bookmark_borderOcasio-Cortez has it backwards: government is the real abuser

“The reason I’m getting emotional in this moment is because these folks who tell us to move on, that it’s not a big deal, that we should forget what’s happened, or even telling us to apologize, these are the same tactics of abusers… These are the tactics of abusers, this is not about a difference of political opinion, this is about basic humanity.”

These are the words of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about the protest that took place at the Capitol building on January 6. AOC is comparing the group of pro-Trump protesters who entered the Capitol building, and politicians who either minimize or defend the actions of the protesters, to abusers. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

The government, of which AOC is a part, is trampling on the rights of the people. This has been the case for decades and has gotten worse and worse. When a government tramples on people’s rights, the people have a right to overthrow it. That is exactly what the protesters on January 6 were doing. And they were completely justified in doing so. 

As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence (emphasis mine): 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

After a completely justified, yet futile, attempt to overthrow a tyrannical, authoritarian, and oppressive government, a member of that oppressive government had the indecency to compare the rebels to “abusers.” In reality, Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues are the abusers. The American people are the victims, and the protesters at the Capitol were those victims who, after decades of being abused, had the courage to finally fight back. AOC is in the wrong, she is the one lacking basic humanity, and she is the one who needs to apologize. 

bookmark_borderA riot is the language of the unheard

“A riot is the language of the unheard.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Watching and reading news coverage and social media posts about the pro-Trump protests at the Capitol has been enormously stressful, infuriating, heartbreaking, upsetting, and exhausting. It is not the actions of the protesters that make me feel these emotions; it is the attitudes and opinions expressed by journalists, commentators, authors, politicians, and society as a whole. The protesters did nothing wrong, and their actions are understandable and justified. Their treatment by the media and society is utterly appalling in its harshness, cruelty, hypocrisy, and inconsistency. 

People who believe in freedom, liberty, and individual rights are angry. And we have a right to be angry. We have been trampled on for a long time. Our income has been stolen by excessive and unjust taxation, our right to make our own medical decisions is under constant assault, privacy rights are essentially non-existent, we are not allowed to board an airplane without passing through a full-body scanner, and even our freedom to leave our houses and move about in the world has been taken away with the advent of a novel virus. And then the Black Lives Matter movement decided to start burning down our businesses, banning our flags, destroying irreplaceable, beautiful statues of the historical figures we love, and, adding insult to injury, claiming that they truly are the ones being trampled on and that we are the oppressors.

When someone is trampled on, he or she becomes angry, and justifiably so. We have protested peacefully again and again. We have explained our views civilly. But no one listened. Our concerns were dismissed as the whining of entitled, privileged crybabies, and the fact that we had the audacity to complain at all was used as evidence that we were selfish jerks. We have been called white supremacists, misogynists, xenophobes, and “deplorables” and been accused of “bitterly clinging” to the things that we value. When we have objected to these characterizations, our objections have been taken as evidence of our “white fragility,” and when we point out that this is racist, this is taken as further evidence of how fragile we are. When one is ridiculed, mocked, and dismissed again and again, one becomes increasingly angry, frustrated, and exhausted. The more angry and exhausted one becomes, the less able one becomes to express one’s views in a measured and articulate manner. And as we become less and less articulate in expressing our views, society takes our lack of articulateness as further evidence that we are are boorish, irrational jerks and ridicules and mocks us even more harshly. The cycle continues, with supporters of individual liberty becoming more and more angry and the rest of society insulting us with increasing nastiness and brutality. The injustice of this situation is overwhelming. It becomes nearly impossible to express oneself eloquently or constructively. When people are treated this way, what happened at the Capitol is the logical result. 

And now, the actions of the Trump supporters at the Capitol have been swiftly, completely, universally, and brutally condemned, used as yet further evidence to impugn the character of all conservatives and libertarians. Anchors and reporters on national news networks call us disgraceful, deplorable, disgusting, sickening, buffoons, idiots, thugs, traitors, domestic terrorists. The terms “riot,” “Trump mob,” “insurrection,” and “coup attempt” are used as if they are non-controversial, neutral descriptors. All over social media, people complain about the devastation, sadness, and even nausea and tears that they experienced while watching the protest. The condemnation infiltrates even areas of life that should have nothing to do with politics: commentators during basketball and football games have called the protesters “terrorists” and decried the “violent riot;” teams have put forth statements alleging that the protesters were treated too leniently by law enforcement; articles on psychology websites speculate about what type of mental disorder could explain the protesters’ behavior; and a speaker during a history lecture that I attended pontificated about how everyone is “saddened and shaken” by the “assault on our democracy.” No attempt whatsoever is made to understand where the protesters are coming from, why they felt so angry and unheard, or why they decided that such drastic action was their best option. 

Making this societal reaction even more inappropriate is the complete lack of proportionality when compared with society’s reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests. The widespread looting, destruction, arson, vandalism, and violence committed by members of the BLM movement had almost no impact on society’s perception of the movement as a whole. The media described those protests not only as mostly peaceful, but also as brave, noble, heroic, and necessary. Countless brands, celebrities, athletes, and all four major sports leagues issued statements in support of the movement. The cruel and barbaric destruction of historical statues and the damage done to business owners were dismissed as unimportant. Almost no one was punished for these despicable acts, and in many cases local governments actually rewarded the perpetrators by removing the victimized statues. Essentially, the way that it seems to work is that when someone on our side does something illegal or violent, everyone on our side is punished. And when someone on the other side does something illegal or violent, everyone on our side is punished. Those who support individual liberty are characterized by the insulting (and sexist and racist) stereotype of the entitled, irrationally aggrieved white male, while the grievances of members of the BLM movement are portrayed as justified and understandable. Never were any leaders of the BLM movement asked to disavow the violent or destructive actions committed by members of their movement, but that is exactly what was immediately demanded of Republican political leaders and conservative organizations with regards to the Capitol protest. Also in the wake of the protest, social media companies, online stores, and other websites banned large swaths of conservative users, and when these users moved to a conservative-leaning alternative, that app was banned from the major operating systems’ app stores. Nothing even remotely similar to this occurred in response to any BLM protest, no matter how violent or destructive. 

And then, taking things to a new level of preposterousness, society and the media complain that the protesters at the Capitol were treated unfairly leniently compared to BLM protesters, when the exact opposite is the case. Imagine what would happen if black people or Muslims stormed the capital, the media asks, implying that it’s obvious they would be treated more harshly. I’ll tell you what would happen: none of them would be arrested, and they would be lauded as heroes by the media instead of being universally ridiculed and condemned. 

So-called journalists and the general public alike have gone on and on about their horror at the attack on their beloved Capitol, which in their eyes symbolizes the democratic process. But neither the Capitol building nor democracy is a defining feature of America. The defining feature of America, the principle upon which it was founded, is individual liberty. And when our political leaders, institutions, and society as a whole trample on individual liberty, then our political leaders, institutions, and society as a whole have forfeited any right to be obeyed and respected. Those who protested at the Capitol were brave freedom fighters who risked their personal safety to stand up for their beliefs. Their actions were justified, and they deserve none of the arrests, charges, or criticism that have been leveled against them. 

In summary, we have been bullied and beaten down, and it is the bullies who are complaining that they are shaken, nauseous, and in tears because some of us actually had the audacity to stand up for ourselves. This reaction is as ridiculous as if a hockey team defeated its rival 8 to 1 and its fans were nauseous and in tears after the game because they were so upset that the other team scored one goal. It also demonstrates a complete lack of empathy; how do they think we have felt all these years as we have been relentlessly insulted and our rights violated? The bullies who have been oppressing and trampling on us receive no scrutiny whatsoever and are portrayed by the media as innocent victims while we, the true victims, are vilified, mocked, and condemned. As a result of this pervasive unjust treatment, we are angry, we are frustrated, we are overwhelmed, and we are exhausted. We are tired of being trampled on, tired of our rights being violated, tired of being insulted and ridiculed, tired of our complaints and grievances being dismissed, tired of being told that we are privileged and that we are the problem. When a society treats people this way, it has no right to criticize them for fighting back.

“When tyranny becomes law, rebellion becomes duty.” – Thomas Jefferson

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_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_borderSacrificing for the greater good is nice, but not necessary

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

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

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

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

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_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_borderProtests against authoritarianism: it’s not about haircuts

I often see causes that I believe in dismissed as petty or unimportant. People who object to their rights being violated are accused of “whining.” What the people who make these types of arguments do not understand is that it’s not usually about the specific thing, but about the general principle behind it.

An example of this is the recent protests against authoritarian measures designed to slow the spread of Covid-19. The other day, while listening to the radio, I heard a medical ethicist who was being interviewed refer to these protesters as “the people who want haircuts.” Separately, in a tweet that I saw today, someone described these protesters as “whining ’cause the barbershop closed during a pandemic.”

These criticisms completely miss the point. It’s not about barbershops. It’s not about nail salons, or restaurants, or malls, or gyms, or parks, or casinos, or even churches (although those who argue that their religious freedom is being violated by the lockdown orders have an excellent point). It’s about individual liberty. It’s about the principle that freedom should not be sacrificed for the sake of safety. It’s about the principle that individuals should be able to make their own decisions about their own lives and to decide for themselves what amount of risk they are willing to take.

Supporters of gun rights face similar criticisms. We are called “gun fetishists” and “gun kissers,” and ridiculed for being irrationally obsessed with our “murder toys.” But it’s not about the guns. I have never owned a gun and have only used one a couple times, but it would be difficult to find a more ardent supporter of gun rights than me. Just like with the lockdown protests, it’s about the principle that freedom should not be sacrificed for safety. It’s about the principle that an object should not be banned, or made more difficult to obtain, simply because some people choose to misuse it. It’s about the principle that the correct response to a crime is to punish the person who did it, not to punish innocent people by taking their freedom away.

These moral principles are important. Without them, people would not have any freedom at all. Barbershops and guns are just examples of instances to which the moral principles apply. Personally, I can do without a gun and I can do without a haircut. But the government should not be able to take the freedom of owning a gun or getting a haircut away from people. Once a moral principle is violated in one case, there is nothing to stop it from being violated in other cases as well. Think about that before accusing protesters of “whining.”

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”