“Your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes, a well respected American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1902 to 1932.
My guess is that we would all agree with Justice Holmes. The question comes in how to apply this general rule to the corona world.
That is the subject of today’s 10-minute episode.
Before we can get into today’s topic, we need to deal with misplaced assumptions about other people’s and groups’ motives; let’s start with a few:
“Democrats are so invested in defeating Trump they are willing to utterly destroy the economy to get the job done.”
“Republicans are so invested in having Trump reelected they are willing to risk additional, widespread serious illness and death, especially among minorities and the elderly.”
Me. “I believe the evidence that wearing a face mask protects others.” Response. “So, you are a supporter of the lockdown that is destroying businesses and livelihoods as well as the entire economy.” Or worse, “Government dupe!”
Don’t we always run the risk of screwing up royally when we assume another’s motives to be borderline evil in order to make them wrong, and us right? Let’s take the three previous example in order:
- In the main, Democrats are for a more cautious approach to reopening America. And they cite statistics that support that approach. Some of them, including Bill Maher, have been wanting a recession as a way of getting rid of Trump in 2020. But does that by itself mean that the more gradual approach is wrong?
- Republicans are generally more aggressive in their reopening strategies, and tend to cite lower and less concerning numbers than the Democrats. And many of them are highly motivated to reelect the President. But does that by itself make the more aggressive strategy wrong?
- In the conversation that I cite, the responders clearly assume that anyone recommending face masks has a whole stack of other wrong beliefs, based on the assumptions they are making about the mask promoter’s motives.
And the difference in outlook is stark. A recent poll shows that 71% of Republicans believe the worst of the virus has passed, while 74% of Democrats are saying the worst is yet to come. We’ll soon find out, but my money says that both sides will claim they were right.
Here is a recent Facebook exchange between two people whom I have known and respected for years. Ready? Hang on:
- Person 1. “There is an important distinction from ‘freedom to’ (do whatever we please even at the expense of others) which leads to anarchy, and ‘freedom from’ which implies consideration for others and the community as a whole and preventing the actions of ‘freedom to’.
I believe that freedom means ‘freedom from’, because if I do whatever I please (gun down an innocent person because I feel threatened, or spread a virus) the person I hurt has no freedom. Freedom for one should not come at the expense of freedom for all.”
- Person 2. “Oh my gosh (Person 1)…gun down an innocent person because I feel threatened, or spread a virus.’ Seriously? That is how you see our point? That is so harsh and wrong to make that comparison. Hey, I could do that too…I could say all you lockdowners want people to die from lack of cancer treatment, increased poverty, effects of depression e.g., suicide. But I won’t do that. I don’t think that way. I don’t think you think that way. Please stop thinking openers don’t care about life. All we want is freedom ‘from’ nullifying the Constitution and marching headlong into socialism which historically kills MILLIONS in the long term. We must think long term here.” Followed by, “You are being conditioned to think that people who stand up for their freedoms are selfish, extreme, irresponsible, hateful, irrational and lawless.”
This is an example of the type of national conversation that is being repeated over and over again, on social media, in the media itself, in politics and in person. It is almost like we need national counseling. Let’s start with P1 and P2.
- P1 used an awkward example by apparently using the Arbery case in Georgia as an example of harm, and tied it to spreading COVID, equating the two in terms of causing harm to others.
- P2 did not advance the discussion by casting doubt about P1’s beliefs.
I know that if I could get my friends, P1 and P2, together, they could learn from each other, and grow in the process. I would love to be there with them, because I would definitely learn from both of them.
We need to:
- Stop assigning wrong or evil motives to others, unless those intentions are clearly stated.
- Stick to the conversation at hand, e.g., if the topic is social distancing, don’t jump in with your thoughts about the pros and cons of lockdowns, or who should be president.
- Start with data and logic, not assumptions, agendas and preconceived notions. In the corona world, a type of world we have not seen for at least 100 years, good data are hard to come by. Hey, we can’t even agree on the number of deaths, with some certain that the number is overstated, and others equally convinced that the death count is under reported. Logic, there’s that word again, would indicate that we need more time to gather good numbers before we dig in behind a permanent plan.
In the meantime, we need to do something, while being ready to make immediate changes as new, good data arrive. Here’s what I suggest:
- Ease the lockdown now, locality by locality, requiring, yes requiring, protections like masks and social distancing. I say required because under the volunteer approach to protecting others, there is limited compliance. Kinda like the compliance we’d get if traffic laws were volunteer-only.
- Have a plan for returning to being fully open if certain numbers, including cases, deaths and transmission rates hit predetermined levels. A nationwide testing strategy is one of the keys here.
- Remember to be your Brother’s Keeper. Everyone we come into contact with comes into contact with others, and they with others, and so on. Our actions can affect thousands of others, and we will never know what might have happened to them.
As we get ready to wrap up, please do respond in the episodes with comments or questions about this episode or anything that comes to mind, or connect with me on Twitter, @willluden, Facebook, facebook.com/will.luden, and LinkedIn, www.linkedin.com/in/willluden/. And you can subscribe on your favorite device through Apple, Google, or Stitcher.
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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.