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There’s a Word for Why We Wear Masks, and Liberals Should Say It


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Opinion

There’s a Word for Why We Wear Masks, and Liberals Should Say It

It’s high time Democrats played some philosophical offense on the concept of “freedom.”

Michael Tomasky

By Michael Tomasky

Contributing Opinion Writer

  • Oct. 17, 2020
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A Trump rally in Pennsylvania this month.Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

Donald Trump is now back on the road, holding rallies in battleground states. These events, with people behind the president wearing masks but most others not, look awfully irresponsible to most of us — some polls show that as many as 92 percent of Americans typically wear masks when they go out.

Trumpworld sees these things differently. Mike Pence articulated the view in the vice-presidential debate. “We’re about freedom and respecting the freedom of the American people,” Mr. Pence said. The topic at hand was the Sept. 26 super-spreader event in the Rose Garden to introduce Amy Coney Barrett as the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court and how the administration can expect Americans to follow safety guidelines that it has often ignored.

Kamala Harris countered that lying to the American people about the severity of the virus hardly counts as “respect.”

It was a pretty good riposte, but she fixed on the wrong word. She could have delivered a far more devastating response if she’d focused on the right word, one that the Democrats have not employed over the past several months.

 

The word I mean is “freedom.” One of the key authors of the Western concept of freedom is John Stuart Mill. In “On Liberty,” he wrote that liberty (or freedom) means “doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow, without impediment from our fellow creatures, as long as what we do does not harm them even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse or wrong.”

Note the clause “as long as what we do does not harm them.” He tossed that in there almost as a given — indeed, it is a given. This is a standard definition of freedom, more colloquially expressed in the adage “Your freedom to do as you please with your fist ends where my jaw begins.”

Now, conservatives revere Mill. But today, in the age of the pandemic, Mill and other conservative heroes like John Locke would be aghast at the way the American right wing bandies about the word “freedom.”

Freedom emphatically does not include the freedom to get someone else sick. It does not include the freedom to refuse to wear a mask in the grocery store, sneeze on someone in the produce section and give him the virus. That’s not freedom for the person who is sneezed upon. For that person, the first person’s “freedom” means chains — potential illness and even perhaps a death sentence. No society can function on that definition of freedom.

 

Joe Biden does a pretty good job of talking about this. At a recent town hall in Miami, he said: “I view wearing this mask not so much protecting me, but as a patriotic responsibility. All the tough guys say, ‘Oh, I’m not wearing a mask, I’m not afraid.’ Well, be afraid for your husband, your wife, your son, your daughter, your neighbor, your co-worker. That’s who you’re protecting having this mask on, and it should be viewed as a patriotic duty, to protect those around you.”

That’s good, but it could be much better if he directly rebutted this insane definition of freedom that today’s right wing employs.

There are certain words in our political lexicon that “belong” to this side or the other. “Fairness” is a liberal word. You rarely hear conservatives talking about fairness. “Growth” is mostly a conservative word, sometimes the functional opposite of fairness in popular economic discourse, although liberals use it too, but often with a qualifier (“balanced” or “equitable” growth, for example).

 

“Freedom” belongs almost wholly to the right. They talk about it incessantly and insist on a link between economic freedom and political freedom, positing that the latter is impossible without the former. This was an animating principle of conservative economists in the 20th century like Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.

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President Trump and supporters in Greenville, N.C., on Thursday.Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

It’s manifest silliness. To be sure, when they were writing, it was true of a place like the Soviet Union. But it is not true of Western democracies. If they were correct, the Scandinavian nations, statist on economic questions, would have jails filled with political prisoners. If they were correct, advanced democratic countries that elected left-leaning governments would experience a simultaneous crushing of political freedom. History shows little to no incidence of this.

And yet, the broad left in America has let all this go unchallenged for decades, to the point that today’s right wing — and it is important to call it that and not conservative, which it is not — can defend spreading disease, potentially killing other people, as freedom. It is madness.

One thing Democrats in general aren’t very good at is defending their positions on the level of philosophical principle. This has happened because they’ve been on the philosophical defensive since Ronald Reagan came along. Well, it’s high time they played some philosophical offense, especially on an issue, wearing masks, on which every poll shows broad majorities supporting their view.

Say this: Freedom means the freedom not to get infected by the idiot who refuses to mask up. Even John Stuart Mill would have agreed.

 

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Very well put.  The same applies to the concept of liberation.  Recall Trump tweeting the plea;  "LIBERATE MICHIGAN"  Exhorting our state's governor to open the schools among other interests.

Schools!  during a dangerous pandemic.  And his idiot supporters cheering him on as he insists our state's children be exposed to this deadly virus.  :angry:

Back to liberation.

Whenever I hear someone use(and often overuse) this word, I think of the definition given it by author ROBERT FULGHUM------

"Liberation finally amounts to being free from things we don't like in order to be enslaved by things we approve of."  

Sepiatone

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Wish people use your OP regarding sexual freedom - seems that is a free for all / do as you please.  What about the spread of STD's.  Do parents teach their teenagers about freedom has RESPONSIBILITY regarding sexual behavior or do they throw up their hands and think what's the point, the''re going to do it anyway and give a vaccine just to prevent one disease? The mindset of the young can carry on to adulthood if not corrected

Ever get sick of some smart *** teen say "it's a free country"?

Oh almost forgot ....unwanted pregnancies - don't worry just get an abortion, toss it away, no responsibility there.

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The word I mean is “freedom.” One of the key authors of the Western concept of freedom is John Stuart Mill. In “On Liberty,” he wrote that liberty (or freedom) means “doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow, without impediment from our fellow creatures, as long as what we do does not harm them even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse or wrong.”

Thought I would re-post the significant part of Cigarjoe's post above.  We deserve freedom from being infected, made severely ill and even killed from those who refuse to wear masks.

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59 minutes ago, hamradio said:

Wish people use your OP regarding sexual freedom - seems that is a free for all / do as you please.  What about the spread of STD's.  Do parents teach their teenagers about freedom has RESPONSIBILITY regarding sexual behavior or do they throw up their hands and think what's the point, the''re going to do it anyway and give a vaccine just to prevent one disease? The mindset of the young can carry on to adulthood if not corrected

Ever get sick of some smart *** teen say "it's a free country"?

Oh almost forgot ....unwanted pregnancies - don't worry just get an abortion, toss it away, no responsibility there.

Totally irrelevant, incompetent and immaterial.  Not the same thing at all - and you should know that.

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1 hour ago, hamradio said:

Again PICK AND CHOOSING when to be responsible.  Good luck getting those who call themselves sovereign citizens to wear a mask.

We live in an ever growing "don't tell me what to do" society.

 

I don't think a teenager having sex with another teenager, in which both of them have a venereal disease, is going to give you a venereal disease.

A plague or pestilence like covid-19 is completely different.

If you don't understand the difference between having sex with another person or simply talking to another person oh, I can't help you there.

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37 minutes ago, Princess of Tap said:

I don't think a teenager having sex with another teenager, in which both of them have a venereal disease, is going to give you a venereal disease.

A plague or pestilence like covid-19 is completely different.

If you don't understand the difference between having sex with another person or simply talking to another person oh, I can't help you there.

The issue is the MINDSET instilled within our youth! Not taking responsibility for one thing CAN lead to another. How many have diseases i.e. AIDS, Hepatitis due to sex has died?  If you can't understand this then I can't help you there.

Do you think a stubborn teen or young adult is going to listen about taking safeguards against covid if they haven't done to same about the other??

 

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59 minutes ago, hamradio said:

The issue is the MINDSET instilled within our youth! Not taking responsibility for one thing CAN lead to another. How many have diseases i.e. AIDS, Hepatitis due to sex has died?  If you can't understand this then I can't help you there.

Do you think a stubborn teen or young adult is going to listen about taking safeguards against covid if they haven't done to same about the other??

 

And what about trump and his supporters?

We have a mayor here in Kansas in Wichita who has been threatened with kidnapping and murder because he wants the people of his City to stay safe and wear a mask.

trump encourages this kind of criminal activity and his attacks on the Governor of Michigan--

as of last night--

Are still encouraging this kind of Criminal activity-- all reminiscent of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, which not surprisingly was launched through a white supremacy organizational mindset.

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1 hour ago, Princess of Tap said:

And what about trump and his supporters?

We have a mayor here in Kansas in Wichita who has been threatened with kidnapping and murder because he wants the people of his City to stay safe and wear a mask.

trump encourages this kind of criminal activity and his attacks on the Governor of Michigan--

as of last night--

Are still encouraging this kind of Criminal activity-- all reminiscent of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, which not surprisingly was launched through a white supremacy organizational mindset.

Trump told people to go out and kidnap others?  :lol:

What about Hillary wanting internment camps for Republicans?

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3 hours ago, hamradio said:

The issue is the MINDSET instilled within our youth! Not taking responsibility for one thing CAN lead to another. How many have diseases i.e. AIDS, Hepatitis due to sex has died?  If you can't understand this then I can't help you there.

Do you think a stubborn teen or young adult is going to listen about taking safeguards against covid if they haven't done to same about the other??

 

exactly.

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