bookmark_borderBiased NYT article about Covid in Sweden

The New York Times recently published an article criticizing Sweden’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic for not being authoritarian enough. Instead of ordering individuals to stay in their homes and businesses to close, Sweden chose a policy of educating its citizens about risks and allowing them to make their own decisions. Restaurants, bars, stores, gyms, and parks have remained open, and people have been free to go about their lives with few restrictions.

The article by Peter Goodman of the New York Times states: “Not only have thousands more people died than in neighboring countries that imposed lockdowns, but Sweden’s economy has fared little better.” The article criticizes “the assumption that governments must balance saving lives against the imperative to spare jobs, with the extra health risks of rolling back social distancing potentially justified by a resulting boost to prosperity. But Sweden’s grim result — more death and nearly equal economic damage — suggests that the supposed choice between lives and paychecks is a false one: A failure to impose social distancing can cost lives and jobs at the same time.”

The article quotes Jacob Kirkegaard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who says: “They literally gained nothing. It’s a self-inflicted wound, and they have no economic gains.”

This viewpoint completely ignores the importance of liberty and individual rights. The main problem with lockdowns and other restrictions on people’s movement and activity is not that they hurt the economy (although that is a big downside); it is that they violate people’s rights. People have a fundamental right to move about freely and to decide for themselves how they wish to balance safety with quality of life. It is morally wrong for the government to order people to stay in their homes and to ban activities because it believes they are too dangerous for people to be allowed to do. So contrary to Kirkegaard’s claims, Sweden did indeed gain something: approximately four months of its citizens living in freedom, with their fundamental rights being respected! Unlike other countries, Sweden refrained from trampling on the rights of its people. That is not nothing.

The tradeoff that governments face when deciding how best to respond to a pandemic is not between safety and economic prosperity. Nor is it, as Goodman’s article suggests, a no-brainer of protecting both safety and the economy as opposed to doing nothing and allowing both to suffer. It is a question of whether or not to sacrifice individual liberty for the common good. And the answer to this question should always be, NO! Individual liberty is not simply a consideration to be balanced against other considerations, such as safety, health, or the economy. Respecting individual liberty is a requirement. As soon as one begins speaking of balancing individual liberty with something else, individual liberty has lost. Rights are absolute, and respecting them is mandatory, regardless of the effects on health, safety, and the economy.

Another claim made in the article is that the virus itself, not restrictive government policies imposed in response to it, is the cause of economic damage. Goodman points out that even in countries such as Sweden that have not forcibly shut businesses down, many people have been voluntarily avoiding businesses because of concerns about catching the virus. He cites a study by the University of Copenhagen which found that people over 70 in Sweden reduced their spending more than they did in Denmark, indicating that they considered shopping to be more risky without government-imposed social distancing measures in place.

But that is exactly what is supposed to happen. People have the right to make their own decisions about which risks, if any, they are willing to take with regards to the virus. This means that people who are comfortable going to stores and restaurants should be free to do so, while people who are not comfortable should be free to stay home. If the fact that the government is not trampling on everyone’s rights makes some people feel less safe, and therefore causes them to decide to stay home, then so be it! People’s decisions to curtail their activities may have the same economic result as forcible shutdowns, but the fact that one of these things is voluntary and the other is not, makes all the moral difference in the world.

By not violating the rights of its citizens, Sweden has done the right thing. The results of this policy, whether measured in lives lost or economic damage, are irrelevant. If a policy violates individual rights – as the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders implemented by most countries do – then it is morally wrong, regardless of how many lives are saved. By assuming that the result of a policy is the only thing that matters, the New York Times article is ignoring the most important thing in the world: individual rights.

bookmark_border“A sad day for America” as mob cheers removal of Confederate statues

For anyone who truly loves art and history, the events that took place this week in Richmond, Virginia have been dismaying and demoralizing. Mayor Levar Stoney used his emergency powers to order the immediate removal of the city’s Confederate statues. Work crews promptly removed a statue of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on Wednesday. Then on Thursday morning, they removed a statue of Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury. There are a total of 11 magnificent statues that the mayor has ordered to be taken down.

Local news station 8News captured a heart-wrenching scene in which a lone individual ran to the Stonewall Jackson statue and stood in front of it, begging the work crews to let it stay. Nearby individuals swarmed around him, and officers led him away. Disgustingly, over the course of the day, thousands of people gathered to chant and cheer as the statue was taken down.

One member of this mob, Mac McLeob, said: “I’m just so proud. Proud that the city of Richmond, which was once the Capital of the Confederacy is now the Capital of Equality and people can be proud to be from this area.”

Another mob member, Jasmine Howell, said that she “literally had chills just watching it.”

Another, Janice Scagnelli, called the removal of the Maury statue “amazing.”

Senator Tim Kaine expressed similar sentiments, tweeting: “I am proud that my hometown is removing these painful symbols. No need to honor those who tried to destroy the USA so they could perpetuate slavery.”

As for the mayor himself, he said at a press conference: “Once we remove the remaining monuments, we can officially say that we were the former capital of the Confederacy.” Earlier in the day, at a city council meeting, he said: “It is time to fully embrace the righteous cause. Time to get rid of racist symbols. Frankly, it’s time to heal.”

Nothing could be further from the truth than these sentiments. I can think of no cause less righteous than the removal of Confederate statues. I can think of nothing less healing and nothing less worthy of pride.

The Confederacy fought against the United States government for the right to form their own country. They were rebels who fought against government overreach and tyranny. This is something that every person should admire and celebrate. Individuals who fought for the Confederacy absolutely deserve to be honored. The anger and hatred that people today demonstrate towards the Confederacy are particularly objectionable because the Confederacy was and is the ultimate underdog. To many people, it is not enough that this small, agricultural country was beaten into submission by the more industrialized and populous United States, its cities burned, its population decimated, and its rights taken away. Apparently, it is also necessary to ban its flag, desecrate the graves of its soldiers, destroy its statues and monuments, and completely obliterate its memory. In today’s United States, displays of admiration for the Union – whether in the form of statues, memorials, flags, or depictions in popular culture – are far more common and accepted in our society than those for the Confederacy. But apparently, when it comes to studying and memorializing the Civil War, even the tiniest amount of diversity cannot be tolerated. This is why those who call for banning the Confederate flag, re-naming things that are named for Confederate leaders, and tearing down Confederate statues, are the true bigots and bullies. Ironically, the Black Lives Matter movement, which claims to be motivated by concerns about diversity and inclusion, is in reality stamping out every last iota of diversity and inclusiveness in America.

In the same press conference at which he announced the removal of the statues, the mayor announced plans for a new school, saying: “This is the sort of monuments moving forward that we want to erect to our children here in the city of Richmond. This is a testament to what we can do when we all work together. Although you all know that we are removing monuments that, I think, exemplify hate, division and oppression, we’re going to build these monuments to opportunity right here. That’s our commitment.”

The mayor also promised to replace the Confederate monuments with “symbols that represent our city.”

These comments completely miss the point. Schools are not a replacement for Confederate statues. Statues are beautiful, amazing, glorious, and magnificent, particularly Confederate statues because of the values of rebelliousness and freedom that they represent. The sight of a statue of a brave leader or warrior from history stirs and inspires the soul. Schools are important, but there is nothing glorious, magnificent, or soul-stirring about them. They are simply a part of a city’s infrastructure. Every city has them. They do nothing to make a city unique or distinctive.

What symbols does the mayor plan to replace the Confederate statues with? No statue, monument, or symbol could be as good, or as fitting for the city of Richmond, as the beautiful Confederate statues that the mayor so cruelly ordered taken down. Being the capital of the Confederacy is part of what makes Richmond unique. The statues on Monument Avenue are essential to the city’s identity, and without them, Richmond is a city that stands for nothing and has no values, no culture, and no heritage. How could anyone think that a city without Confederate statues is better than a city with them?

Andrew Morehead, a spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, called this “a sad day for America.” He also said that his organization is reluctant to publicly protest against the removal of statues because of concerns that the protests could devolve into violence.

If I was asked to comment on this issue, I would not be so restrained. I believe that the removal of any Confederate statue, or any act of violence or vandalism against such a statue, is despicable, and I condemn it in the harshest possible terms. Thanks to the mayor’s order, Richmond has gone from a city filled with beautiful, glorious, and magnificent statues of brave individuals who fought for freedom to… nothing. It is incomprehensible that someone could be happy about this or consider it something to be proud of. Each and every person who cheered as these statues were removed is a bigot and a bully with no soul.

It also says a lot about the Black Lives Matter movement that organizations with dissenting views do not feel physically safe to voice those views publicly.

If Confederate statues do not represent the values of the people of Richmond anymore, then that is a poor reflection on the people of Richmond. It is difficult to think of any positives in this situation, but one tiny positive is that because so many people in Richmond have proven themselves to be intolerant bullies, then the people of Richmond were not worthy of having these magnificent statues. My hope is that the statues can be displayed on private land somewhere where the few people remaining on Earth who still have souls can give them the admiration they deserve.

bookmark_borderTexas bar owners sue over new restrictions

As Covid-19 cases have increased in the U.S. over the past couple of weeks, state governments, unfortunately, are re-imposing some of the authoritarian measures that they had lifted. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott ordered all bars (defined as any establishment that makes at least 51% of its revenue from alcohol sales) to shut down by noon last Friday and ordered all restaurants to limit occupancy to 50% of capacity, down from 75%.

Agents from the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission reportedly visited almost 1,500 bars across the state, found that 59 were still open, and suspended the licenses of 7 bars that did not agree to close immediately. The city also reportedly responded to over 300 complaints about bars that were still open and restaurants that were exceeding capacity. (Why someone, let alone 300 people, would complain about such a thing is beyond me.)

Texas bar owners are fighting back in court against these authoritarian policies. They have filed lawsuits in Austin, Houston, and Galveston arguing that the restrictions violate the state constitution.

Jared Woodfill, the attorney for the bar owners, said to the Associated Press: “Gov. Abbott continues to act like a king. Abbott is unilaterally destroying our economy and trampling on our constitutional rights.”

Right on. People have a right to go to bars and restaurants if they want to. These activities may increase the risk of catching the virus, but each person has a right to make his/her own decision about whether or not to take this risk. If you think that going to a bar or restaurant carries an unacceptable level of risk, then don’t go.

bookmark_borderHypocritical and racist letter on public health and protests

Earlier this month, over 1,000 public health professionals, infectious disease professionals, and community stakeholders wrote an open letter entitled “Open letter advocating for an anti-racist public health response to demonstrations against systemic injustice occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In the letter, they praise protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement while insulting and defaming protests against authoritarian government restrictions. In regards to the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the letter reads, “A public health response to these demonstrations is also warranted, but this message must be wholly different from the response to white protesters resisting stay-home orders.”

It is disturbing that public health professionals would openly advocate such disparate treatment towards protesters based on whether or not they personally agree with the message of the protest.

When it comes to Black Lives Matter protests, the letter reads: “We do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission. We support them as vital to the national public health and to the threatened health specifically of Black people in the United States.”

The letter urges everyone to “support local and state governments in upholding the right to protest and allow protesters to gather.” The letter recommends that authorities neither disband protests, not arrest protesters, nor use tear gas or any other type of respiratory irritant. The letter encourages bystanders to provide masks, hand-washing stations, hand sanitizer, face shields, goggles, and wrapped, single-serving food and beverages to protesters. (This suggestion is particularly jarring when contrasted with the uproar that took place when a college allowed police officers keeping order during a protest to use its bathroom.) And the letter urges people to donate to protesters’ bail funds.

On the other hand, when it comes to protests against authoritarian government policies, the letter has this to say:

“On April 30, heavily armed and predominantly white protesters entered the State Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, protesting stay-home orders and calls for widespread public masking to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Infectious disease physicians and public health officials publicly condemned these actions and privately mourned the widening rift between leaders in science and a subset of the communities that they serve.”

How could the authors of this letter condemn people who are not only doing nothing wrong, but bravely standing up for individual rights? Stay-at-home orders are morally wrong, and therefore protesters in Michigan (and all over the country) were 100% correct in protesting against them. It is the stay-at-home orders that should be condemned, not those protesting against them. And how could someone “mourn” the fact that people are protesting against a morally wrong government policy? The real cause for mourning is the fact that so-called “leaders in science” have lost all sense of right and wrong and think nothing of throwing away individual rights and freedom in the name of safety. If there is a rift between leaders in science and people who are standing up for individual rights, it is the leaders in science who are on the wrong side.

Why does the letter mention that the anti-lockdown protesters were “heavily armed and predominantly white”? People have a right to bear arms; the protesters were not doing anything wrong by being heavily armed. Additionally, their race is irrelevant. Believing that people should have a right to move about freely and that the government does not have a right to order people to stay in their homes has nothing to do with race. But despite this, the authors of the letter repeatedly categorize the anti-lockdown protesters as “white” and even go so far as to accuse the protests of being “rooted in white nationalism.”

Clarifying its position on Black Lives Matter protests, the letter states that this position “should not be confused with a permissive stance on all gatherings, particularly protests against stay-home orders. Those actions not only oppose public health interventions, but are also rooted in white nationalism and run contrary to respect for Black lives.”

How is protesting against authoritarian government policies “rooted in white nationalism”? And how does this “run contrary to respect for Black lives”? In addition to accusing protesters of being white nationalists while providing no evidence to support that claim, the letter appears to be stating that respect for Black lives requires people to accept government policies that take away everyone’s freedom of movement. This is a preposterous claim. No person, of any race, has the right to demand that others shelter in their homes in order to keep him or her safe. No sane person could find it disrespectful for others to go about their lives and mind their own business. In fact, the exact opposite is the case. Allowing people to make their own decisions about risk is the only way to truly respect not just Black lives but lives of all races. Paternalistic and authoritarian government policies such as stay-at-home orders are disrespectful to all people, and protesting against them demonstrates true respect for Black lives and all lives.

Also, the fact that the anti-lockdown protests “oppose public health interventions” is not a bad thing. The public health interventions being challenged are morally wrong because they violate people’s rights to move about freely, and therefore it is correct to oppose them.

Furthermore, the letter demands that the public “listen, and prioritize the needs of Black people as expressed by Black voices.” Although this might sound like a nice sentiment, when you think about it, it is actually racist. Of course, everyone should listen to Black voices, just as everyone should listen to the voices of people of all races. But it is wrong to prioritize the needs of Black people, because the needs of all races matter equally. To prioritize the needs of Black people over the needs of others is racist and discriminatory.

So to sum up, the authors of this letter are on the wrong side of the issue of individual rights versus safety, are mischaracterizing this issue as having to do with race when it does not, and are also advocating that Black people be given preferential treatment over other races. They are advocating that protests with which they personally agree be not only permitted but actively supported and encouraged, while singling out protests with which they personally disagree for insults and condemnation. People with such racist attitudes and such disrespect for the rights of those they claim to serve have no business holding positions of leadership in their communities of in the field of public health. Each person who signed this letter should be fired from his or her job and should be sued for defamation.

bookmark_borderExcellent article explaining why lockdowns are unconstitutional

I recently read an excellent opinion piece by David R. Geiger in Commonwealth Magazine entitled, “Governor’s COVID-19 orders are unconstitutional.” In this piece, Geiger explains in an eloquent, straightforward way why lockdown orders and stay-at-home orders – focusing on those implemented by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker – are wrong.

“The animating principle of our nation is the maximal safeguarding of human liberty,” Geiger reminds us.

Under Massachusetts laws dealing with public health and infectious diseases, he points out, “the only restraints on liberty the government may impose are temporary isolation of any ‘sick or infected person’ and quarantining of others in his household, in each case with compensation for resulting wage loss.”

To essentially quarantine the entire population of the state obviously exceeds these limits. Baker likely realized this and therefore decided instead to use the Civil Defense Act of 1950 to justify his totalitarian measures. But as Geiger points out, this law was intended to be used during wars, nuclear power plant radiation releases, fires, floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters that physically alter the Earth in defined areas. Diseases don’t seem to fit this category.

Geiger lists all the ways that lockdown orders violate people’s rights:

Forced closures of businesses, schools, and places of worship; prohibitions on gatherings or of humans approaching or touching one another; and mandates that people cover their faces in public are radical and unprecedented, and unquestionably infringe both expressly enumerated and historically enjoyed rights. These include individuals’ rights to move about freely, associate with others as they choose, express themselves through their appearance, make decisions about their own health, educate their children, exercise their religion, and support themselves through their chosen occupation, and businesses’ rights to operate within the bounds of the law.

Government infringement on individual liberty cannot be justified by the mere existence of some degree of risk; rather, the individual’s conduct must pose a serious risk of significant harm. We do not limit freedom of movement by banning driving because it poses risk; instead, we prohibit only reckless or drunk driving. For this reason, Massachusetts’ public health statute does not authorize shutting down normal life due to the risk of infection, but instead restricts the liberty only of a person who is actually infectious, or his close household contacts who have a significant likelihood of being so.

Exactly! It’s one thing for the government to infringe upon the liberties of a person who actually has the coronavirus, but for the government to infringe upon the liberties of everyone merely because any given person might possibly have the virus is ridiculous.

Another favorite quote from the article (emphasis mine): “If some individuals are concerned about such risks they are free to protect themselves by keeping a distance or wearing a mask… But those who are willing to accept such risks in order to live life have a fundamental right to do so, and the fact that exercising this right may cause some increase in disease cases provides no ground to quash it.”

Geiger reminds readers of the “inherent harm in depriving Massachusetts residents of their fundamental freedoms,” something that proponents of lockdown orders tend to discount. “The people of the Commonwealth should rise up against them, insist that they cease immediately, and ensure that they never recur,” he writes.

I could not agree more. Everyone who calls lockdown opponents “selfish” or “irresponsible” needs to read this article.

bookmark_borderRebels open playgrounds in New York

New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio is under fire for banning kids from playing in parks at the same time as he encourages mass protests about racial issues.

On Monday, city employees welded the gates to a playground shut in the Williamstown neighborhood of New York. They later replaced the welding job with a lock to prevent children from using the playground.

“How long can we keep our kids in prison?” asked one local mom. “I don’t feel like I live in a free country.”

David Niederman, president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, said: “We are dealing with families who have been imprisoned in their homes for three months, and they can’t go and breathe fresh air? Kids cannot have what they need, which is fresh air.”

And State Assemblyman Joseph Lentol made a good point about children’s ability and right to make their own decisions: “These kids have parents that can instruct them on safe distancing and making sure they are not only safe distancing and make sure the playground isn’t full. There’s an honor system… We’ve given them enough information to do what’s right and let’s trust them to have at least a little bit of fun.”

In addition to the obvious individual liberty concerns, DeBlasio is facing allegations of anti-Semitism because the playgrounds that he has ordered closed are in predominantly Jewish areas.

The Reagan Battalion pointed out DeBlasio’s hypocrisy:

Fortunately, community leaders fought back against DeBlasio’s authoritarian, discriminatory policies. Assemblyman Joe Lentol organized a rally demanding the opening of the park, and several people cut open the lock with bolt cutters.

 

bookmark_borderRe-opening the country is about freedom, not just the economy

A few weeks ago, when the U.S. first began to emerge from coronavirus-related restrictions, President Trump acknowledged that opening the country might result in more deaths than would have occurred it the country had remained locked down.

ABC’s David Muir asked Trump, “Do you believe that’s the reality that we’re facing, that lives will be lost to reopen the country?”

Trump replied: “It’s possible that there will be some because you won’t be locked into an apartment or a house… Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon.”

The ABC News article described Trump’s stance as “directly acknowledging there will be a real, negative human cost in prioritizing an economic revival over a more cautious approach in favor of public health.”

This is typical of the way the debate over reopening the country has been framed: as a trade-off between the economy on one hand and health and safety on the other hand. But it’s not just the economy that’s at issue: it’s people’s fundamental rights and freedoms. The paternalistic, authoritarian restrictions that governments put in place to slow the spread of the virus did not only completely destroy the economy, ruin businesses small and large, and take away the livelihoods of millions of people. They also violated the rights of every single person: the right to move about freely, the right to assemble, the right to protest, the right to privacy, the right to religious freedom, and the right to bear arms, just to name a few. Governments had no right to enact these restrictions in the first place; therefore they could not possibly end the restrictions too soon. If something violates people’s rights, then the sooner it stops, the better.

But far too many people have described even the first cautious steps towards reopening the country as reckless, immoral, irresponsible, and even (according to one acquaintance on social media) “sickening.”

Epidemiologists Dr. Abby Greenberg and Dr. Harvey Finkel expressed such sentiments in a Boston Globe letter to the editor. “Opening up society and businesses now, or soon, will lead to many deaths,” they wrote. “Death is permanent. Economic loss can eventually be recouped. Trading deaths for dollars is unconscionable. Inconvenience and boredom must be borne with equanimity.”  

But it is not a matter of trading deaths for dollars. Nor is it even a matter of trading deaths for freedom. Freedom is a right. If something is a right, it cannot be taken away, full stop. It makes no sense to even debate whether or not freedom should be traded for health, or safety, or even lives. It is never OK to violate rights, to any degree, no matter how many lives could be saved by doing so. Restoring freedoms that should never have been taken away in the first place is neither reckless, nor irresponsible, nor sickening, nor immoral, nor unconscionable. It is a fundamental moral obligation. Contrary to what Greenberg and Finkel argue, extending the lockdown would be unconscionable.

Furthermore, it’s not about “inconvenience and boredom.” It’s about the moral principle that people have the right to make their own decisions about their lives. It’s not about the specific things that are sacrificed in an effort to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus; it’s about the principle that people should be free to weigh risks and decide for themselves what sacrifices (if any) to make to reduce their risk. How dare Greenberg and Finkel (and the many other people who think similarly) reduce this moral argument against the lockdown to a complaint about inconvenience and boredom? How dare they demand that people “bear with equanimity” the trampling of our fundamental rights?

It is common to hear the argument that a particular policy position is correct because it “saves lives,” as so many people have argued with respect to lockdown orders. It is difficult for opponents to argue against any policy position framed this way without sounding like callous jerks. But the fact that something saves lives does not automatically make it morally right. This point is explained wonderfully in an article by Anthony Davies and James Harrigan entitled “No Policy Can Save Lives; It Can Only Trade Lives.” Here is an excerpt:

Regardless of whether we acknowledge them, tradeoffs exist. And acknowledging tradeoffs is an important part of constructing sound policy. Unfortunately, even mentioning tradeoffs in a time of crisis brings the accusation that only heartless beasts would balance human lives against dollars. But each one of us balances human lives against dollars, and any number of other things, every day.

Five-thousand Americans die each year from choking on solid food. We could save every one of those lives by mandating that all meals be pureed. Pureed food isn’t appetizing, but if it saves just one life, it must be worth doing. Your chance of dying while driving a car is almost double your chance of dying while driving an SUV. We could save lives by mandating that everyone drive bigger cars. SUVs are more expensive and worse for the environment, but if it saves just one life, it must be worth doing. Heart disease kills almost 650,000 Americans each year. We could reduce the incidence of heart disease by 14 percent by mandating that everyone exercise daily. Many won’t want to exercise every day, but if it saves just one life, it must be worth doing.

Legislating any of these things would be ridiculous, and most sane people know as much. How do we know? Because each of us makes choices like these every day that increase the chances of our dying. We do so because there are limits on what we’re willing to give up to improve our chances of staying alive. Our daily actions prove that none of us believes that “if it saves just one life” is a reasonable basis for making decisions.

In another thoughtful article, Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic argues that in addition to negatively impacting people’s quality of life, lockdown measures could negatively impact people’s life expectancy as much as, or more than, the virus itself. He cites the dangers posed by food shortages, the likelihood of suicide and/or drug use among those whose livelihoods are destroyed, and the impact of a crashing economy on the medical system:

The general point is that minimizing the number of COVID-19 deaths today or a month from now or six months from now may or may not minimize the human costs of the pandemic when the full spectrum of human consequences is considered. The last global depression created conditions for a catastrophic world war that killed roughly 75 to 80 million people. Is that a possibility? The downside risks and costs of every approach are real, frightening, and depressing, no matter how little one thinks of reopening now.

Anyone who thinks that the economic devastation caused by the government’s response to the coronavirus will simply be reversed in time might want to think again.

It is interesting that just three months ago, the idea of the government banning restaurants from offering dine-in service, sports teams from playing, and stores from opening would have been unthinkable. But now that most state governments has done just that, it is considered the default. Those who want to relax the restrictions bear the burden of proving that doing so is safe, and if they do not do that to the satisfaction of the medical and political establishment, they are attacked as irresponsible, greedy, and selfish. Yet it is those who want to extend the shutdown of our country who should bear the burden of proof; it is those who want to keep people imprisoned in their homes who are truly immoral.

bookmark_borderThere’s nothing ugly about individual rights

A few weeks ago I read a letter to the editor in the Boston Globe which I strongly disagree with. Numerous people in our society seem to share this viewpoint, particularly with respect to the coronavirus pandemic, and I find it deeply wrong. In a letter published on May 16, 2020, Jeffrey Halprin of Natick wrote:

I read selfishness disguised as patriotism in the comments of a gun shop owner who sued to reopen, when he said that “the second Amendment should not be suspended during a health pandemic.” I realized how close the connection is between the quarantine protesters and the gun lobby. Both are all about “me” instead of “us.”

Guns make it easy to sit in a high window and randomly pick off dozens of people listening to county music in Las Vegas. Not my problem. Uncontrollable virus racing through nursing homes, hospitals, and neighborhoods? Ditto.

The Second Amendment, written, ironically enough, to protect the community, with a “well-regulated militia,” is now the cover that people use to turn their back on the community so that they can sell a few more guns.

As for the people who turn their backs on the request to pitch in and sacrifice until we find a way to keep the virus from randomly picking off their neighbors? What an ugly way to live.

In this letter, Halprin is harshly criticizing gun shop owners who fought for their right to open, as well as protesters who have been bravely standing up to authoritarian government policies in general. His criticisms are baseless.

As inconvenient as it may be to those who value the community above all else, people have rights. Specifically, people have the right to live their lives as they please, so long as they do not violate the rights of anyone else.

People are not obligated to take on the problems of others and make them their own. Mass shootings such as the one in Las Vegas, as horrific as they may be, are not the fault of innocent gun owners. They are the fault of the mass shooters. Innocent gun owners are not required to “pitch in” to solve this problem by sacrificing their freedoms.

Similarly, people are not obligated to sacrifice their freedom of movement, assembly, speech, or religion, their privacy, or their livelihoods in order to lower the risk of virus transmission for the community as a whole.

A world in which people are required to put the needs of others above their own would be a truly ugly place to live. Halprin is demanding that each person “pitch in and sacrifice” by giving up a certain amount of freedom for the sake of the community. But how much does he think people should be required to sacrifice? Where is the line drawn between being sufficiently community-minded versus unacceptably selfish? And more importantly, what is the purpose of demanding that everyone pitch in and sacrifice for the sake of the community, when by doing this you are depriving every member of the community of the right to live according to his or her own preferences and values, the very thing that makes life worth living? This might create a safer society, with fewer shootings and fewer cases of the coronavirus. But it would also create a society in which people are not free to live their lives in the way that makes them happy, in which people are not entitled to use their time and energy on what they believe is important, and in which no person’s life truly belongs to him or her. The fact that other people are sacrificing for your benefit, just as you are sacrificing for theirs, does not even begin to make up for the loss of freedom and self-determination. All that is accomplished by requiring people to put others first, is to create a world where everyone is worse off.

Freedom is not something that should be pitched in and sacrificed. It is something that rightly belongs to each individual. The honorable thing to do is to defend one’s rights, as gun store owners and anti-lockdown protesters are doing, not to meekly give these rights up.

A world in which each person is free to make his or her own decisions and live in the way that best suits him or her is best for all people. There is nothing wrong with valuing the “me” instead of “us.” Nor is there anything wrong with focusing on one’s own self, as long as one does not harm other people in the process. The idea of individual liberty is simple, logical, fair, egalitarian, and beautiful. To insult people who are bravely standing up for their rights, because they have not demonstrated what you consider to be an adequate amount of concern for the community? Now that is ugly.

bookmark_borderThe most offensive tweet I have ever seen

Over the years, I have seen numerous ridiculous and offensive things on Twitter. But I may have found the most offensive tweet yet. In the below exchange, Bethany Mandel very reasonably explains her opposition to Covid-19 lockdown orders. Joe Lockhart responds by… calling her a killer. Yes, you are reading that right.

Continue reading “The most offensive tweet I have ever seen”

bookmark_borderSocial distancing snitches

A recent New York Times article about “social distancing informants” describes behavior that is truly disturbing to anyone who values liberty or individual rights. This phenomenon is exactly what it sounds like – people who rat out and publicly shame others for violating authoritarian measures designed to stop the coronavirus.

The article describes these excuses for people as “Americans frustrated by fellow citizens violating government orders to wear masks, close nonessential businesses, and refrain from gathering in groups.” Some of them “said they thought that calling out violators was a civic duty and a matter of public health.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. To criticize fellow citizens who are doing nothing wrong is the opposite of a civic duty – it is morally wrong. It is incomprehensible to me why someone would be frustrated by people minding their own business.

In one example, a Wisconsin cardiologist attended an anti-lockdown protest and posted a picture on Facebook. A man named Kevin Rusch saw the photo on Facebook and was “furious.” He decided to contact the hospital at which the cardiologist worked, and shared the photo with his network of friends, warning people to visit the hospital “at your own risk.” As a result of Rusch’s actions, the hospital suspended the doctor, and congratulatory messages poured in on Facebook. How could someone be happy about an innocent person, who did nothing wrong, losing his job? How could someone be “furious” at a person who did absolutely nothing wrong?

The cardiologist wrote a thoughtful post on Facebook calling the events an “orchestrated slander of my name and reputation.” He added:

“Most disturbing was the vulgarity involved and a clear sense of an orchestrated political hit job… They vandalized my home by scattering feces on the front steps prompting me to file a police report. They also mocked Christianity. Nobody should have to put up with this evil. No human has the right to inflict this pain on others. America’s Constitution enshrines the right to assemble peacefully and voice opinions. Blood from our forefathers has paid for this right countless times… We shouldn’t be so willing to give up these rights when we feel the government is on the wrong course… To those who showed an unsubstantiated vile toward me and my religion, I feel sad for you, and I pray that you find peace.”

In another instance of social distancing snitching, when a Colorado restaurant, C & C Coffee & Kitchen, bravely opened in defiance of the governor’s orders, dozens of people flooded its Yelp page with complaints, and one customer named Nick Whitehill filed a complaint with the county health department in addition to posting photos on Twitter to “shame” the restaurant. A lovely person on Twitter wrote, “You’ve given up your right to treatment at a hospital. Worms for brains.”

Another individual, Delaney Kalea of Alabama, witnessed a group of teenagers committing the horrific crime of hanging outside a bowling alley while dancing and playing football. She “made the responsible decision as we were driving off to call the cops.” She added: “My blood boils almost every day when I think about this. Where is the human decency?”

Excuse me? How could someone’s blood boil at the thought of people doing absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever? How is it “responsible” to call the cops on people minding their own business? You, Delaney Kalea, are the one who lacks human decency for so harshly criticizing innocent people. You are a bully.

Nadine Campbell of New York publicly shamed people on Facebook for existing on a beach. “People were milling around. It was really upsetting,” she complained. How can it be upsetting to witness people minding their own business and doing nothing wrong?

On Twitter, people use the hashtag “#FloridaMorons” to describe those who have committed the evil deed of visiting beaches.

On Facebook, I personally have witnessed people use the word “idiots” to describe those who are bravely protesting against authoritarianism in Boston and the term “selfish disease spreading morons” for those who go to the beach. 

How dare these individuals personally attack their fellow citizens by calling them idiots and morons? This behavior is cruel, mean-spirited, and nasty. It is bullying.

Other snitches persecute their fellow citizens on local websites such as Patch. “Four teenage girls with lacrosse sticks and white hoodies just walked past our place. Parents, you need to do better,” posted one individual.

Do better? The teenage girls did nothing wrong. How would it be “better” for parents to prevent their children from doing something that the children have every right to do?

My hometown newspaper, the Melrose Weekly News, has provided additional examples of social distancing snitching. Every week in the local police log, there are entries describing citizens calling the police on such innocent activities as a father and daughter shooting hoops, people exercising in parks, children building a bridge in the woods, small groups of people gathering in backyards, and DPW workers performing maintenance work on a field. Also according to this newspaper, a couple from Melrose who visited Ogunquit, Maine, were accosted while eating lunch near their car and told to go home so they would not spread the virus in Maine.

In Manhattan, one excuse for a human being put up posters reading: “Dear jogger, bicycle douchebag, yuppie/millennial, narcissist swine: Put on a f***ing mask. Please respect your community and the lives of others. You do not live alone.”

Narcissist swine? Seriously? How dare you so crudely and nastily insult your fellow citizens? What is the purpose of stereotyping people based on their age and socioeconomic status? How does jogging or biking without a mask disrespect your community or the lives of others? And what is meant by “You do not live alone?” Lots of people do live alone. If this sentence is supposed to mean that everyone who lives in a community is connected somehow, I suppose this is true to some extent, but that does not give people the right to control the lives and decisions of others. People have a right to decide for themselves whether or not to wear a mask. It is possible that not wearing a mask might indirectly affect others, but this indirect effect does not outweigh each person’s right to make decisions about his/her own body. The person who made these posters, by presuming that he or she has the right to dictate what others wear, demonstrates a lack of respect for the lives of others. The person who made these posters is truly a narcissist swine.

Wisconsin talk radio host Vicki McKenna described the mentality of the social distancing snitches as “a creepy Orwellian sensibility.” She’s got that right. To criticize, shame, or attempt to punish innocent people who are doing nothing wrong is an act of aggression. The attitudes, words, and actions of these social distancing informants are morally wrong and despicable.