bookmark_borderYou don’t need to understand people’s decisions in order to respect them

One of the moral principles that I strongly believe in, and that I frequently write about on this blog, is the idea that people have the right to do anything they want, as long as it does not violate the rights of anyone else. (This idea is known as the non-aggression principle.)

Unfortunately, many people have the idea that unless they personally understand and agree with another person’s actions and decisions, those actions and decisions are not legitimate. I strongly disagree with this way of thinking. As long as someone’s actions are not directly harming you, they are not required to justify those actions to you, or to anyone else. People have a right to do whatever they believe is best for them. It doesn’t matter if their reasoning does not make sense to you, because their reasoning is none of your business.

Second Amendment rights provide a great example of this. More times than I can count, I have heard the claim, “No one needs an AR-15” (as well as an almost infinite number of variations of this claim with regard to different types of weapons, ammunition, etc.). People who make this claim are completely disregarding the non-aggression principle. One doesn’t need to prove a need for something in order to be allowed to have it. The only thing that matters is the fact that having an AR-15 does not, in itself, harm anyone. Therefore, people have the right to own and carry AR-15s for any reason, or for no reason at all. 

This meme from the National Association for Gun Rights sums it up perfectly:

Another decision that people are frequently expected to justify is the decision not to receive the Covid vaccine. Once I was arguing with someone on Twitter who claimed that if a person chooses not to follow the advice of public health experts, then of course it makes sense that the person would not be allowed to just wander around in public. This line of reasoning took my breath away, not just because of its blatant and unabashed authoritarianism, but more subtly because of its disturbing presumption that people are required to justify their medical decisions. This person seemed to be presuming that people are obligated to provide some sort of medical justification for disobeying the advice of medical experts, and if they fail to do so, then it is okay for them to be punished by having their freedoms taken away. In other words, it is one thing if someone has medical contraindications to getting the vaccine, but absent that, everyone should get the vaccine. Consistent with this way of thinking, the person then proceeded to interrogate me about what reasons a person could possibly have for declining the vaccine. But this way of thinking is wrong, and this line of questioning completely misses the point. Other people’s medical decisions, and the reasons for them, are none of his business and none of my business, either. The right to decline medical procedures is fundamental, and no one is required to provide medical justification, or any justification at all, for exercising it. “I don’t want to” is a perfectly good and complete reason for declining the vaccine.

Analogous situations frequently arise in everyday life as well. Society often expects people to provide a reason if they say no to an invitation, or leave a social event before it is over. These expectations are problematic for me, because I don’t particularly enjoy socializing, and I’m not able to tolerate it for as large amounts of time as most people are. Once when I told a friend that I was having a busy week and therefore wouldn’t be able to go to a particular event with her, she insisted that I explain exactly what I was doing and why that made it impossible for me to attend the event. I have been advised, when a social event is lasting longer than I want to stay, that I should make an excuse such as saying that I have a headache or have to get up early the next day. This has always seemed not quite right to me. Why should I have to make an excuse for staying for what I perceive to be a normal amount of time? My decision to leave a social event would be perfectly legitimate even if my only reason for doing so was preferring to play video games, sit on my couch, or watch paint dry. Just like with medical decisions or gun ownership decisions, people should not have to justify to others their decisions about how to spend their time and energy.

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_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_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_borderLawsuit planned against MA flu shot mandate

A group of over 5,000 people are planning to file a lawsuit challenging Massachusetts’s new requirement that all children and teens get a flu vaccine in order to attend school. The group, called Flu You Baker, is gathering signatures for a class action lawsuit that it plans to file next month.

Governor Charlie Baker implemented the requirement in August in an attempt to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the Department of Public Health website, everyone who will be going to a day care or school, from 6 months old to high school seniors, is required to get a flu shot, even if they are planning on attending school remotely. Additionally, college and grad school students under age 30 are required to get a flu shot if they are attending classes on campus.

Dr. Larry Madoff of the Department of Public Health explained: “It is more important now than ever to get a flu vaccine because flu symptoms are very similar to those of Covid-19 and preventing the flu will save lives and preserve health care resources.”

“I don’t believe in government overreach,” Vincent Delaney, and organizer of the lawsuit, said to NBC Boston. “I believe it should be between a parent, their child, and the doctor.”

Renee Viens, a mother who signed onto the lawsuit, told the station: “This should be a parental choice because this can become a very slippery slope. If people are forced to take the vaccine, then what’s next? Is it the Covid vaccine that’s going to be forced on us? I just don’t think this is good precedent to set.”

I support this lawsuit 100%. Just as the government does not have a right to take away people’s freedom of movement and association in order to prevent the medical system from being overwhelmed, it does not have the right to invade people’s bodies in order to prevent the medical system from being overwhelmed. Nor do people have the right to have the bodies of other people invaded in order to reduce their own risk of catching the flu. What is particularly disturbing about this flu shot requirement is that it applies to students attending private schools as well as public, and even more bizarrely, applies to students who will be learning online. Plus, this requirement is more onerous than the already existing requirement that public school students receive vaccines for hepatitis B, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox. Unlike these vaccines, which a person generally only needs to get once and then never needs to worry about again, the flu vaccine only lasts for a year, so students will need to get it every year. This is a significant quality of life issue and a clear case of government overreach. Like with any medical procedure, whether or not to get a flu shot should be an individual choice.

bookmark_borderAthletes’ boycott is inconsistent and illogical

The world is finally emerging from a government-ordered lockdown during which countries, states, and cities forbade their citizens from leaving their homes for anything other than necessities. A more severe, wide-reaching violation of people’s rights can hardly be imagined. 

Yet because of an incident in Kenosha, Wisconsin in which Jacob Blake was shot by police officers, the NBA, NHL, and MLB have decided to cancel their games as a form of protest. I do not mean to minimize the injustice of what happened to Jacob Blake. Obviously, being shot and paralyzed as a result is absolutely horrible, and he did not deserve for this to happen. But I disagree with the claims by the Black Lives Matter movement that incidents like this are symptomatic of an overarching trend of systemic racism. Like the equally unjust and tragic killing of George Floyd, this was an isolated incident. It is being investigated, and if any of the officers involved are found to have acted wrongly, they will be punished. The shooting of Jacob Blake is being handled the way it should be. 

So why did so many athletes boycott their games in response to this but not in response to issues that are actually important? 

As a result of demands by its athletes, the NBA agreed to postpone all of yesterday’s and today’s playoff games. The NHL called off today’s playoff games, and MLB postponed three games yesterday and seven games today after some players decided to sit out and their teammates and managers backed them. 

Contrast this with the complete lack of reaction when the majority of states in the U.S. enacted stay-at-home orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, banning all people within those states from traveling, going to parks, doing outdoor activities, getting together with other people, and operating businesses. Did any professional athlete express any opposition whatsoever to these tyrannical policies that violate every person’s rights on a massive scale? If so, the media has done a good job of keeping it secret. 

As another example of an issue that merits widespread protests, take the barbaric destruction of buildings, businesses, and worst of all, statues that has been perpetrated by protesters affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement across the country. Why have no professional athletes taken a stand against these violations of people’s rights? Why has no one pledged to boycott games until the vandalized statues are restored and protected?

It’s not only recent injustices that merit protests. Why have no athletes protested against technology companies’ constant tracking of everyone’s internet activities? This practice violates every person’s privacy rights. Why did no athletes protest the deployment of full-body scanners at airports in 2010, also violating every traveler’s privacy rights? Why did no athletes protest when the federal government passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, requiring all people to purchase health insurance? This law violates every person’s right to decide what to do with his or her own money. And why did no one protest the passage of the Durham-Humphrey Amendment in 1951, requiring each person to get a doctor’s permission before being allowed to purchase medications? This law violates every person’s right to make his or her own medical decisions. I could continue listing examples until this blog post became as long as a novel, but I think you get the point.

All of these issues are more important, and more deserving of protests, than an isolated incident of police brutality. The decision by so many basketball, hockey, and baseball players to boycott games over one instance of injustice while completely ignoring others is illogical, inconsistent, unjust, and unfair. Their gesture is meaningful to Jacob Blake and those who care about him, but it is a slap in the face to all those people who are negatively affected by other types of injustice.