Wal-Mart and Mask Mandates: The Empirical Issues

This gallery is meant to illustrate the issues raised in my discussion with Michael Young over Wal Mart in the post on the Great Barrington Declaration. See the combox of that post for further details. Click the thumbnails of each photo for important empirical findings.

“The Useful Libertarian Idiocy of the Great Barrington Declaration”

Will Wilkinson is the most talented, insightful, and (incidentally) successful writer of the cohort of libertarians to which I once half-belonged back in the 1990s, when I was (sporadically) associated with David Kelley’s Institute for Objectivist Studies and the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University. His apostasizing critiques of libertarianism are among the best of their kind. He’s been derided as a mere “centrist,” but that often seems, in libertarian circles, a convenient way of attacking someone whose political views accommodate the actual constraints that arise in political life.

His criticisms in this piece of the so-called Great Barrington Declaration strike me as spot on. And the acid tone he takes is perfectly appropriate to the subject matter. Libertarians will undoubtedly attack him, and try their best to drag some red herrings across the ground, but once the dust clears, I think they’ll be left with a sober reckoning—one they should have made last March, but have yet to make. 

I started a conversation on Will’s piece on my Facebook page, but thought I’d put it here to encourage wider participation (including, perhaps, Will’s). The piece was actually published in late October; I just happened to encounter it a few days ago.

The Great Barrington Declaration itself.

The Pfizer-Biontech Vaccine: Firstcomers and Latecomers

In a paper I’ve mentioned here before, Pierre LeMorvan and Barbara Stock discuss a moral dilemma that arises from the ubiquity, in health care, of what they call “the medical learning curve.” The idea is that neophyte health care workers face a learning curve that puts patients at risk: the earlier I am in my career as a health care worker, the less skilled and knowledgeable I’m apt to be, and the more prone to error. The more error-prone I am, the more likely to impose medically dangerous risks on patients. Since health care workers need to practice their knowledge and skills on patients in order to achieve proficiency, this situation is ineliminable, even with the best supervision by more experienced practitioners. Continue reading

Hi, and Welcome to Your Den of Thieves Experience!

The New York Times article linked below exemplifies a general pattern that’s played out since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. The pandemic began, and started taking a terrible toll on many people rendered helpless by circumstances beyond their control. Calls for leniency were reasonably enough made to prevent such people from being swallowed alive by those circumstances–eviction halts, rent freezes, mortgage forbearance, changes to grading policies, diminished scrutiny on unemployment and insurance claims, and so on. But that leniency has brought with it huge amounts of moral hazard and other sorts of imprudence and dishonesty, incentivizing almost unimaginable levels of fraud, near fraud, and quasi-fraudulent but morally dubious claims. Until you look, or are personally affected, you’d be amazed by how many people are trying their hardest to exploit the chaos of the moment, or to exploit the noble intentions of this or that benefactor–always easiest when the benefactor has deep pockets, or appears to.

Continue reading

Atlas Mugged

Here’s an idea: let’s take two of the most crucial, stressful jobs out there, teaching and nursing, push their practitioners past their limits, then complain when they fail to deliver the impossible. By all means, let’s clap for them, call them “heroes,” give them gold stars for their performance, and then push the burden of their difficulties onto another overtaxed profession, mental health counseling. But let’s not question our sense of entitlement to make idle, arbitrary demands of them in the name of our “freedoms,” our “needs,” and our “rights” to their satisfaction. Continue reading

Stand Up with Aristotle

When I first read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics maybe thirty years ago, I was both puzzled and disappointed by his discussion of the moral virtues in Book IV–generosity, magnificence, friendliness, wit, and so on. It seemed a waste of space. A whole book on this? What were such banalities doing in a classic work of moral philosophy?

Aristotle’s (very brief) discussion of the place of humor in social life seemed a case in point. On Aristotle’s account, wit turned out to be a moral virtue, buffoonery and humorlessness, vices. 

Those who go to excess in raising laughs seem to be vulgar buffoons. They stop at nothing to raise a laugh, and care more about that than about saying what is seemly and avoiding pain to the victims of the joke. …

Those who joke in appropriate ways are called witty, or in other words, agile-witted. For these sorts of jokes seem to be movements of someone’s character, and characters are judged, as bodies are, by their movements (NE IV.8, 1128a5-12).

Really? That’s what morality requires? Telling the right jokes at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons, etc. etc.? Continue reading

COVID-19, Risk, and Rights-Violations

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. Continue reading

Mask Up or Drop Dead

Some readers may remember the dispute I had here back in April with Jason Brennan and Phil Magness over the use of lethal force to enforce social distancing orders. The issue was: are there any circumstances such that lethal force would be justified in enforcing such orders?

I said yes: if someone refuses compliance, and then not only resists an order to comply, but escalates resistance to the point of serious physical danger to others, it can be justifiable to shoot them dead. I say “shoot them dead” because under the rules of engagement that apply in police work, every shot is intended to be a kill shot: if an officer draws a weapon, it’s understood she had no choice but to do so; if she fires, she aims at the subject’s torso, which is the largest and most easily-hit target; and given the nature of standard police firearms, and the likelihood that the officer will fire more than once, the subject’s death is highly likely, whether literally intended or not. Continue reading

Natural Law Libertarianism in Two Flavours

My two latest Agoric Café videos:

In the first one, I chat with philosopher Eric Mack about walking out on Ayn Rand, clashing with Nazi Sikhs in Seneca Falls, libertarian rights theory, Kantian vs. Aristotelean approaches to fixing Randian ethics, Nozickian polymathy, the unselfishness of Samuel Johnson, the ethics of COVID lockdowns, physical distancing in Durango, the CIA as an argument against anarchism, shoving someone in front of a bus as a form of restitution, and the edibility of matter.

In the second video, I chat with philosopher Gary Chartier about Robin Hood, left-wing market anarchism, natural law, free speech and employer power, libertarian secularism, Seventh-day Adventism, religious epistemology, long-arc television, urban fantasy, Lawrence Durrell, Iris Murdoch, Whit Stillman, the evils of giving extra credit and taking attendance, and the attractions of being emperor.