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_border“No one needs an AR-15”

Proponents of gun control often point out that no one “needs” an AR-15 (or another type of gun, or a bump stock, or a pistol brace, or a gun in general). The argument seems to be that if a person does not need something, then they shouldn’t be allowed to have it.

This argument is, to put it bluntly, preposterous. Seeing it repeated ad nauseam by dozens and dozens of different people all over the TV, the newspaper, and the internet is one of my pet peeves.

When one applies this argument to other situations, it becomes obvious how wrong and illogical it is to argue that unless someone needs something, they shouldn’t be allowed to have it.

To name just a few examples, no one needs designer clothing, no one needs tattoos, and no one needs to get their ears pierced. Does it follow that designer clothing, tattoos, and earrings should be banned? Of course not.

No one needs 20 dresses, or 30 pairs of pants, or 40 sweaters. Does it follow that people should be banned from owning these amounts of clothing, and restricted to owning only the amount of clothing that they absolutely need? Of course not.

No one needs Beanie Babies, or Pokemon cards, or toy soldiers, or sports memorabilia, or video games. Should these things be banned? Of course not.

No one needs to get married, and no one needs to have a baby, because being single and being child-free are perfectly valid and acceptable ways of living. Does it follow that getting married and having children should be banned? Of course not. In fact, I’d bet that many people who argue passionately that marriage is a basic right also argue that AR-15s ought to be banned because no one “needs” them.

The list of things that people do not “need” could continue until this blog post became as long as a novel. When you think about it, the only things that people truly need in order to live are food, water, shelter, and perhaps medical services (if they have a life-threatening medical condition). But it would be insane to argue that because of this, these basic necessities are the only things that people should be allowed to have! Yet this is exactly the presumption that you are making if you point out that people do not “need” guns and think that this somehow proves that guns should be banned.

You don’t need to need something in order to be allowed to have it. The ability to have and do things that you like – whether that be clothing, body mods, toys, games, collectibles, relationships, or guns – is inherently valuable because it makes your life better. A world in which people are allowed to do anything they wish (as long as it doesn’t violate the rights of anyone else) is self-evidently better than a world in which people are allowed to have only the things that they need. Owning and possessing guns and related paraphernalia does not violate the rights of others. And for people who like such things, the ability to own and possess them makes their lives better. Therefore, guns and related paraphernalia should be available to anyone who wishes to have them. It really is that simple.

bookmark_borderRestrictions are imposed by the government, not by the virus

“Somehow, we have to keep convincing people that this is not something being imposed upon them by the government. It’s being imposed on them by the virus. And we don’t want the virus to win.”

These are the words of Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. This quote stood out to me when reading this article about the Covid pandemic and the possibility that it might finally be winding down. Collins is claiming that restrictions on individual liberty – such as stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, Covid testing requirements, and vaccine mandates – are not being imposed by the government but by the virus itself.

This sentiment is common. Since the pandemic first began, we have been told that if we just comply with the rules and diligently follow public health advice, then the number of positive cases will go down, allowing restrictions to be lifted. We have been told that vaccination is the way to get life back to normal, and that mask requirements allow schools to remain open for in-person learning. Until recently, signs at my local park implored people to maintain social distancing so that the park would be able to remain open.

But this way of thinking is false. The decision to impose restrictions on individual liberty in an effort to combat the virus is just that – a decision. When restrictions are imposed, they are imposed by governments (or whatever institution is imposing the restrictions, whether that be a university, employer, or other organization), not by the virus.

This might be a revolutionary concept to some people, but not imposing restrictions is always an option. The city government could have left the park open regardless of whether or not people were practicing social distancing. Stay-at-home orders could have been lifted regardless of the number of positive cases or, even better, could have not been imposed to begin with. Many people will say that abstaining from imposing restrictions is a bad option. Most likely this option would result in more people catching the virus, more people getting sick, and more people dying. And many people believe that preventing these outcomes is of paramount importance, no matter how badly people’s rights must be trampled on in order to achieve this.

As anyone who has visited my blog knows, I do not subscribe to this point of view. But regardless of what you believe about the relative importance of safety and liberty, the choice to prioritize one over the other is just that – a choice. When someone says that they have no choice but to impose restrictions because doing so is necessary to combat the virus, that person is unfairly avoiding responsibility for his/her actions. That person is also treating his/her opinion as fact and denying the possibility that alternative opinions might exist. The decision to impose Covid restrictions results from the belief that fighting the virus is more important than respecting individual rights. Even if you agree with this belief, you cannot just presume it as fact and then blame the restrictions on the virus.

When political leaders, and others who hold positions of authority, choose to prioritize safety over liberty, they must acknowledge that this is indeed a choice that they have made. Restrictions are not imposed by a virus. They are imposed by the government, and the government needs to take responsibility for this.

bookmark_border“It’s a contagion, stupid”

In the latest example of Twitter stupidity, meet someone who goes by the username “WiebeFuncke.” When I made a tweet pointing out that supporters of abortion rights should also, in order to be logically consistent, support the right to make one’s own choices about vaccination, this individual responded to me by writing, “A woman’s choice isn’t a contagion, Einstein.”

A quick glance at this individual’s Twitter page revealed that he/she regularly responds in this manner to people who oppose forcing people to get the Covid vaccine against their will (example below). 

WiebeFuncke apparently believes that the fact that the coronavirus is a contagion means that the entire concept of individual rights can automatically be thrown out the window. Not only does he/she believe this, but he/she apparently believes this to be so obvious that it does not even need to be explained. In other words, merely pointing out that the coronavirus is a contagion is enough to rebut any argument against mandates.

However, what WiebeFuncke believes about contagions and individual rights is not only not obvious; it’s not even true. The concept of individual rights applies regardless of whether or not a contagion is involved. So no, it does not rebut a person’s argument to simply point out, “it’s a contagion.” You need to make an actual counter-argument in order to do that.

Contrary to his/her assertion, WiebeFuncke is the one who truly needs to do better than to repeatedly (and rudely) blurt out “contagion” and act as if that automatically rebuts everyone else’s arguments.

bookmark_borderThe distinction between action and omission

In the seemingly never-ending debate about Covid-19 and which regulations (if any) are appropriate to combat it, many people make the mistake of erasing the distinction between action and omission. Far too often, I see tweets, comments, and editorials that equate refraining from taking a helpful action with actively taking a harmful action. 

For example, I have seen numerous people equating the decision not to receive a vaccine with “spreading disease,” and derisively characterizing the right not to get a vaccine as “the right to spread germs.” I have read editorials accusing a hypothetical person who gets on a bus while having an asymptomatic case of the virus of “killing” a hypothetical elderly person who subsequently gets on the bus and contracts the virus. I have seen tweets accusing governors of “killing” their states’ residents by lifting restrictions. 

Statements like these are based on a fundamental error in logic. People are not morally obligated to take any action; they are morally obligated only to refrain from harming others. In other words, as long as someone’s actions are not actively and directly harming others, they are doing nothing wrong. Failing to take an action that would benefit others, failing to actively help one’s community, these things are perfectly okay. People have the right to do their own thing and pursue their own goals; they are not required to contribute to the greater good.

Therefore, refraining from getting a vaccine is not the same thing as spreading disease. Nor, for that matter, is refraining from taking other risk-mitigation measures such as staying home or wearing masks. Spreading disease means deliberately infecting others with germs, on purpose. Failing to actively stop the spread is not the same as actively spreading. Diseases spread from person to person. People are not to blame for the transmission of a virus; the virus itself is.

It’s even more ridiculous to accuse leaders of killing people when they lift restrictions. Doing so presumes that restrictions are morally required, which is as far from the truth as it is possible to get. Taking away people’s freedoms for the sake of fighting a virus is morally impermissible, and therefore the restrictions never should have been enacted in the first place. To equate respect for fundamental rights with “killing” is preposterous. 

It’s understandable that proponents of mandatory vaccination, mandatory wearing of masks, and mandatory staying at home would conflate the failure to take these actions with taking a harmful action. It’s a lot easier to argue that a harmful action should be banned than it is to argue that people should be compelled to do something. Banning the spreading of disease and the killing of people sounds a lot more reasonable than banning minding one’s own business. But these attempts to justify totalitarianism are based on faulty logic. They erase the fundamental moral distinction between action and omission.

bookmark_borderRachel Maddow on the Covid vaccine

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow had some pretty disturbing comments about the Covid-19 vaccine, that demonstrate that she does not understand the concept of people having the right to make their own decisions based on their preferences.

“It is OK to feel reluctant or oogey or scared, and not want to get it,” Maddow said. “That is nothing to be ashamed of. But feel the fear and do it anyway. Get it. Because most of all, it is not for you. It is to keep you from getting the virus and then spreading it.”

First of all, Maddow assumes that the only reason someone would not want to get the vaccine is because he or she is “oogey” (whatever that means) or afraid. This presumes the truth of what Maddow is trying to prove – namely, that everyone should get the vaccine. It presumes that getting the vaccine is the rational thing to do, and any desire not to get it must be based on an irrational emotion such as fear. There are a variety of reasons why someone might not want to get the vaccine, many of which have nothing to do with fear. For example, I’m currently undecided about whether or not to get the vaccine, partially because I think it’s wise to wait until I know more about the side effects and how long the protection lasts, and partially because I am unlikely to become seriously ill if I get Covid, so I simply don’t think adding another medical procedure to my life is necessary.

More importantly, whatever a person decides with regards to the vaccine, that decision should be his or her own. Each person has the right to make decisions about his or her body without bullying, pressure, or coercion from anyone else. As liberals like Maddow say so frequently with regards to abortion (but completely forget about whenever any other issue is being discussed): my body, my choice. Hearing people like Maddow tell me I must get the vaccine makes me feel insulted and attacked, and therefore less likely to get it.

She is essentially saying, it’s OK to have preferences that are different from mine, as long as you don’t act according to them, and act according to mine instead. This is incredibly patronizing and condescending. The whole purpose of having preferences is to use them when making decisions. What is the point of having preferences if you are supposed to disregard them and make decisions according to someone else’s preferences? If someone does not want to get the vaccine, that means that they do not want to get the vaccine. Why should someone get the vaccine when their preference is to not get it? What Maddow is saying makes no sense. 

A final note: actually, the vaccine is for you, not to keep you from getting the virus and then spreading it. The vaccine is a benefit that people should be able to avail themselves of, if they wish. It is not something that people should be forced or pressured into doing. It is not something that people have a right to order other people to get, as Maddow is doing.

So no, choosing not to get the vaccine is not about being “oogey” or scared. It is about the principle that people are not morally obligated to get a medical procedure for the benefit of other people. 

If you want to get the vaccine, you should get it. If you don’t want to get the vaccine, you shouldn’t get it. It really is that simple.