the global deregulated leaders of the countries are hardly prone to comply with this standard. Many countries of the world thus face severe climate change vulnerability because of human's enjoyment of more freedom.
Even worldwide COVID-19 pandemic is the consequence of human's more freedom. Philosophically, nature becomes offensive to humans while massive man-made disasters pose threat to the existence of natural habitats and ultimately lead to the extinction of natural creatures. What appears in the case of Chinese people who consume all types of wild animal resulting in the virus infection in the human body? The contagious viruses such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and even COVID-19 outbreak were stemmed in the abnormal food habits of Chinese people. Chinese government barely made embargo on consuming wild animals even amid the COVID-19 pandemic in November 2019. This distorted freedom of the Chinese people as well as government's deregulated policy might be in charge for the COVID-19 pandemic, which was firstly emerged at Wuhan in Hubei province, China resulting in unbounded tragedy of the global commons.
The implication of Hardin's tragedy of commons is more economic than environmental as found in the intellectual discourses. Tragedy of commons is a deep real economic issue whereas an individual intends to exploit shared resources so the demand greatly outweighs supply and the resource becomes unavailable for the whole.  According to Hardin, this understanding generates both the positive and negative consequences in the life of commons. He gave an instance: picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. It indicates that as a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. What is the utility to him of adding one or more animal to his herd? This utility includes a negative and a positive component.
Positively, it is a function of the increment of the animal. As the herdsman receives all the proceeds from the sale of the additional animal, the positive utility is nearly +1. On the other hand, the negative component is a function of the additional overgrazing created by one or more animal. As the effects of overgrazing are shared by all the herdsmen, the negative utility for any particular decision-making herdsman is only a fraction of -1.
It can be said that the tragedy of commons arises in any economy in which each individual has a reason to consume a resource at the cost of every other individual with no way to exclude anyone from consuming. Moreover, the tragedy of the commons takes place while an individual neglects the wellbeing of society in the pursuit of his personal gain.
Laissez-faire economic system allows people to accumulate wealth as much as they can. This freedom of people, by and large, creates the state of the misuse of property and power. The misuse of natural habitats (property) i.e. consuming wild animals-bat and others by the Chinese people that leads to an uncontrolled tragedy for the global commons through COVID-19 pandemic. Some claim that COVID-19 outbreak is a bio attack planned and conducted by China. As a rational being, nobody has right to be the cause of other's ruin. John Stuart Mill's hypothesis of self and other-regarding actions thus is appropriate, including that the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.
In other way, it is positively questioned that, is COVID-19 outbreak balancing the gap between the rational and irrational stands of the people and encouraging the hope for the long sustainability of the world released from environmental hazards? In this irrational world, everyone is locked into a system that urges him to increase his properties and power without limit. Hardin said ruin is thus the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all. From the bitter experience of COVID-19 outbreak, people would intend to enjoy the balanced freedom bringing blessing in place of tragedy for global commons.   
In the case of long sustainability of world, we can assume that lower the GHGs emissions, higher the sustainability of the world with uncontaminated environment. Two new studies in AGU's journal Geophysical Research Letters found nitrogen dioxide pollution over northern China, Western Europe and the U.S. decreased by as much as 60 percent in early 2020 as compared to the same time last year. They also explored that nitrogen dioxide pollution decreased by an average of 40 percent over Chinese cities and by 20 to 38 percent over Western Europe and the United States during the 2020 lockdown, as compared to the same time in 2019. Notably, climate vulnerable countries continued raising their voices for reducing emissions that did not work; but COVID-19 pandemic has compelled these intractable emitter countries bringing a substantial shrinking to the GHGs emissions.  
Given the tragedy of the commons due to COVID-19 pandemic, absolute freedom is required to cut in any aspect of world order releasing global commons from tragedy. We in accordance with Hardin suggest having top-down global government regulations or direct control of common-pool resource and power to check the ruin as well as the tragedy of the commons.

(The author is Assistant Professor, Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management. He can be reached at

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