Sacrificing for the greater good is nice, but not necessary

One sentiment that I hear again and again during the Covid-19 pandemic is that everyone must work to slow the spread of the virus. In other words, people must make sacrifices for the greater good. 

All over the internet and the news media, people voice the idea that those who do not work and sacrifice to combat the virus are lacking in character. (Sometimes people use much nastier and more offensive language than “lacking in character.”) Journalist Dan Rather, for example, tweeted: “You want college football? Well guess what. You don’t get it if you don’t work to ensure America isn’t awash in a sea of deadly virus.” Reverend John F. Hudson expressed similar views in a column that I read in my local newspaper. He criticizes people who argue, “You are not taking away my right to do nothing.” All that is being asked of people, he points out, is to wear masks and stay six feet apart. “Why is this so hard for so many?” he asks rhetorically. “Why is this request twisted by some into the absurd idea that by actually following these public health mandates, we are somehow giving up our civil liberties?”

Actually, the idea that requiring people to follow public health mandates violates civil liberties is neither twisted nor absurd. It’s correct. People do have a right to do nothing. This idea is called the non-aggression principle. 

Wearing a mask and staying 6 feet apart from other people isn’t necessarily a huge sacrifice (although the idea that this is the only sacrifice people are being asked to make ignores the fact that in the beginning stages of the pandemic, governments banned people from parks and beaches and forcibly closed all non-essential businesses, even when these activities could be done with social distancing). I personally do not mind wearing a mask inside stores and businesses and staying 6 feet apart from others while walking around. But people are not morally obligated to make any sacrifice, no matter how small. As long as one does not actively inflict harm on another person, one is not doing anything wrong. Sure, making sacrifices for the greater good is nice. But it’s not obligatory, and people who don’t do it are not bad people. Requiring work and sacrifices as a condition of living in America violates people’s rights and goes against the idea of liberty upon which our country was founded.