This is a discussion that Michael Young and I started at my Facebook page on this article by Michael Tomasky in The New York Times (ht: Suleman Khawaja). Here’s Tomasky’s thesis in a sentence:
Freedom means the freedom not to get infected by the idiot who refuses to mask up.
I started the conversation, which we agreed to continue here instead of on Facebook.
I mostly but don’t entirely agree with Tomasky. Some agreements. I agree that
- we have a right to be free from human-borne pathogens like SARS-CoV-2;
- that their spread constitutes a rights violation;
- that the Left (or non-Right) has to go on the offensive in challenging right-wing conceptions of “freedom”; and
- that the Right’s unchallenged monopoly on “freedom” is unearned.
I also agree that people should wear masks, and that wearing one can be made a legally enforceable requirement. I myself wear a tight-fitting surgical mask Monday through Friday, eight to nine hours a day, doing strenuous physical labor (in Support Services for a hospital operating room). So do all of my work colleagues. We’re all tired of bullshit excuses for not wearing masks.
I disagree with Tomasky’s cavalier rejection of the link between economic and political freedom, which strikes me as a bit clueless and confused, and is one reason why the Left has lost ground to the Right.* Every producer and every consumer–every human being–has a stake in the link that Tomasky derides. His crack about the Scandinavian countries is an irrelevant red herring that bypasses the relevant issues.
On a related but different note, I wanted to single out this powerful, moving Op-Ed in the Newark Star-Ledger by my friend and onetime neighbor Alice Roberts, widow of Glen Ridge Police Officer Rob Roberts, whose tragic death due to COVID-19 I’ve mentioned before at PoT. I couldn’t agree more with what she says (ht: William Ortiz):
Before this year, I never made too many pleas in life. But I have made plenty these past several months. First, a plea for my husband’s life. Then, a plea for my kids to have a semblance of normalcy.Now, I have one for anybody who supports President Trump or for voters who are still on the fence. I plead with you to remember his lack of action after learning the true dangers of the virus in January. Consider the long-term consequences that his failed pandemic response has had on first responders, doctors, nurses, workers, students, teachers, and families. Think of how much more we still stand to lose if we re-elect President Trump who, time and again, has shown us who he is, mask off.
It’s too late to prevent this virus from taking over our lives at this moment. But we still have time to make sure it doesn’t define our future if we stand together in this election and vote out President Trump.
*Tomasky: “It’s manifest silliness. To be sure, when they were writing, it was true of a place like the Soviet Union. But it is not true of Western democracies. If they were correct, the Scandinavian nations, statist on economic questions, would have jails filled with political prisoners. If they were correct, advanced democratic countries that elected left-leaning governments would experience a simultaneous crushing of political freedom. History shows little to no incidence of this.”
Simple counter-example: most liberals regard laws against possession and consumption of marijuana as violations of freedom, and yet most arrestees never go to jail. Would Tomasky say that their arrests aren’t violations of freedom simply because the arrestees go through custodial supervision rather than incarceration?
Note: The opinions expressed in this post and in the comments are those of the individual authors. My views (Irfan Khawaja) are not intended to represent my employer, Hunterdon Medical Center, its parent company, Hunterdon Healthcare, any of its affiliates, or any other person or organization.