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.