Our Rights End Where His Feelings Begin

Of the many potential arguments available in support of the lockdown, self-quarantining, mask wearing and, as will soon become ubiquitous, an army of apps and hireling to “trace” people, linking the means of controlling further outbreaks of COVID-19 to gun control is likely the worst. It’s unsound on a theoretical level. It’s needlessly divisive. It’s destined to further distinguish the deplorables who need to work to keep their businesses alive and feed their families, and who in the minds of urban editorial writers, are the sort of people who love guns.

Yet, the New York Times’ Opinion Writer at Large,* Charlie Warzel can’t control his worst impulses.

I first saw it on Twitter. “Someone poke holes in this scenario,” a tweet from Eric Nelson, the editorial director of Broadside Books, read. “We keep losing 1,000 to 2,000 a day to coronavirus. People get used to it. We get less vigilant as it very slowly spreads. By December we’re close to normal, but still losing 1,500 a day, and as we tick past 300,000 dead, most people aren’t concerned.”

This hit me like a ton of bricks because of just how plausible it seemed.

Much as it’s admirable that the Warzel’s epiphanies come from twits, the holes were chasms, obvious to anyone who cared to see them. Treatment for COVID-19 is being desperately sought. Vaccines are being developed. Whether here or elsewhere, serious efforts are being made to address this virus. In the meantime, people need to eat.

But Warzel’s epiphany ignored the search for a solution that thoughtful people considered, and focused instead on how society could grow inured to thousands of deaths daily.

Such loss of life is hard to comprehend when it’s not happening in front of your own two eyes. Add to it that humans are adaptable creatures, no matter how nightmarish the scenario, and it seems understandable that our outrage would dull over time. Unsure how — or perhaps unable — to process tragedy at scale, we get used to it.

Like car crashes. Like medical malpractice. Like . . . guns.

There’s also a national precedent for Mr. Nelson’s hypothetical: America’s response to gun violence and school shootings.

As a country, we seem resigned to preventable firearm deaths. Each year, 36,000 Americans are killed by guns — roughly 100 per day, most from suicide, according to data from the Giffords Law Center.

To the extent there is anything analogous here, it’s Warzel’s view that we tolerate gun violence, and the ensuing deaths, even though he believes they are easily preventable with gun control.

In every case, the death tolls climb but we fail to act. There are occasional marches and protests but mostly we continue on with our lives.

And so he links our failure to use law to end gun violence with our failure to use law to end coronavirus.

The coronavirus pandemic and gun violence are by no means perfectly analogous calamities. The federal government, which has the power to pass stricter gun laws, has more limited powers to control states’ public health responses to Covid-19. And while other countries have curtailed gun violence, most are struggling to contain the virus.

“Perfectly,” in this context, means “not even remotely.” but it’s close enough for the Times where its readers tend not to be particularly knowledgeable about or interested in guns, tend to elevate their personal safety (and anxiety and depression) over all else and truly believe they are possessed of a higher moral consciousness that empowers them to dictate the hierarchy of concerns to others. It also helps when you get a paycheck while working from home.

Warzel notes that states are opening up, contrary to medical advice, which is Trump’s fault even if the governor is Democratic, no matter what the conditions on the ground are or what the people who don’t get checks from the New York Times choose to do.

As in the gun control debate, public opinion, public health and the public good seem poised to lose out to a select set of personal freedoms. But it’s a child’s two-dimensional view of freedom — one where any suggestion of collective duty and responsibility for others become the chains of tyranny.

There are some who scream “tyranny,” but Warzel’s new deplorables, those who hold “a child’s two-dimensional view of freedom,” aren’t the fringe crazies, but the working stiffs who do the work that puts avocados in Warzel’s kitchen. Is this the deplorable child you’re talking about, Charlie?

Is Shelly Luther a criminal to be incarcerated for choosing to feed her children, for giving her employees the opportunity to do the same?

Warzel is right that there are authoritarian means to force those who think differently to do as he wants. And no doubt he’s certain of his moral superiority, so their concerns are childish and unworthy of concern to deep-thinkers like Warzel, who gets his epiphanies from twitter. And he’s not wrong that we quickly become inured to death, and that’s a problem.

There is much that could be accomplished if we let go of our “childish” belief in freedom. Maybe it would help with coronavirus. Maybe it would reduce gun violence. Maybe the trains will run on time. Certainly Shelly Luther will go to jail for the crime of opening her salon when guys like Charlie don’t think she should, and with that bludgeon, Warzel will solve our problems.

*That’s his title. Don’t blame me.

10 thoughts on “Our Rights End Where His Feelings Begin

  1. L. Phillips

    You mean there might be a system of defending life and liberty that doesn’t involve giving up one or the other to our “betters”?

    What a novel concept.

    1. SHG Post author

      I don’t generally care for arguments against the “betters,” but damn if Warzel doesn’t think his feelings are singularly better than anyone who feels otherwise.

  2. CLS

    Is anyone really surprised the Times’ Knucklehead at Large would go here? It seems like it was last week we were collectively discussing how the lockdowns were letting the Op-Ed board finally embrace their authoritarian tendencies for public consumption. This just seems like a natural extension of what we sort of knew the opinion writers felt all this time.

    Fuck the Times, and fuck Charlie At Large too.

  3. B. McLeod

    Woodrow Wilson ignored the 1918 pandemic, concluding that it wasn’t part of his job. In the post-New Deal U.S., expectations have changed. People like Warzel expect the federal government to feed them and take care of them and wipe their noses for them. So, of course, Warzel thinks the federal government can manage and contain this pandemic, even if it has to suspend the constitution in the process. It is completely possible that Warzel and all his ilk are simply wrong in believing our government is capable of producing such a result. The 1918 pandemic ended when it had run its natural course. The current pandemic is looking very much the same.

    1. SHG Post author

      Whether that’s true, that the pandemic will simply run its course, remains to be seen. It’s not much comfort to those who die in the interim.

      1. B. McLeod

        Nor should it be, but government is not a magic genie in a bottle. People have fallen into the perception that if they want “x” they need only demand in numbers that the government produce “x” and somehow or another it will happen. There is a range of problems and outcomes that is simply not within the practical control of the government. Members of the public are largely on their own in this thing, and can choose to accept reality or not. Refusing to acknowledge unpleasant facts will not protect against them.

        1. Julia

          I’ve seen someone complaining that the government doesn’t provide the population with facial masks and hand sanitizer (I started typing about toilet paper but didn’t post it).

          Giving up your own agency and becoming a sitting duck is counterproductive with a disease where the outcome depends on the immune systems status. Anyway, if the government issues a recommendation to eat healthy, exercise and take supplements to boost the immune system, somebody will get offended.

  4. Howl

    “Maybe the trains will run on time.” (Godwin rises from his chair, finger raised and mouth open, then sits back down.)

  5. Julia

    Death is a common tool of emotional blackmail. If you don’t submit to my emotions and desires and give up your own, somebody is going to die. There is a lot of it going around in these convenient times. We’re losing so many people and you don’t feel ashamed of yourself caring about your kids?

    The pandemic isn’t a hotel reservation, you can’t cancel it “give me, please, a Seasonal Flu room instead”. You can only proceed through it one way or another. But there are patients who are still going to die, more of them than from regular flu. That’s the reality of it.

  6. DaveL

    The fact we can accept hundreds, even thousands of daily deaths as normal might be tragic to John Donne, but it is also an inescapable fact. It is normal, a mathematically inevitable consequence of living in a nation with hundreds of millions of people, each with a finite lifespan. There are in fact roughly 8,000 deaths every day on the United States, and were before COVID-19. That figure would also be little changed if you could magically eliminate all guns.

    In fact, we’re right around that 1,500 daily deaths mark from cancer, yet we haven’t suspended constitutional rights in a quest to eradicate it. In fact, we’ve suspended potentially lifesaving cancer screenings in our bid to stop COVID-19.

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