bookmark_borderWho is really being selfish when it comes to Covid?

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.
Sincerely,
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)

bookmark_borderClassless Cuomo ridicules those who disagree with him

In addition to being a bully who does not care about freedom of speech (or any other type of freedom for that matter), New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also apparently enjoys ridiculing those who hold different views than he does. He posted the following meme on Facebook making fun of those who disagree with him on the issue of the government requiring people to wear masks to stop the spread of Covid-19:

This is completely classless. First of all, there is no such thing as “anti-maskers.” I suspect that Cuomo meant “people who don’t wear masks” or “people who disagree with mask mandates.” More importantly, it is unacceptable for any person, let alone a governor, to personally insult and ridicule those with whom they disagree. It is disturbing that someone who is in charge of governing a state would act in such an unprofessional manner. I assume that Cuomo was attempting to show off his cleverness and wit, but all that he is demonstrating is nastiness and contempt towards people who are different from him. There is nothing funny about that. 

Here is my attempt at a meme:

bookmark_borderPlanet Fitness fights back against Mayor Walsh’s restrictions

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is imposing new restrictions on the liberty of individuals and businesses in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19, but not everyone is unquestioningly accepting these authoritarian policies.

According to Boston.com, the gym chain Planet Fitness is fighting back against the restrictions. “In March, we understood the shutdown,” said Stan DeMartinis, who runs two Planet Fitness gyms in Boston and several more in the surrounding area. “But the fact is that we’re one of the only industries out there that can contact trace our members, because they check in all of the time. Our position is going to remain very firm: Fitness is essential, it’s safe, and we should be able to remain open in our communities because of the benefits we give to the consumer… I run two gyms in that city, and they’ve never contacted me once this whole time. They just want to shut me down. That’s where the frustration comes in… Where we are in the country today, not to get into politics, but half the people want to work out and half don’t. Our members that come in right now are members who have made their assessment of risk. They feel safe in their environment to work out. They feel they have a constitutional right to do that. And that is being taken away from them.”

Exactly. People have a fundamental right to make their own decisions about which activities they are willing to do and how much risk they are willing to incur. Some people do not wish to work out, because they do not think it is worth the risk of catching the coronavirus. That is fine. Others do wish to work out, because they think it is worth the risk of catching the coronavirus. That is also fine. It is unacceptable for the government to take that decision away from people and force everyone to live according to the preferences of the most risk-averse people. And although hitting the gym is not mentioned in the constitution, it is indeed a constitutional right. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments specify that people are allowed to do any activity that the Constitution does not specifically prohibit.

Planet Fitness also has a good argument that the fitness industry is being treated unfairly compared to other industries. Walsh’s restrictions order the shutdown of gyms, museums, historical sites, aquariums, and movie theaters, while sparing restaurants and stores. When Walsh introduced the restrictions, he said: “This is not about targeting specific sectors that cause the virus. This is an effort to reduce overall activity outside the home.” This is a confusing statement, because the restrictions clearly do target specific industries by including them in the list of businesses required to close. But what Walsh seems to be saying is that inclusion in the list was not determined by how risky a particular type of business is. Instead, Walsh is just trying to decrease the total amount of businesses open so that people will have fewer options for activities to do outside their homes. This raises the question: how did Walsh decide which businesses would be forced to close and which would be allowed to remain open? What criteria did he use, if not the level of risk? Given the potentially disastrous economic impact of inclusion on the list, Walsh owes these unlucky business owners an explanation. 

bookmark_borderSupreme Court got it right: public health cannot override religious freedom

The Supreme Court’s Thanksgiving decision overturning New York’s Covid restrictions was truly something to be grateful for. A 5-4 majority ruled that the state government violated the First Amendment by imposing capacity limitations on religious services in an effort to combat the virus. 

The 5-justice majority reasoned that New York’s restrictions discriminated against religious institutions because they were regulated more strictly than secular businesses such as retail stores. But Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, part of the minority of 4, argued in their dissent that church services ought to be treated more strictly than stores because they involve people spending large amounts of time together in an enclosed space, often singing and talking. Retail businesses typically do not feature singing, and customers typically get in and out fairly quickly, making the virus less likely to spread there. “Justices of this court play a deadly game in second guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily,” wrote Sotomayor. She argued that the religious restrictions are justified because they help to save lives, and that the ruling overturning them “will only exacerbate the Nation’s suffering.” Professor Jeffrey Sachs made a similar argument in an opinion piece for CNN, criticizing the ruling as “against public-health science” and “scientifically illiterate.” 

These arguments would make sense if saving lives was the sole consideration in determining right and wrong; in other words if a policy’s effectiveness in stopping the virus was the sole consideration in determining whether or not it should be enacted. But this is not the case. The first and foremost consideration in determining whether a policy should be implemented is: does it violate individual rights? If so, then it is not morally permissible, and should not be considered constitutional, regardless of how many lives it would save. This is not “anti-science” or “scientifically illiterate.” It is simply recognizing that science and morality are two separate things. The court was not “second guessing the expert judgment of health officials” about the environments in which the virus spreads most easily. It was simply affirming that these judgments about risk cannot justify taking away fundamental freedoms. Science tells us factual information about the world, including how a virus spreads and what measures would be most effective at containing it. But only philosophy can determine which policies governments ought to enact. Too many people, worshipping at the altar of “science” and “data,” falsely presume that whatever science says is most effective is what should be done. This is to throw morality out the window.

Referencing Pope Francis’s New York Times opinion piece bashing people who stand up for individual rights (I wrote about that here), Sachs claims, “the common good takes precedence over simplistic appeals to ‘personal freedom’ in protests against justified public health measures.” I could not disagree more strongly. First of all, Sachs is presuming the truth of what he is trying to prove. The public health measures against which people have been protesting are not justified. They are unjustified. That is why people are protesting against them. Second, it is offensive and wrong that Sachs chose to derisively put the words “personal freedom” in quotes. The appeals that he refers to are to personal freedom, not “personal freedom.” Additionally, there is nothing “simplistic” about the concept of personal freedom. The non-aggression principle is simple, but that does not make it stupid or incorrect, as Sachs implies. In fact, according to the concept of Occam’s razor, simple ideas are more, not less, likely to be true. Finally, the common good does not take precedence over personal freedom. Individual rights are an absolute and therefore must take precedence over everything else. 

Sachs complains that as a result of the Supreme Court ruling, “public health authorities will feel hamstrung to restrict religious gatherings even when the virus is spreading out of control.” But that is exactly the way it should be. He urges religious, public-health, and political leaders to use “scientific knowledge combined with compassion.” But the policies for which he advocates – taking away individual freedoms in order to combat the spread of the virus – demonstrate a complete lack of compassion. A leader with true compassion would understand that not everyone has the same preferences as he or she does. A leader with true compassion would allow all people to make decisions according to their preferences as opposed to imposing his or her own preferences and risk tolerance on everyone. Therefore, it is the five justices who overturned New York’s restrictions, including the Court’s newest member, Amy Coney Barrett, who demonstrate true compassion. 

bookmark_borderEpidemiologist “aghast” that tiny shreds of liberty still allowed to exist

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.

bookmark_border“Snowflake” hypocrisy

When it comes to masks, my opinion is simple: if you want to wear one, do. If you don’t want to wear one, don’t. Either option is fine. If it’s your body, it should be your choice.

In one of the latest instances of someone on the left-hand side of the political spectrum personally insulting and ridiculing people with differing opinions, Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham tells the story of encountering a person while hiking who was not wearing a mask. This individual told Abraham and her family to take off their masks because they “need the oxygen.” In her column, Abraham points out that the man “was not just opting not to wear a mask himself, but proselytizing against it.” This is a legitimate point, and a good distinction to draw. The mask-less man was within his rights not to wear a mask, and Abraham and her family were within their rights to wear them. Just as it would have been wrong of her to criticize him, it was also wrong of him to criticize her. 

But then Abraham spends the rest of her column criticizing – often in incredibly offensive and insulting ways – people who opt not to wear masks. First, she writes, “and they call us snowflakes,” implying that those on the right-hand of the political spectrum are the true “snowflakes” of the world. Then, she characterizes the mask-less man on the hiking trail as “parroting the idiotic anti-science rhetoric of the president and his cult.” Next, she complains about how conservatives “mock liberals for being weak, then whine about how uncomfortable they feel with a little cloth on their faces.” Abraham does not stop at ridiculing people who choose not to wear masks; she also ridicules people who traveled for Thanksgiving, characterizing them as “disregarding the pleas of health workers” and “flout[ing] the health guidelines that could protect us all.” She calls choices that are less risk-averse than her own choices “enraging to see.” And referring to a meeting of the New York Young Republicans Club at which members did not wear masks, she demands, “At what point is it OK to demand that people take the personal responsibility that Republicans are always banging on about?” 

So essentially Abraham devotes an entire column to simultaneously criticizing conservatives for calling people weak and irresponsible and also calling conservatives weak and irresponsible. It’s hard to get more hypocritical than that. Here’s a revolutionary concept: how about not calling people who disagree with you weak and irresponsible? How about actually explaining why you disagree with someone’s ideas, instead of personally attacking, insulting, and ridiculing the person?

First of all, none of the actions that Abraham describes are irresponsible. The actions that she describes – traveling, getting together, not wearing masks, etc. – are less cautious and less risk-averse than what she would choose to do, but how cautious or risk-averse an action is has nothing to do with whether or not it is responsible. People have the right to choose how balance safety versus quality of life in their own lives; no choice with regards to this trade-off is more or less responsible than any other choice.

Additionally, we need to get rid of the term “snowflake” other than in the context of describing winter weather. I’ve never understood why people use this term. It originated as a way to express the idea that each person is unique, just as no two snowflakes are exactly alike when examined under a microscope. But people across the political spectrum quickly adopted it as an insult, a way to imply that one’s opponents are somehow fragile, just as a literal snowflake easily melts in warm temperatures. There is no need for this type of personal attack in political discourse.

Furthermore, the terms “whining,” “parroting,” and “banging on” need to be eliminated from our language. All of these verbs presume the truth of what the speaker is attempting to prove. They describe another person’s speech in a way that presumes that the person’s speech is wrong – whining presumes that the person’s complaints are illegitimate; parroting presumes that the person is mindlessly repeating the words of another instead of thinking for him/herself, and banging on presumes that what the person is saying is stupid and/or ridiculous. How about addressing the truth or falsity of what someone is saying, as opposed to insulting the manner of saying it? 

So in conclusion, no one is a “snowflake.” No one “whines,” no one “parrots,” and no one “bangs on.” People say things, and if you disagree with them, you have a right to say so, but you do not have a right to personally insult the speaker in such offensive terms. Columns as unprofessional as Abraham’s have no place in a newspaper, and opinions as cruel, intolerant, and nasty as hers have no place in this world.

bookmark_borderPope Francis speaks out AGAINST individual rights and liberty

Pope Francis voiced his support for authoritarian restrictions and criticized the ideals of individual rights and liberty in a disturbing opinion piece for the New York Times. As someone who was born and raised Catholic, I find it extremely upsetting that the leader of the Catholic church would express sentiments that are so insulting to people who value, and bravely stand up for, personal freedom.

Here is an excerpt from the article that I found to be particularly dismaying: 

“With some exceptions, governments have made great efforts to put the well-being of their people first, acting decisively to protect health and to save lives. The exceptions have been some governments that shrugged off the painful evidence of mounting deaths, with inevitable, grievous consequences. But most governments acted responsibly, imposing strict measures to contain the outbreak. Yet some groups protested, refusing to keep their distance, marching against travel restrictions – as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom! Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate. It is all too easy for some to take an idea – in this case, for example, personal freedom – and turn it into an ideology, creating a prism through which they judge everything.”

I disagree so strongly with these sentiments this that it’s difficult to know where to begin.

First of all, Pope Francis is wrong to equate acting responsibly with imposing strict measures to contain the outbreak. The strict measures that governments implemented at the beginning of the pandemic and continue to enforce today are morally impermissible because they violate people’s rights. For example, all people have the rights to move about freely, to go to stores, restaurants, and other businesses as frequently as they wish, and to decide whether or not to wear a mask. Restrictions such as closing parks and beaches, closing all businesses deemed non-essential, monitoring people’s movements and health status, requiring masks, only allowing people to leave their houses when absolutely essential, and even banning people from leaving their houses entirely, violate everyone’s rights. Implementing restrictions that violate everyone’s rights is not a requirement for being responsible; it is not even morally allowed. Refraining from implementing such restrictions is not irresponsible; it is the only morally correct option.

Second, Pope Francis is wrong to characterize authoritarian restrictions as “measures that governments must impose for the good of their people.” Not only is it not true that governments must impose such measures, they actually must not impose the measures, because the measures violate everyone’s rights. The pope laughs off as ridiculous the idea that these restrictions constitute a political assault on autonomy and personal freedom, but that is precisely what they do constitute. In other words, the very claim that the pope flippantly dismisses is actually 100% correct. 

Additionally, the pope is wrong about what constitutes the well-being, or good, of people. It is true that the authoritarian measures imposed by governments were motivated by a desire to protect people’s health and save lives, and they probably succeeded in achieving these aims for the most part. But this does not mean that the authoritarian measures protected people’s well-being. A person’s good, or well-being, consists of whatever matches the person’s preferences. Some people value health and safety above all else and are willing to forgo visiting their favorite places, participating in their favorite activities, and purchasing their favorite products in order to reduce their risk of catching the virus. But others would prefer to do the activities that make life enjoyable, even if this carries an increased risk. Health and safety are certainly an important part of people’s well-being, but there are other things that are valuable as well, and people have varying preferences for how to balance these things. What is best for people is to allow everyone to make his or her own decisions about how to balance the risks and benefits of various courses of action. Forcing every person to prioritize health and safety above everything else, as Pope Francis believes governments should do, might line up with some people’s preferences but it goes against the preferences of others. By forcing many people to live in a way that goes against their preferences, governments’ Covid restrictions decrease, not increase, people’s well-being. 

Furthermore, I disagree with the pope’s claim that the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. How else would one measure the common good, besides adding up the well-being of all the individuals? It’s not as if the common good is some kind of sentient being, separate from and in addition to individual people. What is best for the common good is what is best, in total, for all of the individuals in the society. And what is best for individuals is to empower them to make their own decisions, as opposed to forcing them to trade freedom for safety when that does not necessarily fit their preferences.

Finally, I disagree with the idea that having an ideology is a bad thing. Pope Francis criticizes people who turn the idea of personal freedom into an ideology and a prism through which everything else is viewed. But this is not a bad thing; it is what it means to have moral beliefs. According to Dictionary,com, ideology is defined as “the body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc. that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.” In other words, ideology is the moral principle or principles that someone lives by. Why would this be considered bad? For me, personal freedom (or individual rights, or individual liberty, or the non-aggression principle, these terms all mean basically the same thing) is the moral principle by which I live my life. I believe that each person has the right to do anything that he or she wants, as long as this does not violate the rights of anyone else to do what he or she wants. Because this is a basic moral principle of mine, it is the prism through which I judge everything. If something violates a person’s right to personal freedom, then I believe it is morally wrong. That is how moral beliefs work. If you think that it’s okay to follow a moral principle in some cases but not others, then you are either a hypocrite with no integrity, or a person who doesn’t particularly care about morality but simply does whatever is expedient in the moment without regard for whether it is right or wrong. Neither of these is a good thing, and it makes no sense that the pope would consider this to be morally superior to having moral principles and applying them consistency. 

Pope Francis argues that humanity can emerge from the pandemic better off than we were before if we reconsider our values. “We have to let ourselves be touched by others’ pain,” he writes. “This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities… We need a politics that can integrate and dialogue with the poor, the excluded and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that affect their lives.”

But Pope Francis is ignoring the well-being of people such as myself, who value personal freedom. He is ignoring the pain inflicted by the authoritarian measures that he praises: the pain of business owners whose livelihoods have been destroyed, the pain of individuals who have essentially been sentenced to house arrest, and the justified rage that comes from being deprived of the ability to make decisions about one’s own life. In arguing that governments are morally obligated to impose restrictions that take away people’s freedom, the pope is advocating for the exact opposite of giving people a say in the decisions that affect their lives. Nor would his vision of politics dialogue with the excluded, as he claims. It is those who value liberty over safety who are excluded in today’s society and who would continue to be excluded in the type of society that the pope imagines. 

I could not disagree more strongly with the pope’s idea of what constitutes dreaming big and creating a better society. We do indeed need to rethink our priorities, but in the opposite way from what Pope Francis urges: we must give individual liberty the importance that it deserves for once, instead of treating it as secondary to safety. The pope’s vision of a world where the greater good is worshipped and personal freedom ridiculed sounds like a hellish dystopia. People may be healthy and safe in such a world, but health and safety are worthless when everything that makes life worth living is taken away.

bookmark_borderNYC bar declares itself autonomous zone

A bar has declared itself an autonomous zone in an awesome act of protest against New York’s Covid-19 restrictions. According to the New York Post, Mac’s Public House in Staten Island has signs in the window declaring, “Attention! As of November 20, 2020 we now declare this establishment an autonomous zone! We refuse to abide by any rules and regulations put forth by the Mayor of NYC and Governor of NY State.” The words “autonomous zone” are also written on the sidewalk outside the bar.

As of Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo shut down restaurants and bars in the South Shore neighborhood where Mac’s is located. The bar is being fined $1,000 for each day it remains open, and its liquor license was revoked. But owners Danny Presti and Keith McAlarney are not backing down. 

“We’re not paying it,” said Presti of the fines, adding that he refused to let government officials into his business.

“We’re not backing down,” said McAlarney. “You think you scared me by saying I don’t have a license now to serve liquor now? Well guess what? That liquor license is on the wall. If that liquor license is gonna come off the wall, it’s gonna be done by Cuomo.”

Presti and McAlarney explain why they will not bow down in this YouTube video

According to the Post, on Saturday the bar was serving food and drink for free to patrons in exchange for optional donations, which might possibly fall within a loophole of the law. 

bookmark_borderOregon governor encourages people to call police for social distancing violations

In an effort to eliminate any possibility of Americans being able to do anything remotely enjoyable or festive, governors have been discouraging people from celebrating Thanksgiving in the traditional way, calling family gatherings dangerous and irresponsible. Oregon Governor Kate Brown went so far as to encourage people to call the cops on neighbors who violate Covid restrictions.

“This is no different than what happens if there’s a party down the street and it’s keeping everyone awake,” she said to local news station KEZI. “What do neighbors do? They call law enforcement because it’s too noisy. This is just like that. It’s like a violation of a noise ordinance.”

Brown signed an executive order implementing new restrictions for the next two weeks, including closing restaurants and gyms and banning get-togethers of over 6 people, or people from more than 2 households. Violations are punishable with up to 30 days in jail and/or a $1,250 fine. 

I disagree with Brown’s claim that having a get-together of over 6 people is equivalent to making excessive noise. Noise directly affects other people by assaulting their ears with unwanted sensory input, making it impossible to sleep or relax. Violating the governor’s Covid restrictions, on the other hand, does not directly affect anyone else. Many people argue that actions that violate Covid restrictions, such as get-togethers, do affect other people by increasing the amount of Covid cases in the community. It is true that in aggregate, group gatherings increase the number of Covid cases, which does increase each individual’s odds of contracting the virus. But any particular action or get-together affects other people only indirectly. The fact that an action carries a risk of a bad health outcome is not sufficient reason to ban it. Anyone who wishes to keep his or her risk to a minimum is free to stay home and avoid contact with other people entirely. Those who have a higher risk tolerance should also have the freedom to act according to their own preferences. 

To their credit, many Oregonians are challenging Brown’s authoritarian restrictions. The Marion County Sheriff’s Office said, “We cannot arrest or enforce our way out of the pandemic, and we believe both are counterproductive to public health goals.” Clackamas County chair-elect Tootie Smith said that the restrictions make people “second-rate slaves.” Paul Aziz, the mayor of Lebanon, called the restrictions “not fair” to businesses and “devastating to our community financially and on our citizens’ mental health” and said that Brown “acted beyond her authority”

Brown called these comments “irresponsible.” She said: “These are politicians seeking headlines, not public servants, trying to save lives. My top priority as governor is to keep Oregonians healthy and safe.” The top priority of any governor or leader should not be to save lives or to keep people healthy and safe; it should be to protect people’s rights. Additionally, there is nothing irresponsible about pointing out the fact that a government policy violates people’s rights. It is disturbing that implementing totalitarian control over people’s lives is now considered a requirement for acting in a responsible manner and respecting rights is now considered reckless. 

bookmark_borderCharlie Baker, authoritarian dictator

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has gone too far. This week he announced new restrictions on individuals, groups, and businesses, including:

  • Requiring people to stay home between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. (except for when working, buying groceries, going to doctor’s appointments, or taking a walk)
  • Requiring restaurants, liquor stores, marijuana stores, casinos, movie theaters, museums, zoos, hair and nail salons, gyms, sports, and all activities and gatherings to close/cease between 9:30 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.
  • Requiring people to wear masks in all public places, including sidewalks, streets, parks, forests, and even cars when with members of other households
  • Limiting gatherings at people’s houses to 10 people if indoors or 25 people if outdoors

These restrictions, in my opinion, are highly objectionable infringements upon personal liberty, especially the mask mandate. Previously, people were required to wear masks only when expecting to be in a situation where they would be unable to maintain a 6-foot distance from other people. This essentially meant wearing a mask when going inside a store or business, taking the train or bus, or doing activities with other people (e.g. fitness classes, group get-togethers, meetings, walking with friends), but not while walking or spending time outdoors by oneself. The new mask requirement significantly affects my day-to-day life for the worse. Since the beginning of the pandemic, walking has been a huge part of my daily routine, whether to the park, through the woods, to the grocery store, to the ATM, or to get my daily coffee or tea. I have never worn a mask during my walks. I am fine with putting one on before going into a store or business, but I never considered it necessary to wear one during the walk itself. Starting this Friday, however, I will be required to wear a mask from the moment I leave my house until the moment I return. This seems excessive and unnecessary, as the risk of catching or spreading the coronavirus is infinitesimal when walking by oneself.

At the risk of sounding petty and silly, the most problematic part of this new rule for me is the fact that if the rule is to be interpreted literally, whenever I buy a coffee or tea, I will not be able to start drinking it until I get home. Because I live about a 15-minute walk from the downtown area of my town, any hot beverage that I purchase will be lukewarm by the time I am allowed to drink it. Any foam, whipped cream, or caramel drizzle on top of the beverage is also likely to have dissolved or disintegrated. For people who either live right near a coffee or tea place, or drive to one, the new rule does not present a big problem, because they will be able to get to their home or car right away and begin drinking their beverage. But for people such as myself who walk a significant distance to their local coffee shop or, worse, for people who take public transportation, the rule creates a significant problem. This rule also creates problems with ice cream for the same reason (although this is not as applicable during the winter months). Any business that sells food or drink that is designed to be consumed while walking around will be significantly hurt by this new rule. 

More philosophically speaking, it is one thing to require masks inside a store or business, but another thing to require them on sidewalks, streets, parks, and forests. The former, although public places, are privately owned. The owners would be within their rights to kick me out or deny me entry if I’m not wearing a mask; it is their store after all. But the latter are public places, not owned by anyone. No one has a right to kick anyone else out of a street, park, or forest or impose any conditions for entry. The requirement that people wear a mask every time they leave their home makes me feel dangerously close to being under house arrest. It is a disturbing level of government overreach. 

Another sad consequence of this mean-spirited new set of rules is that the Encore Boston Harbor casino has been forced to reduce its hours and temporarily close its hotel. The restaurant industry, already struggling to survive, will undoubtedly be hurt as well. 

“Once again, it’s time for the people of Massachusetts to step up for one another — to play by the rules and to fight the fight,” Baker said when unveiling the new restrictions, according to Boston.com. “We’re telling people to go home, and not to go to their friend’s house or their neighbor’s house or somebody else… Do I expect everybody to follow these rules? No. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned since the beginning of this, it’s the vast majority of people in Massachusetts are rule-followers and if you give them rules and guidance, they will do it.”

I generally am a rule-follower. But only up to a point, and only when the rules are fair. These are not. People are not obligated to step up for one another, or to follow rules that are unjust. The only fight that the people of Massachusetts should be fighting is against authoritarian government policies such as these. And what right does Baker have to tell people which houses they are and are not allowed to go to? He is treating the people of Massachusetts in a disrespectful and insulting manner. I am seriously considering simply not following this mask mandate. I am willing to make some changes to my daily routine to reduce my Covid risk and to be in compliance with the rules, but these new rules pass the point of reasonableness.

Baker argued that the new restrictions are needed to prevent the number of Covid cases from overwhelming the medical system. “If we do nothing and stay on the track we’re on now, we’ll create capacity problems for our healthcare system by the end of the calendar year,” he said. “Imagine what that would be like for your friends and neighbors who work in health care, if cases and hospitalizations continue to rise at double digit rates straight into and through the holiday season: double shifts, no time for families, the same urgency and demands on their time that we placed on them last spring.”

At the risk of sounding callous and insensitive, my reaction to this is… too bad. It is the job of those who run the medical system to make decisions about how to handle capacity problems and how to allocate resources. It is the job of those who work in the medical system to work the shifts they are assigned. I have worked in a variety of different jobs and have experienced hectic days, heavy workloads, and long hours on numerous occasions. It’s exhausting and stressful. But government leaders have never encouraged the general public to alter their behavior in order to make my work situation less stressful, nor would I expect them to. So why should I alter my behavior in order to make someone else’s work situation less stressful? Getting my daily coffee or tea, and drinking it as I walk home, has been one of the few pleasures that I have still been allowed to enjoy in this age of authoritarianism. I am not obligated to sacrifice it, or my freedom, so that medical professionals can have a lighter workload.  

I used to be a supporter of Baker and even volunteered for his campaign in 2010 and 2014. But the restrictions that he has implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic violate individual rights and are morally wrong. Baker has demonstrated that he is an authoritarian dictator, and that is not something that I can support.