bookmark_borderCommunalism and individualism

Something that is said over and over again in our society is that there is too much emphasis on individualism, and not enough emphasis on community. In other words, there is too much emphasis on “me” and not enough emphasis on “we.”

Take, for example, a recent Instagram post by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in which she wrote: “Community and collective good is our best shot through our greatest challenges – way more than discorded acts of ‘rugged individualism’ and the bootstrap propaganda that we’ve been spoon-fed since birth.” Ocasio-Cortez also claimed that “much of the emphasis of media conversations on COVID are individualistic.” 

I could not disagree more strongly with these sentiments.

When I look at the world around me, the vast majority of the propaganda being spoon-fed to people emphasizes communalism, togetherness, selflessness, giving, and caring about others. The concepts of individualism and individual rights are underappreciated in today’s society. Contrary to AOC’s claim, almost every institution in our society – from schools to churches to governments to charitable organizations – places an enormous amount of emphasis on community and collective good, at the expense of the individual.

This is particularly true with regards to the Covid pandemic. “We’re all in this together,” goes the familiar slogan. Ad nauseam, people are urged to sacrifice for the greater good and to “do your part” in ending the pandemic. Anyone who dares to disobey or even question the rules made by public health experts is condemned as selfish. With all the emphasis on public health, individual rights have been lost. Individualism has been almost completely abandoned in favor of community and collective good. 

And that is unfortunate, because individualism, not community or collective good, is the key to a good world. Individualism is the key to happiness, fulfillment, and a life worth living. 

Individualism does not need to be “rugged,” as AOC describes it. Individualism means that each person is different, and what is right for one person may not be right for another. Individualism means that that each person has the fundamental right to live according to his/her values, tastes, desires, needs, and preferences. This might mean living off the land, or driving a pickup truck, or owning lots of guns, as seems to be the popular stereotype. Alternatively, it might mean living in a big city, riding the train, working at a grocery store, and doing art in one’s free time, to give a random example. Individualism might mean holding unpopular opinions and expressing them on social media. It might mean dressing in a unique way, being interested in things that are considered weird or uncool, or simply being quirky or eccentric. Whatever form it takes, individualism means that people get to make their own decisions about their own lives. People get to live where they want, use their money to buy the things that they want, wear what they want, eat and drink what they want, do the activities that they want, get the medical procedures that they want, et cetera. 

A world in which people are told to sacrifice their own goals for the public good is a world in which no one gets what they want. A world in which people are told to sacrifice their happiness and well-being for that of others is a world in which no one is happy. Without the freedom to make one’s own decisions, and to live as one pleases, there is no purpose in being alive at all. 

There is quite enough emphasis on community and collective good. In our public-health-obsessed society, individualism gets a bad rap, and its proponents are all too frequently dismissed as selfish, entitled, ignorant, and stupid. A world that puts individual rights first may be a more dangerous place, but it is the only type of world in which true happiness is possible and in which life is worth living. The answer to what ails our country and our world is more individualism, not less. 

bookmark_borderHospital capacity is not a reason to take away freedom

Over the course of the Covid pandemic, one of the main arguments for violating people’s rights is the desire to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. In my opinion, however, concerns about hospital capacity are not a valid reason for taking people’s freedoms away. By their very nature, rights must always come first.

This might sound hard-hearted or insensitive, but sometimes the demand for things exceeds the supply, and this is simply a part of life that people need to deal with. When an institution, organization, or business is experiencing more demand for its services than it can supply, it is up to that institution, organization, or business to either increase capacity or come up with a system for managing demand. One way to increase capacity is by building field hospitals or deploying hospital ships, as many cities and states did during the beginning of the pandemic. Another way is by asking staff to work more hours, or intensifying efforts to recruit more staff. Some examples of managing demand include using a first come first served system, prioritizing people based on how severe their condition is, drawing names from a hat, or using another randomized method to determine who will receive services. Whichever methods are used, one thing remains constant: any of these methods of managing capacity is a better solution than violating people’s rights in an attempt to reduce demand.

For some reason, many people have the attitude that for hospitals to be over capacity is something that must be avoided at all costs. It follows that controlling people’s behavior in order to reduce the amount of people who become sick is permissible (or even necessary, in some people’s opinions). But this way of thinking is backwards. People’s rights must come first. People have fundamental rights, which include the rights to make our own medical decisions and to move about freely. People must be allowed to freely decide whether to get the Covid vaccine or not, whether to do Covid testing or not, which activities to engage in, which people to get together with, which businesses to patronize, and which locations to visit. Whatever demand for hospitals’ services results from people’s collective decisions, is the demand that results, and hospitals need to come up with a system for dealing with that. Just like any other business or institution, it is the job of hospitals to manage capacity issues if and when they arise. Doing so might require making difficult decisions. Preventing difficult decisions from needing to be made is great if possible, but it does not supersede people’s rights.

It is also worth mentioning that making non-vaccinated people go to the back of the line for medical services is, in my opinion, a permissible option if hospitals are at or over capacity. This solution would address the concerns about non-vaccinated people becoming severely sick and needlessly taking hospital capacity away from people who “deserve” it more. And it would address these concerns in a way that does not violate the rights of non-vaccinated people. Why not have a policy that people who opt against vaccination are doing so at their own risk? Under such a policy, people would be perfectly free to either get the vaccine or not. If someone becomes severely sick from Covid, they would have the option of either showing proof of vaccination to move to the front of the queue, or remaining at the back of the queue if they have not gotten the vaccine or do not wish to disclose their status. Given that this would solve the hospital capacity problem without violating anyone’s rights, there really is no justification for forcing people to get the vaccine (or banning them from occupations, places, or activities unless they get it, which is essentially the same as forcing them). The thought process seems to be that it is somehow more cruel to move non-vaccinated people who become severely sick to the back of the line than it is to force all non-vaccinated people to do something they do not want to do. But this is false, and this way of thinking is paternalistic and illogical.

For things to exceed their capacity is part of life, and there is no reason for hospitals to be treated differently than any other institution, organization, or business. It is morally backwards to argue that hospital capacity should determine which activities people are allowed to do. Although preventing hospitals from becoming overwhelmed is a worthy goal, it cannot be allowed to dictate how much freedom people are granted. Respecting individual liberty is more important than anything else. Rights come first, and everything else, including concerns about hospital capacity, come second.

bookmark_borderOn safety versus the right to do whatever you want

“Those people think that rights mean they can just do whatever they want.”

“You are saying that people’s freedom to do whatever they want trumps people’s freedom not to catch a deadly disease.”

“You value the right to do whatever you want more than other people’s safety.”

Statements like these have been repeated ad nauseam since the beginning of the covid pandemic. Those who express these views apparently consider the ability to do whatever one wants unimportant. In other words, people have essentially been “pooh-poohing” the concept of being able to do what one wants. Anyone who does value this freedom is attacked as selfish, entitled, and/or irresponsible.

In my opinion, this way of thinking is incorrect. The ability to do whatever one wants is extraordinarily important. Without it, in fact, life would not be worth living at all.

In order to appreciate the importance of being able to do what one wants, it is necessary to distinguish between two different concepts.

First, I agree that there is a sense in which it is not realistic or reasonable to simply do whatever the heck one wants. For example, if you have 10 dollars, and an item that you want costs 15 dollars, then you cannot buy it. You will need to either save up more money, buy a cheaper item, or go without. Similarly, you cannot steal from people, and you cannot go up to someone and punch them in the face. These are things that pretty much anyone would agree with. Additionally, there are numerous situations in which people have to do things that they don’t exactly want to do, but which they choose to do because they are necessary in order to achieve the person’s goals. For example, if you have a job, you need to show up for your shift, do the duties that you are assigned, and wear the uniform or follow the dress code. If you want to become, say, a pilot, you will need to learn how to fly a plane. You can’t just decide that it would be fun to be a pilot and start serving as a pilot without actually learning how to do so. If you want to lose weight, you will likely need to exercise. Everyone should accept that they cannot violate the rights of others, and that they might have to do things that are unpleasant in the pursuit of their goals.

But there is a second sense of not being able to do what one wants, or having to do things that one doesn’t want, that quite frankly no one should accept. This concept includes things that you don’t want to do, and in your judgment don’t make sense for you to do, but you are being made to do them by someone else. For example, say you bought a house in which the previous owner had set up an illegal apartment, with a second kitchen. You have no intention of allowing anyone other than yourself to live in the house, and have no intention of using the second kitchen, but it’s not hurting anyone by existing, and you’d rather not spend the money to have it taken out. But the city tells you that you must have the second kitchen ripped out, because its existence violates the local building codes. That is an example of being forced to do something which you don’t want to do and which doesn’t make sense for you to do. In my opinion, this is something that you shouldn’t have to do. The city is violating your rights.

By requiring people to undergo medical procedures – namely covid vaccination and/or covid testing – as a condition of being allowed to work, go to school, or enter public spaces, governments and institutions are similarly violating people’s rights.

When you are a child, you generally have no say in what medical procedures you do or do not get. When you go to a doctor’s appointment, the doctor might say that you need to get three shots today, or they might say you don’t have to get any. You don’t think of the shots as something that you are choosing, or as something that is beneficial to you; you just view them as an unwelcome intrusion into your life that you have no control over. When the shots are done, you leave the appointment knowing that at least that is behind you for now, and you don’t have to worry about it for another year.

The whole point of becoming an adult is that you never have to think of medical procedures – or any other activity, for that matter – in that way again. You might choose to get medical procedures that are unpleasant or even painful, because you determine that the benefits are worth it. But you should never get a medical procedure because someone else told you that you have to. That defeats the purpose of being an adult. The only time that you should get a medical procedure, or do any other activity, is when you think that it makes sense for you.

Unfortunately, many people who hold political power in today’s society believe that it is completely fine for people to be deprived of their freedom to do whatever they want. These people think that it is right to place safety above people’s rights to make their own decisions, and they think that anyone who disagrees with them is selfish. But this is false. People who deny others the ability to do what they want are treating adults like children. They are taking us all back to the days when, as little kids, we were subjected to whatever medical procedures the doctor decided were appropriate. That was a way of existing which, upon turning 18, I assumed I would never again need to experience, and which no adult should ever need to experience.

Today’s politicians may be creating a society with less risk of catching deadly diseases, but in doing so they are creating a society in which the very thing that makes life worth living is gone. Without the ability to set one’s own goals, to choose one’s own priorities, to weigh risks and benefits, to make tradeoffs, to determine what makes sense for oneself, and yes, to do whatever one wants, then life is not worth living at all.

bookmark_borderBiden’s totalitarianism reaches new lows (again)

I have been so heartbroken, furious, and disgusted by Joe Biden’s September 9 announcement that I have not been able to write coherently about this subject. Reading about and watching his speech was horrifying, and I am ashamed to be from a country that elected him president. I can confidently say that I have never in my life been a fan of Biden, but the degree of authoritarianism and disregard for individual liberty that he has demonstrated is far beyond what I ever imagined possible. For the better part of five days, I have felt completely exhausted, beaten down, and sick to my stomach. I have felt as if my chest is being crushed in a vice and a noose slowly being tightened around my neck.

With that said, here are a few semi-coherent thoughts on Biden’s reprehensible speech:

  • Biden’s comments that “it’s not about freedom or personal choice” are preposterous. The issue of whether people should be required to get Covid vaccines or testing is fundamentally a matter of freedom and personal choice; that is self-evident. Clearly, Biden does not think freedom or personal choice are important. His executive order takes these basic rights away from millions of people. But the fact that Biden is taking the anti-freedom position on an issue does not make the issue not about freedom.
  • Biden says that his “patience is wearing thin” with people who opt not to get the Covid vaccine. This makes no sense. People who opt not to get the vaccine are doing nothing wrong; therefore there is no reason for their existence to make anyone upset, angry, or frustrated in any way. I don’t know about you, but my patience has completely run out with this fascist government and its attempts to take away people’s power over their own bodies and lives.
  • The purpose of OSHA is to protect workers. Under Biden’s executive order, OSHA would require employers to require workers to do medical procedures that they do not want to do. This is the exact opposite of protecting workers, and therefore the exact opposite of what OSHA is supposed to be doing.
  • For those who argue that Biden’s executive order protects workers by lowering everyone’s Covid risk, it is true that the executive order benefits those workers whose sole concern is having the lowest Covid risk possible, and who care nothing about freedom, individual rights, or the well-being of those with different preferences than themselves. But people who have this attitude are wrong. Their desire for safety does not override the rights of others to make decisions about their own bodies. Biden’s executive order gives paranoid, anti-freedom people a benefit that they do not deserve by invading the bodies of their co-workers. This is unjust and wrong.
  • One person on Twitter equated requiring vaccination with banning people from waving a chainsaw around at work. This analogy is ridiculous. Employers have the right to make rules about what employees are and are not allowed to do while at work, and waving a chainsaw is definitely something that employers have a right to ban. Vaccine and testing requirements are different in two ways. First, they compel people to actively take an action as opposed to banning an action. Second, requiring people to undergo a medical procedure does not merely affect them during their work hours; it physically invades their body. By working for a company, people agree to give up specified amounts of time and energy in exchange for money. But bodily integrity is far more intimate and is beyond the scope of what people should have to give up in order to secure employment.
  • The fact that the vaccination/testing requirement will likely apply even to people who work from home defeats any attempt to justify it by invoking workplace safety. Clearly, the vaccination status of those who work 100% remotely has no impact on the safety of their co-workers. This demonstrates that the executive order is not primarily about protecting workers; it is about pressuring as many people as possible into getting the vaccine.
  • As for Biden’s comments that if governors will not help to beat the pandemic, he will get them out of the way, this is not only disturbingly totalitarian, but philosophically unsound. Believe it or not, there are more important things than beating the pandemic, such as individual liberty. Of course, beating the pandemic is a worthy goal, but it is never acceptable to violate people’s rights in order to do so. Individual rights must always come first, no exceptions. Governors who recognize this, and who are courageously standing up for the rights of their people, should be praised, not criticized and threatened.

A real leader would have banned businesses from requiring Covid vaccination or testing. A real leader would have instructed OSHA to draft a rule fining businesses for requiring Covid vaccination or testing, not for failing to do so. A real leader would have stood up for individual rights, not trampled on them. A real leader would have threatened to “get out of the way” those businesses and states which are trampling on the rights of their people, not those that are failing to trample.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that we now live in a totalitarian society. Biden’s executive order is the most severe violation of individual rights that has ever been enacted in the United States. Your body is the most fundamental piece of property that you own, and the right to make decisions about it is the most fundamental right there is. If people can be deprived of this right, then people are no longer free in any meaningful sense. The fact that such a thing has happened in the United States is heartbreaking, infuriating, and sickening.

bookmark_borderBishop gets it wrong on vaccine mandate

The diocese of Lexington, Kentucky recently mandated Covid vaccines for all of its employees. In a statement announcing and justifying the decision, Bishop John Stowe demonstrated a disturbing view of morality, which completely disregards the idea of individual rights and is, in my opinion, completely immoral.

“This is an urgent matter of public health and safety. There is no religious exemption for Catholics to being vaccinated, and Pope Francis has repeatedly called this a moral obligation. The health care system is now overwhelmed by a crisis caused primarily by those who refuse to protect themselves and others by getting vaccinated. This is unacceptable, and our diocese now joins those employers who have already made this basic commitment to the common good a requirement.”

(H/T Jack Jenkins on Twitter)

First of all, contrary to what Bishop Stowe and Pope Francis believe, it is simply false to say that getting a medical procedure is a moral obligation. The only moral obligation that a person has is to abstain from violating the rights of other people. No one is ever morally obligated to actively do anything, and that includes getting a vaccine.

Second, it’s wrong to say that any overwhelm of the health care system is caused by those who opt against the vaccine. It’s true that the situation could potentially have been prevented if more people had gotten the vaccine, but failing to prevent something is not the same as causing it. The virus itself is what is causing people to get sick and the medical system to get overwhelmed. The distinction between actively causing something and merely failing to prevent it is a crucial moral distinction that Bishop Stowe completely fails to make.

This leads to my next point, which is that declining to protect oneself and others (decline is a better word than refuse, because it is neutral as opposed to presuming that the person is acting wrongly by opting not to do the thing in question) is actually a perfectly morally acceptable decision. People are morally obligated not to violate the rights of others, and that’s it. No one is morally obligated to actively protect others. No one is morally obligated to protect him/herself, either. People have the right to take any health risks that they want to. One could argue that deciding not to get the vaccine is unwise, but it does not violate the rights of others; therefore it is a perfectly moral choice that people have the right to make.

Contrary to Bishop Stowe’s claim, there is nothing unacceptable about the situation. People have a right to decide which, if any, preventative measures to take with regards to Covid, and the number of people who get sick will correspond to those decisions. Of course, it is sad whenever someone becomes seriously ill, but people have a right to risk this if they choose to. There is nothing unacceptable about people making their own decisions about what level of risk they are willing to take.

As for the comments about the common good, these are completely misguided and, frankly, immoral. A commitment to the common good is not a requirement for being a moral person, and it certainly should not be a requirement for employment. You know what is a requirement for being a moral person? Respect for individual rights. Sadly, that is something that Bishop Stowe, along with numerous other employers, is sorely lacking. The contempt that Stowe demonstrates towards people who have done absolutely nothing wrong is cruel, disrespectful, philosophically unsound, unjustified, and wrong. Joining those employers who have completely failed in their moral duty to treat others with basic respect is not something that he should be bragging about.

bookmark_border“Irresponsible idiots”

Again and again, people who opt against the Covid vaccine are called morons, idiots, selfish, irresponsible, and a whole host of personally insulting nouns and adjectives. Those who spew forth these insults are essentially claiming that people are morally obligated to undergo a medical procedure for the benefit of others. This raises the question: are people who choose not to undergo a medical procedure truly selfish and irresponsible?

In my opinion, no. If anything, it is selfish and irresponsible to demand that others make the same medical decisions that you would make. The freedom to make decisions about one’s body is a fundamental right. My body, my choice, as those on the left-hand side of the political spectrum so often say with regards to abortion (although they seem to believe this principle is confined only to that particular issue). Unfortunately, the fact that the coronavirus spreads from person to person has caused a lot of people to throw the concept of individual liberty out the window. There is a tendency to believe that in situations where a person’s actions affect other people, individuals should no longer have the right to make their own choices. 

But that way of looking at things is wrong and misguided. It is true that when it comes to communicable diseases, one person’s actions have an indirect impact on others and on society as a whole by affecting the risk levels in the community. Opting not to get a vaccine does mean that a person has a higher risk of catching an illness, and therefore a higher risk of passing the illness on to other people. But there are numerous situations in which a person’s actions can affect other people. In fact, this is true in almost every situation to some degree. Riding a motorcycle creates noise which nearby people might find unpleasant; unhealthy eating can cause health problems which, if a person has insurance, can drive up insurance prices for everyone; and gun ownership carries a risk that one’s gun could be stolen and used to commit a crime, to list just a few examples.

But these are all actions that people have a right to do. To understand why, one needs to understand the difference between direct effects and indirect effects. If someone were to crash their motorcycle into your house, that would have a direct effect on you. It would destroy your property (and possibly physically injure you) and therefore violate your rights. Shooting someone would fall into the same category, as would stealing someone’s money, or giving someone Covid on purpose by deliberately coughing or sneezing on them. These actions all directly harm another person. Opting not to get a vaccine, on the other hand, does not directly harm anyone. It affects others only indirectly, by affecting the risk levels in the community. Declining the vaccine increases your risk of catching the virus, but it does not directly cause you to get it, because it is possible to decline the vaccine without catching the virus. Therefore, declining the vaccine certainly doesn’t cause anyone else to get the virus, because even if you get the virus yourself, you may or may not give it to another person. 

Your habits affect my risk level, those on the left argue, so they are my business. Your personal decisions make me less safe, so you don’t have a right to make them. But these arguments disregard the direct negative impact that is inherent in taking people’s freedom away. Being subjected to an unwanted medical procedure, or being pressured into doing something one does not want to do, violates rights and is inherently harmful. Effects on risk level and safety are not adequate justification for taking away the right to bodily autonomy and thereby inflicting direct harm. The fact that actions have indirect effects on other people does not override the concept of individual rights. If it did, then individual rights would essentially cease to exist. 

If you consider me selfish because I am unwilling to give up my right to control my own body, then so be it. I would rather be a selfish, irresponsible idiot than a mean, stuck-up, contemptuous, intolerant bully. 

bookmark_border“Pro-death”

“Pro-death.”

While glancing at Twitter this morning, I came across this term in a response to a tweet by Congressman Thomas Massie, in which Massie discussed the possibility of Covid vaccine booster shots. This is far from the first time I’ve heard such sentiments expressed. Earlier this year, the hashtag “Deathsantis” was trending after Florida governor Ron DeSantis prohibited businesses from requiring proof of vaccination.

In this blog post, I’d like to address the common argument that people who prioritize individual rights over stopping the spread of Covid are “pro-death.”

In any policy decision, there are various factors that need to be weighed, and different people will have different opinions about how to weigh them. When it comes to the Covid pandemic in particular, people have very different answers to the question: to what extent, if any, should individual liberty be sacrificed in order to fight the virus? Some people subscribe to the ideology of utilitarianism, and believe that it is okay for liberty to be restricted if doing so saves lives. Other people, including myself, believe that individual rights come first, and that it is never okay to take away rights no matter how many lives would be saved by doing so.

To say that someone is pro-death is to say that he/she is actually seeking to cause as many deaths as possible, which is, to put it bluntly, ridiculous. Public figures such as Massie, DeSantis, Rand Paul, Ron Paul, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and others accused of being “pro-death” are not actually causing deaths, let alone doing so intentionally. They are prioritizing respect for individual rights over saving lives, which is exactly what they should be doing. Individual rights, by their very definition, must always come first. And in a world where prioritizing individual rights is increasingly viewed as reckless and “pro-death,” it is courageous and heroic to do so.

People have a fundamental right to move about freely, to decide which activities to participate in, to decide what to put into their bodies, and to decide which medical procedures (if any) to undergo, to give just a few examples. Through policies such as stay-at-home orders, limits on gatherings and events, vaccine requirements, and Covid testing requirements, these rights have all been violated to various degrees over the past year and a half. Objecting to such policies does not make someone “pro-death;” it makes someone pro-liberty, pro-freedom, and pro-individual-rights. It may very well be true that many lives were saved due to these violations of people’s rights, but that does not make the violations okay, let alone obligatory. 

To sum up, violating people’s rights is never okay, regardless of how many lives will be saved by doing so. Failing to save lives is not the same thing as causing deaths, particularly when saving lives would require the violation of people’s rights, and therefore would be morally impermissible. It is simply not true that anyone who does not use every measure within his/her power to save lives must be pro-death. This argument ignores the entire concept of individual rights, and anyone who makes it is demonstrating sloppy thinking and a lack of logic.

bookmark_borderPeople who do not get the vaccine are not “moochers”

A recent editorial in the L.A. Times claims that people who choose not to receive the Covid-19 vaccine are “mooching off the rest of us.” I strongly disagree with this idea. 

First of all, the editorial repeatedly uses the verb “refuse” to characterize the decision not to get a vaccine. I disagree with this word choice, as it implies that the decision not to get a vaccine is a bad thing. In my opinion, it is not. People have a fundamental right to decide for themselves whether or not to get a vaccine (or any medical procedure, for that matter). Both options are equally valid and acceptable. 

The editorial criticizes Rep. Madison Cawthorn and Sen. Rand Paul, who have (in the author’s words) “defended the right not to be immunized as an exercise in individual freedom” and are “casting themselves as courageous individualists.” These two gentlemen are 100% correct. The right not to be immunized is an exercise in individual freedom, and those who defend this right are courageous individualists. 

The editorial tries to debunk Cawthorn’s and Paul’s arguments as follows: “The hazards of refusing the vaccine don’t confine themselves to the individual refuser. Vaccine resisters are putting the rest of us in danger, too. Unvaccinated people who contract COVID-19, even if they don’t become seriously ill, can pass the virus to family and friends.”

It is true that not getting a vaccine can have indirect effects on other people. But this is no reason to take away people’s freedom to choice. Every decision that a person makes has the potential to indirectly affect other people, but no sane person would argue that people shouldn’t have the freedom to decide on anything. The deciding factor is not whether a decision carries risks for other people but whether a decision violates others’ rights. In aggregate, the choice not to get the vaccine does increase the odds of catching Covid-19 for everyone in the community. But this choice does not violate the rights of anyone. There is no right to live in a world without infections diseases, or a world where one’s risk of catching any particular disease is below any particular threshold. The demand that the vaccine be made mandatory does violate people’s rights, however. Those who make this demand are essentially attempting to force medical procedures on other people, something that blatantly and unquestionably violates rights. They are arguing that the ability to live in a community with low rates of Covid transmission is more important than the ability to make one’s own medical decisions. I vehemently disagree with this claim. People have the right to make their own medical decisions regardless of what effect this has on the community’s risk level. In other words, no one has the right to demand that people be made to get medical procedures against their will for the sake of reducing their own risk or that of others.

The editorial goes on to insult Cawthorn, Paul, and others who think like them (including myself): “In fact, they’re acting as epidemiological moochers. They’re free riders, relying on the rest of us to protect them by helping the country reach herd immunity. Their relatives and friends, especially those 65 or older, should give them a wide berth. And their voters should treat them as what they are: dangerous to the health of their communities.”

I disagree with this characterization as well. No one is morally obligated to undergo any medical procedure, even if doing so would have indirect benefits to others, and no one who opts out of a medical procedure is a “moocher.” It is true that Covid-19 vaccination has what is called “positive externalities” – meaning that in aggregate it does tend to benefit society as a whole by reducing the overall amount Covid transmission. But there is no rule that if an activity has positive externalities, then everyone should be required to do it. I would be perfectly happy to live in a world where no one got the vaccine, but given that a lot of people are choosing to get it, there is no way for me to avoid the positive externalities. A moocher is someone who deliberately obtains a benefit without paying for it; therefore it is not accurate to describe people who do not get the vaccine as “moochers.” 

Additionally, although each person has the right to make his or her own decisions about who to associate with, it is intolerant, mean-spirited, controlling, and nosy to take another person’s medical decisions into account when deciding whether or not to spend time with them. I would never make a friend or relative’s vaccination status a factor in whether or not to associate with them, because it is none of my business. 

It may be true that Cawthorn and Paul are infinitesimally contributing to their communities’ virus risk. They are also bravely standing up for individual rights at a time when doing so is unpopular, and therefore desperately needed. That is far more important. 

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_borderAttorney General Barr is 100% right on Covid restrictions

Attorney General William Barr recently expressed the same sentiments that I have been writing about for a long time on this blog: that the restrictions on people’s freedom of movement and association that have been implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic are a violation of individual rights.

“You know, putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders, is like house arrest,” Barr said during a Constitution Day speech at Hillsdale College. “Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”

Unsurprisingly, various authoritarian politicians and commentators criticized Barr’s remarks.

Joe Biden asked rhetorically, “Did you ever, ever think, any of you that following the recommendations of the scientific community to save your and other peoples’ lives is equivalent to slavery, people being put in chains?” 

Rep. James Clyburn called Barr’s comments “the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, God-awful things I’ve ever heard” and pointed out that “slavery was not about saving lives,” while “this pandemic is a threat to human life.”

Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe called Barr’s comments an “obscene comparison” and called Barr “an evil fool.”

Sunny Hostin of The View tweeted, “Statements like these make you realize many in this country know nothing about what it truly means to be oppressed.”

“If you think that this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history, I’d suggest you read up on the Alien Sedition Acts,” complained historian Jon Meacham. “I’d suggest you talk to the Japanese Americans who were interned during the Second World War. Talk to the victims of Joe McCarthy. Talk to the victims of one of Barr’s predecessors, A. Mitchel Palmer, who led raids in 1919 and 1920 as part of the first Red Scare. And talk to the Black folks who, in my native region, lived under apartheid until about 60 years ago… We’re talking about scientifically uncontroversial public health measures. This is not some ideologically-driven plot on behalf of the public health officials, and the alleged deep state, to change American lives. It’s to try to save American lives because of a global pandemic.”

It is disturbing that so many prominent individuals believe that telling people they cannot leave their homes for any but essential purposes is no big deal. Let’s address their arguments one by one:

First of all, contrary to Clyburn’s and Tribe’s claims, Barr’s comments are neither ridiculous, nor God-awful, nor obscene, and Barr is neither evil nor a fool. Rather, Barr’s comments are correct, and he is a good and intelligent person for making them. It is the criticisms of Barr that are ridiculous, awful, and obscene, and the people defending lockdowns who are evil. As for Clyburn’s allegation that Barr’s comments are “tone-deaf,” I do not understand this criticism. What is relevant is whether the content of a statement is right or wrong, not the tone in which it is expressed. Barr’s statement was right, and desperately needed. Therefore, it was right of him to make it.

Second, there is the argument, made by Biden and Meacham for example, that because stay-at-home orders were “scientifically uncontroversial” and recommended by experts in public health, they do not violate civil liberties. But the fact that something is recommended by the scientific community has nothing to do with whether or not it is an intrusion on civil liberties. One can accept the claim that stay-at-home orders are the best way to slow the spread of the virus while at the same time believing that they are morally wrong. This is because factual claims and moral claims are completely different and independent. Science is a great way of gaining factual knowledge, e.g. how the world works, which things tend to be correlated with each other, which are the best ways of achieving particular outcomes. But science cannot tell us anything about moral right and wrong, e.g. what constitutes justice, which rights people have, whether or not a particular action violates civil liberties. Only philosophy – thinking logically about a topic – can do that.

Similarly, Barr’s critics make the argument that because stay-at-home orders were motivated by the desire to save lives, they do not violate civil liberties. But the motivation of an action has nothing to do with whether or not it violates civil liberties. Clyburn is correct that slavery was not about saving lives, while the pandemic is a threat to human life, and saving lives is the motivation behind the lockdown measures. But this is irrelevant. Meacham may be correct that public health officials are not motivated by any sinister desire to destroy people’s freedoms. But regardless of their motivation, destroying people’s freedoms is what they are doing. Restricting liberty in the way that governors around the country have done during the coronavirus pandemic is morally wrong regardless of its motivation and regardless of how many infections it prevents or lives it saves.

Then there is Hostin’s claim that opponents of stay-at-home orders “know nothing about what it truly means to be oppressed.” Actually, it is defenders of stay-at-home orders who know nothing about what it means to be oppressed. Remember, we are talking about state and municipal governments telling their citizens that they cannot walk around at parks or beaches, go to church, buy guns (a right explicitly protected by the Constitution), or get together with other people. We are talking about state and municipal governments forcibly closing all sorts of businesses, from restaurants to sports teams to barbershops to book stores to clothing stores. We are talking about governments telling their citizens that even for those few “essential” purposes for which they are allowed to leave their homes, they must do so as seldom as possible and avoid stopping to browse or chat. We are talking about governments requiring their citizens to disclose their recent contacts and whereabouts for contact-tracing purposes. That this is oppression is an understatement. Anyone who cannot see this has no idea what oppression is.

And finally there is Meacham’s list of incidents from history that he claims are worse intrusions on civil liberties than stay-at-home orders. Some of the items on the list are, indeed, violations of civil liberties. But none of them are worse than the restrictions on people’s freedoms that have been implemented during the coronavirus pandemic. The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, for example, was certainly wrong, but it affected 112,000 people, while the coronavirus restrictions take away the liberty of every single person in America (approximately 320 million people). The Alien and Sedition Acts, McCarthyism, and Palmer’s raids did violate the rights of the individuals targeted, but this is nowhere near as problematic as stripping away freedom of movement from the entire populace. No one would defend Jim Crow laws, but if it’s wrong to force people to use segregated restaurants, stores, and beaches, isn’t it even more wrong to ban people from these places entirely? In scope and scale, in terms of the number of people harmed, the number of rights taken away, and the areas of life affected, none of the historical events mentioned by Barr’s critics matches the wide-ranging deprivation of freedom inflicted by governments in response to the pandemic.

To sum up, the arguments against Barr and in defense of stay-at-home orders are ignorant, illogical, offensive, and wrong. Barr should be commended, not insulted, for speaking out in defense of the Constitution and individual rights. However, there is one respect in which I disagree slightly with Barr’s comments. I would get rid of the “other than slavery” part, because I believe that stay-at-home orders are worse than slavery. Kudos to Attorney General Barr for condemning these restrictions as the egregious violation of civil liberties that they are.