^ living in a unicorn movie : protesting for what will never be

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The question I pose can never be answered once and for all. Ethics do not admit of finality, unlike moral questions, which can and do have universal answers. (I think of Rabbi Hillel the Elder’s great moral rule, “what is hurtful to you, do not do to your fellow man.”) As human beings are the same everywhere, and as all human societies aggregate humans, moral rules apply to all. Not so with ethics, which involve timing, situation, place, and disagreement. Ethics involve choice, and which choice to choose is never simple or final.

Having said the above, I would like now to discuss an ethical choice germaine to our current predicament : what am I to do, considering that the government which I live under and consent to advises me, or requires me, to do certain things and to not do others, the reasons being that I owe a duty to the good of all ? That I must give up a portion of my autonomy — a principle basic to the Constitutional arrangement that I consent to — because certain of my exercises of autonomy may place my fellows in harm’s way ?

Here I must say it again : there is no facile answer here. We all give up portions of our autonomy every day — traffic rules, noise nuisances, smoking in the presence of those who don’t like smoke — by long habit overcoming any feeling of inconvenience. Here, habit tricks us. We should always remember that no compromise of autonomy should ever be accepted without our express consent. That said, we really have no feasible choice but to consent to some exceptions to autonomy. In my mind, a public health emergency demands some such set-aside. How can it not ? Each of us may carry the virus that now wages war on us. Therefore each of us must see to it that we do not wound our fellow man. By “social distancing” — a phrase I think none of us will ever forget — and by masking up, we can foil the virus at least 90 percent of the time. That’s a result worth achieving ! In war you fight to defend your buddies and you never leave a buddy on the battlefield. Why not see the fight against this virus in just these terms ?

What, then, are we to say about the “liberate” protesters who are showing up at State capitols these days ? Obviously every one of us wants the days of autonomy to return, sooner rather than later. I think that every elected politician gets that and would be more than thrilled to make it happen once it looks safe to do so. Does anyone doubt this ? Then why are the protesters protesting ?

They certainly are not protesting reality. Confederate flags, nazi symbols, cosplayed camo gear, anti-vaccine signs all have in common a life of wishful, of lost causes and distant evils, of things that either once were or never will be. And thus we can dismiss these protests pretty easily. You may well wish that things were not as they are, but things are always what they are. Or, as right-wing provocateur Ben Shapiro likes to say it, “facts don’t care about your feelings.” I guess we all wish that this or that reality were not as it is — each of us can imagine a better life. But it is useless to protest for wishbones to become any more real than Klingons or unicorns; and if wishboning is the basis of the current protest, as I think it is, then the protests disavow themselves, as I think we all can judge.

Each of us can decide how much of the present governmental advisories to honor. I myself wear a mask when I am required to do so, and I keep the required distances. I do hope that businesses open up sooner rather than later: and I am very sure that my political leaders want that to happen too. As for wishing, the only wish that I take seriously is to become rich.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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