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Author, sociologist Furedi: Show some courage during pandemic

“COVID-19 is a disaster for humanity, but it need not break the human spirit. History shows that a disaster like COVID-19 is also a test of humanity’s capacity to deal with adversity, and overcome it. That is a lesson we must teach ourselves and our young right now.”

Scholar and author Frank Furedi has a message for the world: Show some courage.

Furedi is a professor emeritus at the University of Kent in England, as well as author of several books and frequent commentator on social issues. He has written about and discussed what he refers to as the “sociology of fear,” saying people have become obsessed with danger and greatly averse to taking any kind of risk.

The COVID-19 pandemic has served to illustrate how prevalent that is, he told Freedom Media Network.

“They are always telling us to be careful, to be safe,” Furedi said.

We have an “excess of caution,” he said, and that has become a major problem. He said he traces its roots to the early 1980s, when a movement emerged to protect children at all times and to reduce, if not eliminate, risk.

It seemed like a good idea, but there were faults that have taken seed and produced a dangerous crop.

“I think children need to be allowed to have more freedom,” Furedi said.

If they experience risks, they will learn and understand the consequences of their actions. Without that knowledge, they are far less capable of dealing with challenges, Furedi said.

Adults also are living in fear when they have little reason to be so intimidated, he said.

“I think the key thing is we have to make a decision we’re going to carry on with our lives,” Furedi said.

On his website, he published a piece titled “A disaster without precedent” on March 19. It also appeared in Spiked, an online publication.

“COVID-19 is a disaster without precedent. Not primarily in terms of the disease itself, but in terms of how we have responded to it,” Furedi wrote.

“The impact of COVID-19 on people’s lives and on economic, social and global relations, both now and in the future, is likely to be more far-reaching than any other previous public-health crisis,” he wrote. “Not even during the First World War or the Second World War did governments feel the need to close schools. The application of emergency measures in response to COVID-19 is unparalleled in peacetime.”

He has written several articles on the pandemic, the most recent, “Don’t sacrifice freedom at the altar of safety” was published on Thursday.

“One of the most unattractive features of the deification of safety is that it tends to subordinate the value of freedom,” Furedi wrote. “Within the contemporary Western moral framework, safety and security are first-order values, while freedom is, at best, reduced to a second-order one.”

Furedi, 73, was born in Hungary and moved with his family to Canada after the ill-fated Hungarian Revolution of 1956. He settled in Great Britain in 1969, becoming active in left-wing politics, co-founding Revolutionary Communist Tendency in 1976, which in 1981 changed its name to the Revolutionary Communist Party. Among its central tenets was a strong opposition to government involvement in social activity and private lives. The RCP folded in 1997, but Furedi’s work as a very public intellectual has continued and evolved, as have his views.

In addition to his books and some limited work at the University of Kent with doctoral students, he writes for spiked, an online current-affairs publication that claims to be “committed to fighting for humanism, democracy and freedom.”

Furedi has labeled himself a “libertarian Marxist,” a “libertarian humanist” and a “radical democrat,” but his ideas and writings have become popular with American conservatives, despite the fact that his wife Ann is the chief executive of BPAS, formerly the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Britain’s leading private provider of abortions.

In his books “How Fear Works,” “Therapy Culture,” “What's Happened To The University? A Sociological Examination of its Infantilisation” and others, he has examined how culture has changed in the last 40 years.

Furedi said people are surrendering their rights in the name of security and that is a very bad bargain.

“Once you give them up, it’s difficult to get them back,” he said.

Furedi encourages people to avoid huddling in fear. He said he remains very active, running daily and rock-climbing. However, he admits the pandemic has impacted his social life.

“I’m not able to go down to the pub and have a drink with my friends,” he said.

Furedi said he hopes he will soon be able to do that. He said people need to emerge from shelter and resume normal activities, treating the virus as a health issue, not a world war.

He said vulnerable people should be protected, but for everyone else, don’t live in fear.

“I think it’s far better they carry on with life,” he said.

Furedi focused on courage at the end of his March 19 piece.

“The classical virtue of courage was not about the self. It was rooted within ideas of responsibility, altruism and wisdom,” he wrote. “It may seem like a terribly archaic and unrealistic aspiration, but society really needs to engage with these virtues that for so long fortified the human spirit against adversity.

“COVID-19 is a disaster for humanity, but it need not break the human spirit. History shows that a disaster like COVID-19 is also a test of humanity’s capacity to deal with adversity, and overcome it. That is a lesson we must teach ourselves and our young right now.”

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