Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Liberty Doesn’t Mean Freedom to Infect Other People

"The next question in regard to quarantine is somewhat different, because ... if someone has a contagious disease, against which there is no inoculation, then the government will have the right to require quarantine. What is the principle here? It’s to protect those people who are not ill, ... to prevent the people who are ill from passing on their illness to others. Here you are dealing with a demonstrable physical damage. Remember that in all issues of protecting someone from physical damage, before a government can properly act, there has to be a scientific, objective demonstration of an actual physical danger. If it is demonstrated, then the government can act to protect those who are not yet ill from contracting the disease; in other words, to quarantine the people who are ill is not an interference with their rights, it is merely preventing them from doing physical damage to others.” 
          ~ Ayn Rand, from a Q&A session in 1963


  1. There are two things to remember.

    First, Rand's essay in the ethics of emergencies.

    Second, only those who will transmit the disease are allowed to be locked up under this premise. You're not allowed to lock people up on the assumption that they might catch the disease. Yes, this means there's risk. Liberty and security are not the same thing; liberty means taking risks.

    1. ‘You're not allowed to lock people up on the assumption that they might catch the disease.’
      You're also not allowed to lock people up on the assumption that they might have the disease. That would be like throwing someone in jail because they might commit a crime.
      In any case, even though the government may have a role to play in serious pandemics, a disease must be sufficiently deadly before we should consider quarantining anyone even if they have the disease. Diseases exist on a spectrum of lethality. The common cold can kill but we don’t quarantine people for it. Influenza has an IMR of 0.1 to 0.15 and places an enormous burden on society but we don’t even quarantine people for that. We recognize quarantines would do far more harm than good. Covid19 seems to have an IMR of between 0.2 and 0.3 but for young people Covid19 is less deadly than influenza. Overall, Covid19 is simply not deadly enough to necessitate government involvement. It makes a lot more sense logistically for people who are vulnerable to voluntarily isolate themselves.

  2. Well, maybe three things; the third being that this virus almost uniquely renders infectious people asymptomatic for a number of days. So any method of quarantine must allow for that.
    As Duncan Bayne points out both Aus and NZ have pretty much proved that 'lockdowns' are an effective form of quarantine.
    So to me the argument for liberty lovers is not to flail against the obvious (i.e., that efficient 'lockdowns' are effective in combatting the virus), but instead to ensure that such 'lockdowns' (when they happen) are undertaken objectively, and with due process. And also to resist their extension to anything further. (And perhaps just call them mass quarantine instead of "lockdown", which is a prison term inappropriate to any kind of society, let alone a free one.)

    1. As stated below, lockdowns might--MIGHT--have been justified when we knew very little about the virus, as a last-ditch emergency measure to prevent a recurrence of the Black Death. Now that we know more, we can better target those at risk.

      Secondly, liberty means risk-taking. We can't get around risk anyway (see the increased rates of mental illness and even suicide in some countries due to lockdowns), and advocates for liberty necessarily must advocate facing those risks head-on. Staying at home is effective for many people, but it must be left to the individual to decide. Government action is heavy-handed and lacks nuance; it doesn't account for individual situations. There's a death toll to that.

      There's nothing unique about the virus being asymptomatic for a period of time. That's normal for infectious diseases (that's how they infect people). And placing people under house arrest on the assumption that they might be infectious is no different than placing them under house arrest because they might commit a crime. It's up to the individuals to determine which actions are the best to take. I don't associate with people who I think are likely to commit crimes, or with people who I think are likely to be infectious. If I must associate with such people, I take rational steps to protect myself.

    2. Dinwar - You started by noting the Rand quote came from 'The Ethics of Emergencies' - but seems to me you're failing to recognise the emergency that exists, and applying principles out of context as if it didn't exist.

      From what I've read from experts, there seems little doubt this virus is unique in (a) the duration and extent to which it can be passed on whilst asymptomatic, and (b) the high transmissivity of the disease. I've seen nothing from experts who specialise in this field arguing anything different. Those two things combined define it's uniqueness, and the context in which you have to apply the principles you're raising.

      In that context, and when the danger is sufficiently high, you can't make whether you can move freely throughout the community entirely a matter of individual choice. No more than you should make it a matter of individual choice how much alcohol and drugs you consume before getting into your car and driving on a public road. In that example too - that there's no certainty you will crash, just that you might. But you're doing something that significantly increases the risk to others. If it was just your safety at stake I'd agree, but it's the safety of everyone you come into contact with.

      It's like arguing when there's an imminent invasion of your country from a hostile power due, that the military have no right to occupy your land to set up defenses, without a lease agreement in place on terms you agree to.

      A question for you: Taiwan has reportedly avoided the stringent lockdown we've had imposed, and contained the virus with low death rates, but only by strict mandatory contract tracing and other measures imposed by government, that libertarians would rightly regard as draconian in normal times. Are you equally against those too, because they're not voluntary?

      If you answer no to that, it tells me there's perhaps no fundamental disagreement here, and it's just a matter of how far government measures should go, under what terms, and for what duration - and I wonder why you're even challenging Peter on this. But if you answer yes, it tells me there's a fundamental flaw in the way you're approaching this.

    3. I suppose there's always an excuse for tyranny if you look hard enough. You are apparently comfortable being ruled by a dictatorship so long as it's what you consider a just one. I, on the other hand, know from history that even if the current rulers are saints and philosopher-kings (which they most certainly are not), the next rulers will not be.

      And yes, I am against government-enforced house arrest and investigation of my associates. I'm not naive enough to believe that the government will only use this power to stop the disease. I also know that the death rates are predominantly among the older population (rumors of long-term effects are highly speculative past the 60 day mark, and at 60 days are similar to complaints associated with the flu). In my age bracket I'm far more likely to die from a car crash than from Covid-19. Even my retired parents are. (This is coming from the CDC and several organizations that track causes of death. Given the CDC's methods for determining which are Covid deaths, I am over-estimating my Covid risk.) The risks associated with handing the government that kind of power FAR outweigh the risks of this disease.

    4. Really, you think I'm looking for an excuse to support tyranny!? Or that I'm a fan of the current government? Fallacy of false alternatives if ever I've seen one. It's hard to believe you could come to that conclusion honestly after what you've seen me write, so at best I can only attribute this to an emotional rather than rational response on your part.

    5. This isn't an emotional response. The governments of the world WILL NOT give up the power they have gained through widespread acceptance of open-ended universal house arrest of entire populations. This means that anyone advocating such responses to Covid-19 (a course of action that the experts said was irrational before the pandemic, and which demonstrably is not effective in most nations) is, in fact, advocating for the advancement of tyranny. This would be obvious in literally any other situation (see Ayn Rand's writings on the draft, for example--and Communism was as much a threat to human life as Covid-19 is).

      I'm willing to accept risk as the price of liberty, even in the case of this pandemic. You aren't in this case. It's really as simple as that. The rest is just you attempting to reconcile advocating for tyranny in this case.

    6. You’re attacking a straw man. If you've understood what I've said and still object to it, you're taking the anarchist position that any government action is "tyranny".

      It has nothing to do with the risk you or I are personally willing to take. Thankfully the young, fit and healthy are generally safe, so I have no fear for the safety of me or my family, even were the virus rampant. I’m establishing the proper role of government in protecting (other) individuals from spreaders of the virus, in a context when the spreaders can’t be known and identified with any certainty. Let me repeat that last part: *when the spreaders can’t be known and identified with any certainty*.

      I am not defending everything our government has done. On balance I think they are being too cautious, too quick to go into lockdown after a few cases, and should be learning from Taiwan on how lockdowns can be avoided whilst still controlling the spread of the virus. They should also open up the border with Australia and other low risk countries. Yet you also reject the Taiwanese approach of collecting data on people’s movement to allow the tighter contract tracing, which has been effective in controlling the virus without lockdowns.

      The only alternative you offer then is the unrestrained spread of the virus, likely resulting in the extra deaths of millions (assuming nearly everyone is infected, and 1% of those infected die, as the stats seem to suggest). There is also the economic consequences of this scenario, which I think would be much more dramatic than what we have right now in NZ (post lockdown).

      Which begs the question, why would you object to tight contract tracing if it avoids lockdowns? Presumably because privacy concerns. You talk of understanding real risk, yet your fear of that risk seems disproportionally high. Do you really think that the state collecting all this data and sitting on some server is going to increase the risk of tyranny significantly? The same government that can’t organise a piss-up in a brewery…. I think you give them too much credit.

      We have much to fear from an unrestrained state, particularly one led by a admitted socialist. Yet the idea that they’re capable of imposing some new tyranny by having this extra data (on what shops you visit in the course of your day, etc) seems somewhat paranoid.

      If your position is not an emotional response to the frustration of being quarantined (my most generous interpretation), I think it's borderline sociopathic, and puts you on the lunatic anarchist spectrum on this issue.

    7. It would be helpful if you would do two things in this argument:
      1) Stop peppering your arguments with schoolyard taunts and insults. We're not twelve, and we're discussing a serious issue.
      2) Stop assuming that disagreement means a failure to understand. I understand your position perfectly well--I simply disagree with you. I'm old enough to remember when this was considered a normal part of human interaction.

      If you're incapable of those two reasonable requests, we're through. I have no interest in debating with someone who uses verbal abuse and attempts at intimidation as standard tactics.

      To the meat:

      You want to establish the role of the government in stopping asymptomatic spread. I get that. I'm questioning IF the government should have a role here. We do not allow the government to have such a role in any other disease after all--there is no call for the government to trace my sexual partners if I have an STD (some of which, like HPV, can be asymptomatic and can cause serious illness or death), or the flu (which kills thousands every year and which can spread before symptoms show), or the like. You have yet to establish that government intervention is necessary.

      In my view the proper role would be to monitor the disease and facilitate research, then provide the population with resources to make their own decisions with. If this virus was actually a biological weapon the role would be different, and if this virus has any chance of widespread death (survival rates are around 99.95%--nasty, but not something that will shut down society) I would agree with you that the government would have a more active role. As it is? I seen no justification.

      The controls you wish to impose are also frankly horrifyingly dangerous. You want to give the government the ability to monitor everyone's social interactions. THIS WILL NOT END WITH THE PANDEMIC. As for me being paranoid, that's a laughable accusation. Look at Cancel Culture, then extrapolate what will happen when those who impose such cancelations are able to see everyone you've associated with. We are already seeing people attacked for associating with Unpersons; giving the government the ability to determine everyone you associate with would only exacerbate this.

      Finally, I'm not the one who's reacting emotionally here. I'm saying "Let's take it easy and think this through". You, in contrast, are willing to discard liberty and the principles of limited government--in practice if not in intent--because of this virus, without providing sufficient justification. Okay, I'll grant that we have different thresholds for what counts as sufficient justification. Given that government power tends to destroy lives if not carefully constrained, I think a high threshold is more warranted than a low one.

  3. Peter, the argument for lockdowns may have held when we were lacking data, but what we know now is that the virus is only a significant risk (when compared to flu) to the aged and infirm. This means that it is the aged and infirm who should be isolated, if anyone, allowing everyone else (other than those known to have the virus) to get on with their lives while taking sensible precautions. You cannot eliminate all risk.

    Also, and no less important, I would not be so concerned if it were a rights-respecting government exercising such powers on a people aware of their rights, but when it is socialist-leaning governments and a people who have little idea of their rights, it an extremely dangerous path to take which will ultimately cause much more harm in the long run. The whole purpose of rights is to prevent harm, is it not?

    A sample of what has already been bred from the idea that lockdowns "work" is the Great Heist, to be launched worldwide in May next year. The Great Heist (called the Great Reset of Capitalism by its proponents) justifies an eco-fascist agenda by pointing to the weathered disruption of lockdowns as a "silver lining" and proof radical economic change is not to be feared. This is no conspiracy, the World Economic Forum, a very powerful NGO with the support of governments and 1000 of the world's largest companies, is signalling its plans from the rooftops. It aims by 2030 for none of us to own anything, or have any privacy (!). As I say, dangerous stuff.

    Read for yourself:


    And this from the Chair of the WEF, in reference to lockdowns:

    "In fact, one silver lining of the pandemic is that it has shown how quickly we can make radical changes to our lifestyles. Almost instantly, the crisis forced businesses and individuals to abandon practices long claimed to be essential, from frequent air travel to working in an office."

    1. Terry, the argument in your first paragraph is a reasonable one. I still think it's wrong, because to the extent death rates are comparable to the flu, I think it's only precisely because of the quarantine measures that have been imposed (without which you'd see death rates many magnitudes higher - and a similar or worse disruption to economic life due to personal choice). But it's reasonable in principle to argue the government response outweighs the risk - and which I agree with in many respects.

      However the rest of your argument, I just don't get. It's like arguing during WW2 you might accept a rights-respecting government's decision to enter WW2, but because it's Roosevelt who'd just rolled out socialism via the New Deal, and the government will use the war as an excuse to curtail liberties, you're against it.

      Either the decision to enter a war, or impose a quarantine is a correct one - or it's not. The fact it made incorrect decisions in other respects doesn't change that.

      It only weakens the argument for freedom when you argue the government shouldn't act even when it does have a legitimate role. Any anyway, if the 'Great Reset' is really going to happen, how is arguing against quarantine going to help stop it when even libertarians like Peter or myself don't accept your argument?

    2. Mark, my reply is below (I pressed the wrong button).

  4. Mark, my two points are meant to be read together. Your war analogy is not a good one because the threat of the WWII was existential to everyone’s life. The mortality rate of this virus is not high, except to the aged and infirm, and even then it is nothing like the bubonic plague, and there are ways to manage it other than locking *everyone* up. If we were dealing with an epidemic where the odds of dying were much higher and for more people, only then your analogy would hold. A better analogy would be deciding whether to enter a war that poses an existential threat only if one enters the war, otherwise the war poses a non-existential threat but great costs if entered. My argument was not about stopping the Great Heist, I gave that only as an example of the type of agenda unnecessarily locking everyone up is supporting.

    1. Correction: delete "if entered"

    2. My analogy was an extreme one yes, but few wars are entered once it becomes obvious and clear it is an existential threat to everyone's life. If it gets to that point, it's only due to previous inaction - in the case of WW2 being appeasement on the part of Chamberlain, etc - rather than confronting the threat earlier. Action prior to it being an existential threat stop it becoming an existential threat. In the case of the virus too, it's folly to say the government can only start acting once death rates are excessively high, which seems implicit in your argument.

    3. Mark, I was explicit: "the argument for [quaranting everyone] may have held when we were lacking data." But there was still a better route: close the border earlier, and prepare for this type of threat before it happens, as Taiwan did.


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