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_borderBullies protest against Confederate flag towel

I thought it was ridiculous when I heard that dozens of people in Minnesota decided to protest against a Confederate flag at their neighbor’s house. But then I saw a news article titled, “Protest calls out white silence after Confederate flag towel displayed on Evanston beach.” I did not think that such a thing was possible, but this towel protest reaches new levels of ridiculousness.

Reading the full story behind these events only makes this incident more appalling. The offending towel was first sighted on Wednesday at Lighthouse Beach in Evanston, Illinois, where a group of beachgoers had draped it over a fence. LaShandra Smith-Rayfield saw photos of the towel posted on social media and decided to drop what she was doing and drive to the beach to confront the towel owners in person. She posted a video of the confrontation on Facebook Live. In the video (since deleted) she reportedly told the towel owners, “I can’t feel comfortable in my own neighborhood. That flag right there is my swastika.” Then, a small group of protesters arrived at the beach and held Black Lives Matter signs until the towel owners left. Another small protest took place at the beach Thursday, followed by one on Friday which was attended by 300 people, including the mayor.

The Facebook event for that protest was titled, “No one is free until we are all free,” which is ironic because the protest seems to have been dedicated to taking away people’s freedom to go to the beach without being bullied and harassed.

Smith-Rayfield’s actions in instigating a confrontation with a group of beachgoers and then organizing a protest against them are utterly despicable. People have every right to possess and use any type of towel that they want. The group of people who hung the Confederate towel on the fence were doing absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever. Yet Smith-Rayfield chose to drop what she was doing and drive to the beach to verbally attack them. Then she and her supporters held not one, not two, but three protests against these people who were doing nothing wrong. In this time of relentless attacks on the Confederate States of America and its iconography, this is one of the most bigoted, intolerant, and aggressive instances of bullying I have heard of yet.

“Me speaking out against hatred does not make me anti-patriotic,” Smith-Rayfield told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It actually makes me patriotic… Every person on that beach walked past it. In my video, you can see people walk on past it. Why is it okay to walk on past it?”

This is one of the most preposterous questions I have ever heard. Not only is it okay to walk past a group of people minding their own business, it is an obligation. Unless, of course, one wants to compliment the towel or ask where the owners bought it, which would be totally justified because in my opinion, a Confederate flag towel is awesome. But when it comes to making negative or critical comments towards a person or people who are doing nothing wrong, that is morally impermissible because it is an act of aggression. For Smith-Rayfield to imply that bullying and harassing innocent people is not only acceptable but is morally required is preposterous. She is not “speaking out against hatred.” She is aggressing against innocent people.

Disgustingly, the mayor of Evanston, Steve Hagerty, praised Smith-Rayfield’s “courage and persistence.” But what Smith-Rayfield did was an act of cruelty, aggression, and bullying. This has nothing to do with courage or persistence, and it is disturbing that an elected official would praise such a thing.

Terri Turner, who attended one of the protests, said that she and her daughter were up till 2:30 a.m. “trying to process how heinous that was.” She was not referring to Smith-Rayfield’s decision to attack an innocent group of beachgoers; she was referring to the Confederate flag towel itself. This reaction is bizarre and incomprehensible. There is nothing “heinous” about a Confederate flag towel. It is a towel demonstrating pride in Southern heritage. Smith-Rayfield’s actions in instigating an argument with innocent people, as well as Turner’s own decision to attend a protest condemning these same people, are what is truly heinous.

People have a right to go to the beach and display any type of flag or towel they want without being insulted, yelled at, or harassed. If you think that disliking someone’s towel gives you the right to go up to them, berate them, and organize protests against them, you are not only 100% wrong but you are also a mean, nasty, intolerant bully.

One bright light in this dismaying series of events is that while Smith-Rayfield was verbally attacking the group of innocent beachgoers, an African-American veteran decided to intervene. According to a series of tweets describing the encounter, this man told Smith-Rayfield that “she’s the one causing the problem,” that the towel owners were “minding their business,” and that he “fought for their right to display that flag.” He is 100% right. Interviewed later by the Chicago Sun-Times, this brave veteran said that he personally believes the Confederate flag is wrong but also believes that people have the right to disagree and that he served in the military to protect that right. This guy showed true courage, tolerance, and empathy. If only more people behaved this way towards those with whom they disagree.

bookmark_borderThoughts on the non-aggression principle and arrest for keeping TV

Nick Memmo of East Freetown, MA was recently arrested for keeping a TV that was delivered to his house. He had ordered a 75-inch TV valued at $1200 from Amazon and received that as well as a second, 86-inch TV valued at $2700 which he did not order. Because he did not attempt to return the extra TV, the police raided his house, arrested him, and charged him with felony larceny.

Opinions are divided on whether it was appropriate or excessive to arrest someone in these circumstances. In my opinion, the decision to arrest Memmo was outrageous.

According to the non-aggression principle, it is morally wrong to violate the rights of another person, whether by physically harming that person, interfering in their freedom, or taking away their property. In other words, the only thing that is morally wrong is to actively commit a wrong, not merely to fail to prevent or correct a wrong. Actively taking a TV that belongs to someone else is morally wrong, and constitutes larceny. But merely keeping a TV that someone else mistakenly gave you is not morally wrong, and should not be considered larceny according to any sane definition.

The delivery company (a third-party company that contracts with Amazon) messed up by bringing the extra TV to Memmo’s home. According to news reports, they attempted to contact him to get it back, and his failure to respond was a reason that factored into the decision to arrest him. But no one is obligated to correct someone else’s mistakes. It stinks for the delivery company that their driver made a mistake that cost them $2700, but that is what happens when one makes a mistake. The delivery company needs to live with the results of their mistake instead of having an innocent person arrested because he failed to help them fix their mess-up.

A letter was published in the Boston Globe about this issue which really irked me. In the letter, Beth Logan of Chelmsford wrote, “Packages delivered to my door are not necessarily mine. Last year, a package had my neighbor’s address on it. I walked four houses down, and delivered it there. I sometimes get other neighbors’ mail in my box, and I bring it to them… This is how people should behave. Any other behavior is inappropriate, unethical, and, hopefully, illegal.”

I strongly disagree with this statement and find the contemptuous, smug, and authoritarian tone of this letter to be very objectionable. To bring mis-delivered mail and packages to the correct address is nice, but not obligatory. If mail or a package is delivered to someone’s door, that person is within his or her rights to keep it. It is the responsibility of delivery companies to do their jobs accurately or absorb the results of their mistakes (e.g. paying for a second 86-inch TV); it is not the responsibility of the unintended recipient to fix the situation. If Logan wants to correct the mistakes of mail carriers and delivery people, that’s great, but she has no right to demand that other people act the same way as she does. Who on earth is she to dictate how other people ought to behave? To so harshly and contemptuously condemn people who are doing nothing wrong is what is truly inappropriate and unethical.