I want to understand the argument.
I don’t. And it’s vital that we understand the argument, even if we don’t agree with it; agreement is not necessary, compromise can be reached, solutions can be found even if we don’t agree.
But if we don’t understand? Then what do we do?
“We believe that the state governor has gone beyond his constitutional authority in shutting down businesses and ordering people to stay at home,” organiser Tyler Miller tells me from the grounds of the state capitol.
In mid-March Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced an emergency proclamation mirroring many issued around the world; closing restaurants and bars and banning large gatherings.
But protestors say that was unconstitutional.
“The state constitution says that the right of the people to peaceably assemble shall never be abridged. We believe that the (emergency coronavirus) proclamations that the governor here ordered violate that,” Mr Miller says.
Mr Miller said he was not protesting against the recommendations from the public health bodies and respected the need to ‘flatten the curve’.
“I even self-quarantined for 14 days back at the very beginning of this myself, when I had an illness that mirrored some of the symptoms,” he says.
“The fact I am protesting does not mean I think it is a good idea to have gatherings, I just believe that the government has no authority to prohibit them.”
Throughout the crisis, Mr Miller has also been able to continue his work as an engineering technician with the navy.
He says the thing that has angered him is what he feels it is an un-American overreach of power by the Democratic governor of Washington.
I don’t understand that argument.
There is a simpler argument, which is just that people are getting desperate: the country has been shut down in places for more than a month now, and people are facing another rent payment, another car payment, on May 1st, this coming Friday. I understand that desperation, that anxiety; I understand and (mainly) support the desire to let government officials know that you need and demand action. I think it’s a mistake to violate social distancing guidelines, and there are people in the article above and others I have seen who say things like “I have a strong immune system, I take care of myself,” who I think are somewhere between ignorant and idiotic: ignorant if they don’t know that Covid-19 has killed young and healthy people as well as older, sicker people; idiotic if they believe unfounded statements (Mostly from conservative “news” sources) that the novel coronavirus is no worse than the flu.
(This may be too harsh: this is an interesting article about how we are wired to be intuitive, and so underestimate the evidence that comes from outside our experience. I know I was telling my students in March that any shutdown of schools would only last a couple of weeks and would certainly not affect their graduation. On the other hand, I am not saying the same thing now, because I have learned better; I’m not sure why these people haven’t, but my two options above are certainly possibilities.
(Also, this ad popped up in that same article about people being too optimistic. Lol.
(If you believe not only that a miracle stretch relieves years of back pain, but also that chiropractors are stunned by it, AND that chiropractors are the authority whose stunning represents a medical breakthrough, then you are unquestionably in this overly-optimistic bunch.)
But while I understand and sympathize with people who are desperate to get back to work and pay their bills, and I believe (and am infuriated) that the federal government has once again bailed out large corporations with deep political donation pockets and left average citizens to twist in the wind, I don’t understand the other argument. The freedom argument.
I don’t think it’s a reasonable argument.
Listen. I worry about government overreach. I won’t say I’m learned in history, but I know about the Japanese internment camps during World War II, and I know some things about the rise of the various authoritarian dictatorships that plagued the 20th century. I have hated the USA PATRIOT Act since it was imposed on us, during the paranoid jingoist nationalist fervor that swept the country after 9/11 and swept us into a neverending war. I know that it gets renewed every time it comes up because the government doesn’t like to give away power that it has seized. Because of that experience, I have been pointing out to my friends who argue against the lockdowns that the thing we need to worry about is the powers the government arrogates to itself after the crisis: the new regulations and limitations, and invasions of citizens’ rights, that follow a partial return to normalcy, and that are intended to prevent this kind of thing from ever happening again. We have to watch out for the permanent changes, or for the attempts, often subtle and underhanded, to make temporary changes permanent.
I don’t doubt those will happen. I think the first attempt will be by President Trump, when he decides to make his temporary limit on immigration permanent.
But see, I think that because Mr. Trump has a long history of a clearly established position to end immigration. I think that because I have read reports that Trump’s anti-immigration advisors have talked about this pause into something more long lasting. Because this article quotes DHS acting secretary, Chad Wolf, as saying to Fox News that
his agency will soon recommend a move to limit temporary work visas as well.
“That is something that the department has been looking at for the past several months, so we are well underway and look forward to presenting to the President those recommendations for additional steps,” said Wolf.
So there’s your government overreach, as part of an established pattern of behavior, aiming at known long-term targets. After the fact. Once the danger has passed. The current actions are not government overreach: they are government responding as government should to a crisis. The stay-at-home orders were issued during a crisis, and in line with scientific facts and the advice of experts. This is exactly when, and exactly why, people’s rights can and should be limited. We have the right to protest, but if you decided to walk into a burning building in order to protest the fire, people would stop you: and they would be right to. We have the right to freedom of speech, and of assembly, but you cannot gather with an army and plan the destruction of the United States: the right is to peaceably assemble, and free speech does not include sedition or criminal conspiracy. Individual rights are not limitless, not under any circumstances; even the most libertarian of us would state clearly that one person’s rights cannot be permitted to infringe on another’s, that your right to swing your fist stops where my nose begins. And of course individual rights are limited in an emergency, because the free exercise of one’s rights puts others into danger.
This is what government is for: to protect people from danger. Now, if you want to argue that the coronavirus is not that dangerous, then you’re in the wrong place. Start with this.
Then read this.
Then read this.
Then read this.
(Especially that last one; it’s about the infectiousness of the coronavirus. And lest you think that the infectiousness of Covid-19 is lower than SARS or MERS, both of which caused fewer problems and killed fewer people, go back and read those other articles again, and then also pay attention to this quote from that last article:
“An R0 value of 1 means the average person who gets that disease will transmit it to one other person; in that case, the disease is spreading at a stable rate. An R0 of more than 1 means the disease spreads exponentially.”
And then read this essay about exponential growth.
As I said, the government has the right and the responsibility to limit individual freedoms in response to a crisis, in order to protect the people from that crisis. (I’m aware that some people don’t agree with this: some because they don’t think the coronavirus is a crisis, and if you still think that, go back and read the above articles, but this time with your eyes open; and some because they think that nothing should ever limit individual rights under any circumstances: my above examples of protesting inside a burning building, or convening an army to overthrow the US government, are just fine, for them. I will be writing another blog about that. I’ll let you know when it’s done. The important thing is that, while I don’t agree with that argument, I understand it.) I think, though, that the basic argument behind the protests, the reason that President Trump tweeted support for people trying to “liberate” the states that have both lockdown orders and Democratic governors, is that the government is not trying to protect people from the crisis: the government is trying to control people. To take away their freedom. that’s the argument I don’t understand.
(I am also not going to write here about the elephant in the room, namely the upcoming election and the similarities — remarked on in the BBC article I linked first — between the anti-lockdown protests and Trump rallies. People who are going to the rallies just to support President Trump are certainly not reading this, and are not worth the time to put forward an argument. President Trump is probably trying to use the rallies as a way to hype his base up for the election, but he also said that he thinks Georgia Governor Brian Kemp is opening his state too soon, so I’m not going to jump on Trump today. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. Also: I understand this argument.)
But here’s the thing with tyranny: it makes sense. There is reason behind it.
That’s what’s missing from the freedom argument of the protests.
Break it down. Think it through. Okay, the government — pardon me, the govment (Read this article that I wish I wrote) — limits people’s rights to assemble and move freely, to run a business and participate in the free market economy. Because they want to establish tyrannical control over the free people of these United States.
I understand that the government has taken on, for most of the people who support these protests, the aura of Darth Sidious and the Sith: evil just for the sake of evil; power hungry just for the sake of power. But, see, that’s a character from a movie franchise, and it’s not a realistic one. I admit, if the Democratic governors were trying to raise a clone army from a mysterious source; or they were trying to corrupt a Jedi knight with incredible power but terrible self-control, then I would see the danger.
Why would the Democrats, or the government in general, want to lock people inside? I saw someone argue that the Democrats exaggerated the danger of Covid-19 in order to justify the lockdown expressly so they could destroy Trump’s economy, because that’s the only way they could beat him in the next election.
(An argument I have seen but will not be rebutting is that Andrew Cuomo of New York exaggerated the need for ventilators so he could get…a huge excess of ventilators. Sure. As you do. He’s going to put them in one huge room and then go swimming in them like Scrooge McDuck. Swimming through the ventilators.)
First of all, there’s no way that an economy ruined by Democrats would be pinned on Trump. Trump is already positioning himself to argue that it was the Democrats who did the harm in this crisis. (Elephant in the room…) If this is provably true, if Covid-19 is really not that bad and the Democrats have exaggerated the danger, we’ll know it before November, and this Dem gambit will fail. Secondly, and more important, if they ruin the economy, they not only have no hope of winning the next election, but they lose access to the money. If the Democrats, or the government in general, are corrupt, they want money. Money does not come from enforcing a stay-at-home order. We are all losing money, including the government. I know they are flinging money around like it’s meaningless paper (…), but there is a limit to that because at some point the economy will actually collapse, and the more they spend now the closer that outcome gets: and why would anyone in power want that? To destroy the economy that underpins the entire system they are ostensibly seeking to control? Nonsense. There are people who want the government and the entire society to collapse, but they are not the ones in power: they are the ones without power. That’s why they want the system to collapse, because they don’t currently gain from it. The ones in the system, the Democrats in Washington and the state capitals, very much want this current system to survive, even if they are corrupt, because this system is how those corrupt people get what they want. The corrupt actions the Democrats take (And yes, many Democrats are corrupt; not all of them or only them, but yes they are.) are clearly intended to increase their wealth and their ability to stay in their current positions so they can continue increasing their wealth. That’s why we still don’t have term limits or meaningful campaign finance reform. Nobody wants to make the money go away, least of all corrupt Washington politicians.
So what’s the reasoning? Because the Democrats are secretly anti-American communists? Okay, let me try to address the idea of Dems seeking power for power’s sake; I still think that sounds like the Sith, but sure, let’s imagine that they are simply evil and that’s their reasoning. Communists, or anyone trying to overthrow the government, would be trying to seize the reins of power. They would be going after the sources of power, trying to control those so they could then get the next source of power, and so on; it’s like Risk. You conquer territory that lets you conquer more territory. You don’t just act arbitrarily, you seek the means of control. In this country, the means of control are (in no particular order): violence and force; the ballot; information; and money.
Which of those things are the Sith-Democrats gaining through the lockdown? Not money; I already talked about that. (Sure, the government is giving money to corporations, who paid the politicians. But those corporations make more money in an open economy. The same goes for people arguing that the government is trying to make people dependent on government handouts rather than their own paychecks: the money will run out if the economy doesn’t open. then the system collapses and the people in power lose.) Greater control over information? If there are secret things going on that we can’t see because we’re all staying home, then I take all of this back and apologize; let me know if the clone army executes order 66, or the Final Order fleet rises from Exegol. Otherwise the press has not seemed limited by the lockdown, and I don’t really see how it would be; limiting reporters’ physical movements seems a loser’s gamble in a world of the Internet and drones with cameras. The ballot? I mean, we’ll see when the election comes, but at the moment, the lockdown seems to play more into Republican hands because it limits voters’ access to the ballot box, which tends to favor conservative politicians.
Does the lockdown give the government more ability to commit violence, more ability to use force against the people? I honestly can’t see how. I mean, I guess they could be trying to force us to obey so we get more used to obeying, so that the next time they give us an irrational and arbitrary order, we’ll obey just because that’s what we do now. But if that were the case, they wouldn’t be using Covid-19 as their cover. Because that gives us a reason, and that means they’ll need to have another reason, as good as this one, to support their next attempt to tell us to stay home: that progression only works with weaker and weaker justifications. Using a global pandemic is not a weak justification; quite the opposite. (And notice that even this one isn’t working…) Read 1984: O’Brien wants Winston to not only tell him he sees five fingers, he wants him to actually see five fingers; and that’s the only reason Winston gets for the months of torture he undergoes. He is very intentionally not given a reason to obey Big Brother: he just has to do it, or else he suffers. In this case, if we don’t obey, it’s not that we suffer the wrath of the government — it’s that we get sick. (And this is true.) If you want to create a totalitarian state, you need to create loyalty to the state without reason: loyalty to the state based on an emergency doesn’t cut it. Because the loyalty ends when the emergency does.
Now: if this lockdown turns out to continue past when the virus disappears. Or if the virus doesn’t disappear, either because the press is controlled and doesn’t report the true numbers of the disease (And I know people think that is happening, but I’m talking about the press saying there are thousands of cases when there are none, not the medical authorities miscounting the thousands of cases that are in existence; if anything we are undercounting the actual cases, and we all know it.), or because the government takes actions that continue the spread of the coronavirus (I mean, maybe tweeting support for protests that seem to be increasing the chances of the disease spreading would qualify as that?). Then I will agree that this is an attempt to establish tyranny. But you see what the actually despotic actions are there? Enforcing control over freedom of movement when there is no crisis. Controlling the press. Actually using biological warfare, directly or indirectly, against the people. Those are tyrannical actions.
Asking people to stay home is not tyranny. It’s concern. Even if you think it is unfounded concern, I don’t see any reasonable way to argue that it is anything other than concern.
But you know what really concerns me?
People are acting based on this argument. This argument that doesn’t seem to have any real rational basis. It honestly seems to be just “You can’t tell us what to do. Not even if it’s in my best interest.” Rebellion for rebellion’s sake. Cowboy shit. Cowboy shit that has no particular goal, no particular target; it’s just people wanting to act like cowboys. Rebels. March and wave flags. That doesn’t make any sense: but people are still doing it.
The fact that I can’t figure out the argument doesn’t concern me as much as the fact that people seem willing to act even though they don’t understand why they are acting. That’s irrational.
I don’t know how to argue with irrational people.
Even worse, I don’t know how to live in the same country with them.
People say this country is founded on the rule of law, or on the Constitution, or even on the will of God; none of that is true. It was founded on reason. The argument for the Constitution and the rule of law is reasonable, it is rational; it makes sense. The way the Constitution sets up our government is rational, every aspect of it. Hundreds of reasonable people argued — argued! Gave reasons and explanations! Appealing to the intellect of their opponents! — for years to write it. Some of the arguments were wrong, and some of the beliefs were wrong; the people making the Constitution were imperfect, and had some bad reasons, which should give way to better reasons over time — but that’s the system they set up, one in which better arguments, better reasons, will win out over worse ones. It’s all founded on reason.
The country can live through any danger, even the coronavirus. But it can’t live through the death of reason.
That’s what scares me. That’s why I want to understand, because if I can understand, I know that my opponents, even if they are wrong, are still listening to reason, and that means there’s hope.
I hope I can understand.