When police officers question their lockdown duties, it's time to ask, "What the hell are we doing"?
Philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote, “Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of great fear.” The United States is now in the grip of such a fear. It is prostrating before authoritarians in government who have waited for such a moment and now relish in ordering us indoors.
In loudly applauding the authoritarian shutdown orders of American governments, many seem to be conflating at least a few separate sets of issues that relate to different areas of expertise.
The first area of expertise is the epidemiology of Wuhan coronavirus. It entails questions of the virus’s contagiousness and deadliness. There are questions on which there are very significant disagreements — with important policy implications — and, importantly, very poor data.
A second question is whether cost-benefit analyses favor the draconian measure of coercively shutting down all of civil society, one that is fundamentally unanswerable. This question is unanswerable because we cannot know how much the forcible suppression of civil society will cost and we won't know the benefits.
Lastly, even if we had perfect data about the characteristics of the disease, and we were able to perfectly calculate the costs and benefits of government-mandated shutdowns, we would be confronted nonetheless with the question of who gets to make such a decision.
Kate Mannle, who earlier this year traveled through South Korea on her way back from a trip to Myanmar, quarantined herself at home in Seattle when she came down with a fever and a cough. Who gave government the right to close the rest of us down, though? (Photo: Andrew Burton/The New York Times)
It’s a social theory question, not a medical one: How does a comparatively tiny group of people at the top of government acquire the right to make this call for all other people. How could anyone or any group attain to such a power?
This seems like an important philosophical question, but it is one that everyone on every side of the debate has apparently ignored. No one seems to care whether these few people — and they are just people, important-sounding titles notwithstanding — either have this power legitimately or can be trusted to wield it.
Politics is plagued by a do-something bias, which drives elected officials and bureaucrats to act hastily, scrambling to enact some policy even when faced with a complete lack of evidence about that policy’s long-term effects.
Our police officers have been placed in a difficult position, enforcing the edicts handed down by their local or state governments. In many cases across the country, these orders are in direct contravention of the U.S. Constitution and of little impact on the spread of the virus.
One police officer, Greg Anderson of the Port of Seattle Police Department, dared to speak out against the things he was being forced to do. The video is nearly nine minutes long, but please, do not get impatient with it. Officer Anderson has your best interests at heart.
Unfortunately, despite Anderson’s confidence in his command staff’s support, he was placed on administrative leave shortly after this video posted to his YouTube channel. Just three days later — lightning speed in the world of bureaucracies — he was fired.
Apparently, their officers telling the truth is not something in which the police and government of the Port of Seattle are interested.