When Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker implemented new restrictions in response to the Covid pandemic, I was appalled. He and governors across the country had already thoroughly trampled on their citizens’ rights in the name of fighting the virus, so the fact that he would introduce even harsher measures was horrible. But now, unbelievably, according to the Boston Globe, numerous people are voicing their displeasure with the fact that Baker’s restrictions do not go far enough. They are demanding that he implement even stricter measures, something that did not even occur to me as a possibility.
For example, Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, tweeted the following: “Over past 6 weeks, I’ve gone from uncomfortable to aghast at lack of action. Its incomprehensible. They must see different data because no rational explanation for lack of action.”
I can think of a rational explanation for lack of action: the fact that the actions in question – shutting down businesses, banning people from gathering, telling people to leave their homes as little as possible, etc. – would violate everyone’s rights. Rights are something that many epidemiologists do not seem to care about. Too many people presume that health and safety should be the sole considerations in determining which policies should be enacted. Liberty and freedom are completely disregarded. Jha is essentially saying that is uncomfortable with the fact that the government is only violating people’s rights a large amount, as opposed to a huge amount. He is aghast, and finds it incomprehensible, that a few tiny remnants of liberty are still allowed to exist.
Making this statement even more bizarre is the fact that Jha was quoted in an article in the very same newspaper the previous day as saying, “Our job is to help people understand what the trade-offs are, but not necessarily to tell people what to do.” But his recent tweet expresses the exact opposite of this sentiment. If he does not think his job is to tell people what to do, why is he demanding that the government enact policies doing precisely that? In the article, Jha mentions receiving “scathing” letters from members of the public who disagree with his ideas. “Where are we as a country when that’s how people react to science?” he is quoted as asking.
If Jha truly refrained from telling people what to do, and simply explained what the trade-offs are when it comes to virus risk, then he would have a good point. There is no reason for people to be angry at an epidemiologist who is simply educating them about risks. But the sentiment that Jha expressed on Twitter demonstrates that he actually does believe people should be told what to do. Therefore, the scathing letters are completely justified. No one has the right to advocate for authoritarian policies and then to complain when he or she is criticized. Any person who expresses disrespect for liberty and individual rights deserves all the criticism that he or she gets.