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DavidOdden

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  1. There are two kinds of liability, intentional wrongs and negligence. Intentional wrongs are, for example, dumping garbage on someone else’s property, fraud, assault, trespass, defamation. There may also be criminal penalties associated with intentional torts, and they all involve initiation of force. Negligence involves a “duty of care”, which may be special and arising from a contractual relation (e.g. medical negligence, negligence in construction) or may be “everyone owes everyone else this level of care”. For example, if you store poison next to your bottled water supply and accidentally give some person poison thinking that it is water, that is (or could be) negligent. The crucial elements of negligence, as a wrong for which you may be forced to compensate a person are duty, breach, damage and causation. The first means that you have a duty to all others to exercise a certain level of care. The second simply means that you didn’t observe that duty: you were not careful enough. The third is that someone suffered an actual injury (to person or property) because of an act or the failure to act (the duty). Finally, the injury was a reasonably forseeable consequence of the act (omission). There are clear cases where passing a disease is a tort. Deliberately infecting a person is a clear case (and falls under initiation of force). Negligence can also exist. Negligence torts are the diciest under Objectivism, since it relies on an unspecified “duty of care”. If you catch ebola, MERS, smallpox and knowing that you have the disease nevertheless go to a football game, that would probably constitute negligence. A problem with the vague “duty” requirement is that we don’t know what our duties are. I can cause harm to a person by buying the last roll of toilet paper (you may recall those days). What we need is a better analysis of this duty, so that you are not liable for the consequences of buying the last toilet paper, over-using antibacterials thereby contributing to bacterial resistance, discontinuing sales of a product, planting particular flowers, eating food implicated in an allergy, and so on. My view is that foreseeability is really crucial, and extent of harm is also significant in reigning in over-zealous negligence claims. I also think that these are the two facts most applicable to covid. As far as covid transmission is concerned, the only form of behavior that I condemn is knowingly being out there spreading the disease when you know you have it. On the political front, I condemn the deliberate creation of a climate of fear and state-omniscience. The former is essential to creating the perpetual “emergency” which gives governors dictatorial power, and which is also used by Congress to expand the web of socialism. State-omniscience is the willful refusal to consider alternatives and to seriously and publicly engage the science. The level of public science in this pandemic is shockingly low. In Washington state, which was one of the first lack-down states, we got locked down theoretically until they “flattened the curve” at which point they might move to Phase 2. Didn’t happen, kept on not happening, and then when the number of diagnosed cases shot up by a factor of 100, but started to dip a bit in the last month, well it wasn’t until Trump was out of office and Biden was sworn in that it was safe for them to move to Phase 2, despite the still much higher infection rate. What conclusion should be drawn? That these are political actions, not based on actual science. If a person foreseeably infects another with a serious disease, there is a reasonable case that they should be liable. I grant that covid seems more serious than the annual flu (this is a separate science question). Simply existing in public does not establish causation under even the weakest standard of proof used in liability.
  2. My rights are infringed on all the time, when I take a flight. The moral responsibility rests on the terrorists who chose to turn airplanes into weapons of mass destruction: that is the immoral choice that was made. In the case of mask mandates, the immorality resides in the willful refusal to apply reason and even the most elementary moral philosophy in devising these restrictions. What these cases have in common is that the fundamental choice made was evil.
  3. Returning to that specific question, let us remember that there actually is no such law, there is a set of dictatorial emergency decrees. At present, mask-mandates are marginally authorized by open-ended emergency statutes giving governors authority to boss people around in an emergency. Rand has written about emergencies, and how dangerous a concept it is. There is no emergency: there is a new fact of existence. Emergencies last at most a week. Let’s see what it would take to justify such a law. First we have to say what such a law would demand: “A tight-fitting N95 mask must be worn at any time that a person is outside their own home. Violation will be punished with a month in prison”. To justify the law, there has to be a compelling government interest. The existing justification is “to prevent the spread of disease”. Now subtract covid from the scenario – would it have been justified to force the wearing of masks without covid (to prevent the spread of flu, colds, measles etc)? I have seen nobody anywhere claim that it would have been. It must first be establish that there is something massively different in the case of covid. A covid-specific mask law needs extraordinary justification, to override ordinary constitutional protections of your rights. Secondly, the restriction needs to be demonstrably effective. It is insufficient to say “There is this big problem”, you also have to prove “This actions sufficient eliminates the problem”. Mandatory vaccination is clearly much better justified than the mask mandate, because vaccination is based on infinitely better science and is much less conjectural. Finally, the restriction must be the least-restrictive means of reaching that end. The hypothesized mask law allows only one choice, but there are other alternatives (physical distance from others; being certified disease-free are two obvious ones, and bright, free minds may find others). The fatal weakness in the covid mask proposal is (a) necessity and (b) effectiveness.
  4. @DonAthos, my head is spinning from playing argumentative whack-a-mole in this thread. I really wanted someone to set forth a simple sentence, articulating their principle that guides discussion of a complicated problem. It’s a really big problem, in my opinion, when we can’t set forth general but simple philosophical principles that guide our choices using a few simple unloaded words (avoiding “fear” and vague terms like “threat” which refers to “possibility of negative outcome” – not initiation of force). In particular when we get proposals that being unknowingly diseased in public is the same kind of choice as committing murder, that’s when we need some clarification of fundamental principles. I will assert my position. First, the government has the right and obligation to establish and enforce laws which punish certain acts: those which constitute initiation of force, as characterized by Schwartz. If the government knows in advance that you are going to do such an act, they may rightfully stop you. That covers “crimes”. In addition, there are acts which, once committed, are wrongs which can be addressed by the law – compensation can be compelled. These are the “torts” and “breaches of contract”. Government involvement is always post-hoc, and the government’s only role is to serve as neutral arbitrator and enforcer of the final judgment (and author of the default rules, in case there is no prior agreement i.e. relevant contract term). Only a small set of torts involve initiation of force. “Intent” refers to a fact about the suspect’s mind, and inference of intent is about the officer’s mind, so yes, there is a difference, and not just a shade. Under the law, inference (by the actor) of the intent of another is crucial to defenses for otherwise-wrongful acts. A person may shoot another if he reasonably infers an intent (to harm) – based on certain facts. The law does not demand that a person be in possession of all of the facts, it only judges based on the facts that he (probably) knows. In your original scenario, I can’t even begin to imagine what the suspect intended, other than death by cop. Has anyone ever innocently pulled a toy gun and pointed it at a police officer? The vast majority of instances of toy gun shootings without criminal intent, the “mistaken encounters”, involve people lacking basic mental capacity (children and mentally-incapable adults). I assume that in your example, the person has the mental capacity of a child and doesn’t know that you may get shot if you point a toy gun at a police officer. Do you know of a real case like the one you described? Taking the shooter’s perspective, the probability that this is really a water pistol is so low and the alternatives are so much more likely and the consequences so much more severe that there is no reasonable alternative to shooting him. A person should infer that the gun is real and that the intent is to kill you, even when the facts turn out to be different. What follows is variations that make decent intents more likely, and decrease the reasonableness of the inference “he intends to kill me”. At the cell phone and wallet stage, that is the point where the shooter bears responsibility for the killing. (We can always add facts to change the conclusion, e.g. “after robbing the bank”. It’s all about the context, and your context was very simple). The law objectively states emergency guidelines where use of force is excused – in self defense. There is a relationship between those guidelines (the law) and the principle that one may not initiate force, but they are not the same thing. Initiation of force is exactly what I’ve said it is above, and “reaching for your wallet” is not initiation of force. But in a certain context, use of force may be excused because of the conceptual possibility that there is in fact initiation of force. When we are looking for moral responsibility, I would lay the blame not on the officer or the victim, but on the low-lives that make it reasonable to conclude that reaching for a wallet is actually an attempt to kill you. For the rather large and politically-prominent set of officer killings of unarmed people, there is a long list of things that one is not to do, which nevertheless people ignore, often to their extreme detriment. For the most part, this is not initiation of force, it is inferred initiation of force. Sometimes, the inference is unreasonable; but often the media reports “The victim’s gun wasn’t even loaded” as though that is a self-evident fact available to the arresting officer, ignoring the centrality of reasonable conclusions. What remains constant throughout contexts is, what is IOF? But the law can only deal in reasonable inferences about IOF.
  5. They are both relevant: if you include a requirement if intentthen we are on the same page. It's not just the effect.
  6. The so-what part is that Doug Morris’ argument suggests that the fact of fear is itself sufficient to say that a person has initiated force. I’ve invited him to reject that implication, and I’m inviting you to do likewise. It’s not the emotion, it’s the specific facts that tend to have some relation to fear which are relevant. However, I do agree that many, perhaps most people act on the basis of emotions and not facts. In fact, that is really the fundamental problem of popular politics, that people do not use reason to arrive at moral principles, instead they decide “I don’t like this: the government should do something about it”. This is a fact of the man-made, not the metaphysically given. I am not denying that corner of reality, I am denouncing it: it is a wrong choice. The problem with being too concrete-bound is that it’s impossible to hold all of the relevant concretes in your mind. What justifies the conclusion that you should not defend your life when Smith is apparently in the process of murdering you in your home, when you know that Smith is a law enforcement officer? How can you know whether you should not defend yourself? You always have to relate choices to abstract principles. Your specific shooting example should be compared to a some very similar cases: the man pulls out his toy gun and does not point it; he pulls it out and drops it; he pulls out his cell phone; his wallet; the man reaches for his wallet. In each case, the officer shoots and kills. In those cases, who bears responsibility for the death? Do all of these cases have the same evaluation (the man initiated force)? Does that mean that if I’m in some public place with people around me and I take out my cell phone, that is the initiation of force? If you analyze the facts in terms of reasonable inferences of intent, they are not the same. Remember that the position which I’m advocating holds intent to be a crucial determinant of “initiation of force”.
  7. Easy Truth, from your response I surmise that you understand “force” to be the intent to cause “damage” to another person: is that correct? If not, I’m looking for a single-sentence definition of force, so that I can see what your concept depends on. And as a corollary, I take it you reject “fear” as having any relevance to the question of rights and force. I do not understand your apparent claim that if another person convinces me to make a bad investment, that is the initiation of force – even if we limit this to investment professionals. Can you explain how persuasion becomes initiation of force?
  8. It seems that your threshold for detecting initiation of force is “reasonable fear”, which is a bit of a problem. Fear is an emotional reaction, and we know that emotions are not a source of cognition. The principle should be framed in terms of reasonable conclusions, about a proposition, such as “he intends to shoot me”. Not all fears are about initiation of force, so we have to have a way to identify those things that cause fear which are initiation of force as opposed to those that are not. I fear that such-and-such an investment may not be so wise, but that has nothing to do with initiation of force. Before we can properly regulate actions, we have to establish that they are initiation of force, which then may justify the regulation. Or, we have to establish a different basis for prior restraint: that in addition to initiation of force, some actions are so dangerous that they can rightly be prohibited by law. Is this your claim? Before zooming in on covid-politics, we need a clearer understanding of what constitutes force (first and foremost), and how the government may properly use force.
  9. The key identification that Schwartz makes about force is that it is a physical action to which we are subjected against our will, being taken by a volitional being to neutralize the choice of another volitional being. “Action to neutralize choice” distinguishes the case where a person pulls out a weapon in order to cause him to abandon his property (mission accomplished) from the case where a person pulls out a weapon to check it and accidentally scares another person into abandoning his property (neutralization of choice is not the purpose). I take it that you are not satisfied with this, and instead focus on the effect of an action, irrespective of intent. You seem to hold that creating a risk of harm to others can be initiation of force, or perhaps is by definition initiation of force. It’s not at all clear why you don’t make the stronger claim that it is force, unless you have some further condition that you want to add. A really significant difference between these views is that you seem to deny the relevance of a person’s intent.
  10. ARI and Rand also do not claim to have a monopoly on word meaning. Their use (in that video) is entirely consistent with an objective meaning of the word, and is not at all confusing. Hair-splitting is more confusing than under-differentiation, and making up nonexistent words is particularly confusing. Are you seriously disagreeing with them because they didn't say "G-censorship"? Confusion on their message is utterly impossible.
  11. The problem is, since when did Merlin Jetton gain a monopoly on the meaning of words? Tu quoque, dude! The question should be, what is the objective meaning of “censorship” or “censor” (qua verb) in the English language? And how do you establish an objective fact? Generally, we observe reality to determine what the facts are, for example I observe actual dogs to answer the question of whether dogs have eight legs or four. Likewise with spiders. There are two things that can be actually observed: dictionaries, and speakers of English. Dictionaries are based on observation of speakers, though (1) the observations (the actual research) are typically quite dated and (2) they are usually based on a select subset of speakers (from written form and not colloquial language). Personal observation of English speakers, on the other hand, is usually anecdotal and IMO scientifically unreliable, since most people are not engaged in the specialized science of discerning word meaning in the surrounding language. There are two competing views of “the meaning” of censor: one that it refers to restricting expression based on moral etc. considerations and the other that it refers to such actions when done by the government. We can study dictionary definitions extensively and see what they say; we can engage in population polling. Both methods have their problems. Inventing new terms is close to the last thing that should be done – an expression like P-censorship vs. G-censorship is communicatively dysfunctional because there are no such words. I agree that your definition of “censorship” is the one adopted most widely and that the “by government” limitation is not how most people currently understand the term. However, if we constantly cede word-meanings to the progressive movement (cf. equality, justice, rights) then we won’t even be able to communicate amongst ourselves, since all of the words will have been redefined underneath our feet. Their use of “censorship” is correct and not archaic to the point of being confusing. It is pointed, which is better than being pointless.
  12. If you knowingly harm a person or their property by an action, you should compensate the person for the harm. “Knowingly” does not refer to absolute certainty that harm will result, it refers to having reasonable knowledge that harm will result from an action. If A is allergic to shrimp, you know that fact, and bring unlabeled shrimp curry to a potluck at A’s house, that is an immoral choice given your knowledge. If you know nothing of A and don’t know that your chicken curry happens to contain some shrimp juice, your actions are innocent and you are not to be blamed for harm done to A. “Likely to do harm” is exactly the right way to look at the question. “Likely” is past the midway on the certainty scale – “probable”, not “possible”. If you adopt the principle that you should take no action if it is even conceptually possible that harm to another will result, then you should take no action, and life is impossible. Even then, the question of whether you should take an action to live must be answered in terms of the alternatives that you face and the consequences of those choices for your life. Being lost in the desert, if I find water and drink it to save my life, the consequence may be that another lost stranger may die of thirst because I drank that water. The alternative “my life” vs. “his life” is almost always answered with the choice “my life”. Applying this reasoning to the mask issue, I would focus strongly on “what we currently know”, because knowledge is individual and cognitive, and because there tend to be popular confusion over “claim” versus “know”.
  13. This discussion has been rather far removed from the fundamental principles regarding man’s rights, and has focused instead on notions of aggression, spreading (versus other means), sensory inputs, affecting a person, doing damage to body or property including creating a risk of same. It has included the idea that one can accidentally initiate physical force. The problem has been (for over a half century) that we (not exclusively Objectivists, referring to people who take the concept of “individual rights” to be an essential concept that must be understood) are constantly playing whack-a-mole by invoking a concept like “aggression”, then we get challenged as to what “aggression” is, then we refer “aggression” to something else. Rand has stated the fundamental principle, and in my opinion Schwartz has explicated it nicely. I quote a single sentence from his first page: “This concept of force applies exclusively to actions taken by human beings against human beings”. But it is not just “the unchosen” that we identify when talking about force. Second sentence bottom p. 1: “We thus identify the concept “force” to denote a physical action to which we are subjected against our will”. Finally, he makes the identification that “The concept of force pertains only to the volitional. It pertains only to physical actions taken by a volitional being to neutralize the choice of another volitional being” (emphasis added). Relating this to the mask-mandate, there is no question that the governmental requirement to wear a mask in the locally-mandated circumstances is the initiation of force. It is a particularly egregious initiation of force, since it is in all cases a use of special dictatorial power that is outside the rule of law – it is only justified because it is declared to be an “emergency”. There isn’t even a real law requiring you to wear a mask. Sweeping away the mask orders, the question then should be, what legal consequences should there be if you do not wear a mask? The same as if you walk your dog, drive your car, or grow a tree on your property. If you walk your dog and do not control it, and it eats the neighbor’s cat, you are liable for the damage. There is extensive legal background on this principle (it is millennia old). The government and legal system subsumes these concepts under the “duty of care”, which allows you to not care about another party’s interests up to a point, but you must care when your actions do “harm”. It is obvious that I am not talking about Objectivist theory here, I’m just stating what has always been a legal principle governing social interactions. There are two related challenges for Objectivists on this front. The first is to be able to sort actions which should have legal consequences versus one which should not. Dogs eating cats would be an example of the former. Using the pronoun “he” when the referent prefers to be identified as “she” is an example of the latter. The second is to find a system of reason that relates those identifications to general principles, consistent with Objectivism. Automatically labeling something as “initiation of force” is anti-reason. Presenting a clear line of reasoning from principles to conclusions is what it means to “reason”. So let us reason. The strongest claim that I find at all compatible with Objectivism is that one should not knowingly, willfully transmit a disease to another person without permission. The second strongest claim is that if you negligently cause harm to a person by your actions (or inactions), you bear responsibility for those choices. Masks are about the second kind of case, where the bar is being lowering for a claim of “negligence” (as well as corrupting the concept “cause”). It is always possible at any time that any person has some transmissible disease and does not know it. It cannot be a principle of civilized society that one must self-quarantine if it is possible that one has a transmissible disease (that virtually contradicts the notion of a “civilized society” – we must always self-quarantine; life is not possible). This discussion needs a better principle. What principle underlies the distinction between covid and the common cold? What scientific facts underlie claims about covid versus the cold or the flu? I don’t mean, what do the newspapers say, I mean what are the scientific questions and findings? Then how do those facts relate to a person’s proper choices? That is how I think this discussion should be framed.
  14. No, this is a 2012 essay, available through ARI.
  15. It seems to me that this sub-discussion would benefit from some discussion of Peter Schwartz's essay "Free minds and free markets", which I think would be helpful in conceptualizing the ethics of unknowingly having a disease.
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