Written by Paul H. Betancourt
Now some of you are thinking, “is he crazy? What else is there?”
Well, has the plague and politics possibly clouded our thinking?
Do we really want to make public health our categorical imperative? The one rule above all others?
If we use the present plague to allow the government to tell us what to do and track our movements in the name of public health, where does it stop? Now, of course I am a big fan of public health. I have no more desire to die of Covid than any of you. But, are there limits?
If the government can enforce a mask mandate in the name of public health, what of other public health issues?
– There is a long running sexually transmitted disease epidemic in this country. Do we have a mandatory condom mandate? I don’t mean to be tacky or trite, but I think you get the idea.
– We have a long running obesity epidemic in this country. Are we going to allow the government to tell us what and how much we can eat? Please don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of eating well and I try to get my exercise. But, if you think folks are getting fussy about wearing a mask try telling them what to eat.
– The same people who want to mandate masks also want to legalize recreational drugs. I thought we were mandating masks so people do not die. Do they not remember how many people die each year of drug overdoses? Can you say opioid epidemic?
And what about contact tracing? This is so wrong on so many fronts. Great, now we are going to hire how many new government employees? Are they temps? What do they do once the plague is over?
Do you really want the government and Google tracking your movements?
A friend of mine innocently said, “They are just trying to protect us.” There is a famous saying about how the road to hell is paved. How many Japanese American citizens had their civil rights violated by Franklin Roosevelt in the name of protecting us?
Just remember, the government will not produce one mask, one ventilator nor one dose of vaccine. That will all be done by private enterprise.
Again, please don’t get me wrong I want this plague over as soon as any of you. I am concerned about the quality of our freedom when this is all over. If we allow the government to tell us what to do now.
You may want a mask mandate for this plague. A lot of people have dug in their heals on this. If you really want a mask mandate, have you considered what you are asking? If we allow this where does it stop? You might say this is temporary. Fair enough, but isn’t a freedom lost forever once it is given up?
Have we forgotten? In 2003 when we were arguing over the Patriot Act someone resurrected the old Ben Franklin quote, “Those who are willing to give up some freedom to get security deserve neither.” Doesn’t that still apply? Do I have to give up my freedom to be safe in this case? I would like to think we can be safe without the long arm of the government reaching into our private lives.
Of course, that would start with us being a moral people.
Emile Durkheim, the founder of modern sociology, said, “If people are moral then no laws are necessary. If people are not moral no laws are sufficient.” I don’t think that reflects well on us, do you? If we have to wait on the government to tell us to do the right thing isn’t something wrong?
These are extraordinary times and they call for extraordinary measures. I just hope we are thinking things through clearly. Either/Or is a logical fallacy, there is usually another option. I would like to think we can protect our freedoms and protect public health. I, for one, am not inclined to easily give up my freedoms.
I will answer my own question-of course our health is important, but I do not think we want to make public health the categorical imperative. Do you?
I’ll see you on the other side of this.
Farmer, writer and educator, Betancourt is a lecturer at Fresno State and has written books on Swiss political history and environmental policy.