At one level, our choices may seem to be ours alone, but they do not impact us alone. Pandemic and wildfire make clear that we all breathe the same air, and we all deal with the consequences of what others put into it. No matter how much we want to believe in ideologies of individualism, none of us exists in isolation. "My body, my choice?" -- yes, and, my choices impact you and your choices impact me. I am not in favor of shaming people for their choices or of relying on the state to regulate those choices -- besides going against my own values these two paths have proven ineffective and counterproductive -- but I do think that it is essential for us to push back against the idea that individual choices are a purely private matter.
This is not a post about vaccines and masks alone, as important as they are. Yes, the vaccines we have limit the severity of symptoms and improve clinical outcomes for vaccinated people who contract COVID-19. They may also limit and slow its spread, but they do not stop its spread. We know now that vaccinated people can transmit the virus to others. From the start, I felt the decision to tell vaccinated people that we could safely be part of public gatherings without masking or distancing was horrible hubris in the face of a mutating virus -- and I admit I myself slipped into a false sense of security. My acquired immunity through previous infection, my vaccination, my Vitamin D-3, my herbs make it unlikely that I will have another severe bout of acute COVID symptoms. They do not prevent me from making someone else sick the way my mask does. (And my mask confers way more protection on other people than it does for me.)
This is about something more fundamental. We evolved in a world where, just as we do, our ancestors breathed in the exhalations of animals and plants and each other, and exhaling, sent chemical signals out into the world on their breath that transformed the experiences of other beings that breathed them in. We evolved in community and connection.
We are only individual in the sense that a mushroom is. The thing we call a mushroom, the fruiting body, is, indeed a unique entity with a unique experience. But the "I" of the mushroom does not exist outside the "we" of the mycelium -- which does not exist outside the "we" of the mycorrhizal network which does not exist outside the "we" of the watershed. The same is true of each of us in relation to human and other than human community.
I see a lot of people using the word "sovereignty" to reinforce and justify their ideas of individuality.
I have said before and I will say again: to understand the concept of sovereignty, we need to go back to its oldest iteration. The first Kings were sovereign because they wedded the land and took responsibility for the well being of the land and the people.
Over time, this marriage became more and more abstracted, especially in cultures where kingship was hereditary. In time, people rose up and put an end to kingship, and rightly sought to reinvest authority in the people.
But because they were separated from the concept of what sovereignty first meant, in seeking to make the people collectively sovereign and the individual self sovereign, they missed something fundamental: true sovereignty means taking responsibility not just for yourself, but for the land and the people (human and other-than-human) and the impact your decisions and actions have on all with in your web of relation.
May we all abandon the myth of individualism and reanimate true sovereignty.