Fire bans during July Fourth were certainly ironic. Just when people want to celebrate freedom by lighting off fireworks, the government tells us we can’t. But fire bans have two important functions.
First, they try to prevent disaster by signaling that certain activities are potentially dangerous.
Second, they firm up the rules that can hold people accountable for their actions. When a ban is in place, there’s no such a thing as accidentally starting a forest fire because the rules were laid out for all to see. Some people gripe about the lack of freedom that comes with a fire ban, but I’d be willing to bet that these exact same people would run and hide if they started a fire during a ban.
There’s a striking similarity between fire bans and COVID-19 health ordinances. They are both trying to signal that certain actions are dangerous – for instance, not wearing a mask in public puts others at risk. But sadly, the consequences of ignoring health ordinances are more obscure. You get someone sick, who gets someone else sick, who gets their mom sick, and she dies. The thread of responsibility is long and tangled.
But to the macho dude proudly refusing to wear a mask in my favorite restaurant: Would you be so proud if there was a way to hold you directly accountable for that mother’s death?
It seems the more that someone beats their chest about freedom, the less they want to consider the consequences of their actions.