One of the most common arguments made by people who support Covid restrictions is that those who oppose the restrictions are “selfish.” Proponents of lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, et cetera demand that everyone be willing to make sacrifices for the greater good. How selfish, they argue, to value one’s own freedom more than other people’s health and safety.
Examples of this attitude abound. One article that came out early in the pandemic criticized young people who chose to ride the bus, because if the young person happened to have an asymptomatic case of the virus, they might end up “killing” an old person who got on the bus after them. Someone on Twitter wrote that as a chemotherapy patient, businesses that do not comply with lockdown orders “force me to never leave my house… thanks for being so selfish.” And one of my Facebook friends criticized the Liberty Rally that took place in July on the Boston Common, calling the participants “idiots contaminating each other” and claiming that they should not ride on public transportation because “we have a right to be FREE of your germs.”
But are any of these people really less selfish than the people they are criticizing? The debate about Covid restrictions is a debate about which should be valued more highly: liberty or safety. Those who prioritize liberty are no more selfish than those who prioritize safety. After all, when I argue that I have the right to leave my house as often as I wish, go wherever I wish, and get together with as many or as few people as I wish, I’m not arguing that only I have the right to do these things. I am arguing that everyone does. Not only am I arguing that I have no obligation to sacrifice my quality of life to protect other people; I am also arguing that other people have no obligation to sacrifice their quality of life to protect me. Similarly, lockdown proponents are not altruistically sacrificing their freedoms for the sake of others; they are demanding that others sacrifice their freedoms to keep them safe as well.
In the examples above: Is it really selfish of the hypothetical young person to ride the bus, just because this could possibly result in an old person catching the virus? Why is an old person’s right to ride the bus safely considered more important than a young person’s right to ride the bus at all? I argue that it is more selfish to tell other people to stay off the bus just to make the bus safer for you. Without trying to be insensitive towards how difficult it must be to go through chemo, does the fact that you’re going through chemo really give you the right to demand that businesses close down to make it safer for you to leave your house? If leaving your house is too risky, it is your responsibility to stay home. Claiming that it is other people’s responsibility to curtail their activities to make the world safer for you is truly selfish. And is it really selfish to attend a rally, or is it more selfish to demand that those who have attended a rally stay off of public transportation so that you can be provided with a germ-free environment? You can probably guess what my answer to this question would be.
If you are at higher risk for a severe case of the virus, or are just very concerned about the virus, it is your responsibility to take the proper precautions (or to absorb the risks of not taking the precautions). If an activity or environment is too risky for you, then it’s your responsibility to avoid it. It is not other people’s responsibility to modify their behavior to make activities and environments safer for you. In other words, every person has the right to make decisions based on his or her own risk tolerance. Demanding that the entire society be tailored to your own risk tolerance is truly selfish.
I leave you with the below post which has been making the rounds on Facebook and which makes some excellent points:
I see a whole lot of this: ‘People who don’t wear masks are selfish and putting everyone else in danger.’
Just no. Stop.
Do you know what’s selfish? Passing off responsibility for YOUR health to everyone else around you. It doesn’t work that way.
YOUR health is YOUR responsibility. MY health is MINE.
Trust me, you don’t want ME in charge of your health because I’ll swoop in and toss out all your junk food, processed crap, alcohol, & cigs, fill your fridge with fruits and veggies, force you to drink water, take quality supplements, exercise daily, and get plenty of sleep.
Oh, what’s that? You don’t want to be told what to eat, drink, take, do, etc? Well, Karen, if the way you’re living promotes poor health and a depleted immune system that isn’t functioning at its best, then you don’t get to make a single health decision for me.
Furthermore, if YOUR mask works, which you obviously believe it does since you want to force everyone to wear one, you have nothing to worry about if I choose not to.
My freedoms don’t end where your fear begins. We are all adults that make our own decisions regarding the level of risk we are willing to take in everyday life. As of now, we’re a free country, although that seems to be changing.
If YOU want to wear a mask, bleach everything around you, wear gloves, and never touch anyone or anything… that’s up to you. I do not and cannot accept that life.
A woman who has never changed her daily routine, worn a mask or gloves, or sanitized the heck out of everything since all this started. And I’m still here and haven’t been sick. Thank God for properly functioning immune systems (which are NO accident, btw)