Gus Van Horn blog Posted February 20 Report Share Posted February 20 Over at City Journal is a post titled "Approximately Zero."As soon as I learned that it's about how well masks supposedly reduce the spread of Covid, my reaction was to think Why are we still talking about this?I won't be discussing the merits of the scientific review (which I haven't read) or its interpretation by a non-scientist (who clearly belongs to the conservative camp).It isn't that the question isn't important scientifically or medically, or that its answer would be politically irrelevant, even in the context of a proper, freedom-respecting government response.It's that articles like this exemplify a problem with both of America's political camps, which the first sentence of the second paragraph encapsulates for us:This verdict ought to be the death knell for mask mandates, but that would require the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the rest of the public-health establishment to forsake "the science" -- and unfortunately, these leaders and their acolytes in the media seem as determined as ever to ignore actual science. [bold added]Set aside that laymen are often mistaken when they take a paper as rendering an ironclad verdict, or that it would apply in every context. And let's pretend that John Tierney is wrong about how the medical bureaucracy and media establishment will react to the paper.Even if masks never stopped anyone from contracting any strain of Covid, ever, Tierney is wrong that the conclusion of this paper "ought to be the death knell for mask mandates."In fact, he is wrong twice, thanks to how sloppy the debate about "mandates" has been.Let's clear up the confusion about the implied meaning of mandate first. This term was used to describe two fundamentally different ways for getting people to take measures. Throughout the pandemic, the word mandate was tossed around to mean, indiscriminately, two completely different things: (1) requirements written into law and enforced by government, and (2) requirements communicated by private parties and enforced via property rights.The difference should be clear in practice: If there is a government mandate for public mask wearing, you can be fined or arrested for failing to do so, even if, say, you're walking alone outside on your own land. On the other hand, if you gauge your own personal risk to Covid to be high and believe that masking can lower your risk of catching it, you can decide to wear a mask or "mandate" that others do so on your property -- by threatening to kick others off your property for failing to do so.Conversely, and to use a real live example: If the government "mandates" vaccines for certain occupations, it can pressure employers to fire employees who don't get vaccinated regardless of what the employer might deem best. Or, as presidential hopeful (!) Ron DeSantis has done, the government can outlaw private "mandates" -- such as a cruise line deciding to have customers vaccinate -- and force people to put themselves in harm's way (or at least act against their own judgement of risk).As Ayn Rand puts it:Image by Pam Menegakis, via Unsplash, license.The difference between political power and any other kind of social "power," between a government and any private organization, is the fact that a government holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force. This distinction is so important and so seldom recognized today that I must urge you to keep it in mind. Let me repeat it: a government holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force. No individual or private group or private organization has the legal power to initiate the use of physical force against other individuals or groups and to compel them to act against their own voluntary choice. Only a government holds that power. The nature of governmental action is: *coercive* action. The nature of political power is: the power to force obedience under threat of physical injury -- the threat of property expropriation, imprisonment, or death. [italics in original, bold added]And since nobody is keeping this distinction in mind, we have DeSantis posing as a freedom fighter -- by violating property rights rather than, say ... forbidding subordinate government officials from violating our rights in the name of fighting a disease.And we have endless debates about whether improper actions by the government are backed by science.And we have each "side" in the political debate digging in their heels on different concrete scientific stands, as if that somehow changes the principles of proper government.This is why -- on both sides! -- you see such spectacles as conservatives cherry-picking anti-mask studies and leftists pro-mask studies; and conservative governors forbidding cruise lines to demand proof of vaccination and leftist school officials all but demanding the eradication of Covid before they'll let schools reopen. Nobody is speaking of individual rights and everyone is acting as if it's fine for the government to give us all marching orders, so long as there's allegedly solid scientific evidence supporting the alleged excuse for doing so. See also: The "climate change" (read: fuel rationing) "debate."This is why, instead of an informed political debate, we today have hoards of "little dictators" yelling at each other about who the best "scientist" is.My final answer to Tierney: (1) Government mask mandates as we saw them are always wrong because they violate individual rights; and (2) So long as an individual does not violate another's rights, he can "mandate" anything he wants as a condition for others to associate with him or use his property.That is, the proper role of government precluded its mask mandates, and the only pertinence of a scientific study to what an individual might judge best are his knowledge, rationality, and ability.-- CAVLink to Original Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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