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_borderThere’s nothing ugly about individual rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bookmark_borderThe most offensive tweet I have ever seen

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

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