Common Good or Individual Rights During a Global Pandemic
To wear a mask or not to wear a mask? That is a good question. With so much confusion out there, it is hard to know exactly what to do. As states move forward with plans to reopen their economy, people have been left with a lot of uneasiness.
On one hand the CDC has set guidelines for states to reopen, These guidelines include social distancing, hand washing, staying home if sick, cleaning and disinfecting, not touching your face, and of course, masks.
But, the debate still rages about the effectiveness of masks. Plus, there are those that have pointed out the dangers of wearing masks in communities frequently profiled by law enforcement. Even the American Bar Association has asked if wearing a mask to protect your health violates anti-mask laws on the books in many communities and states.
What’s more important? Your rights or the rights of others?
Without even introducing all of the issues listed above, the biggest issue is still the argument that requiring a person to wear a mask is an infringement on their individual rights. And while there may be those around the world who oppose wearing a mask, many see the very public resistance as being unique to the US.
Ultimately, it’s the difference between the common good and individual rights. Classical Republican philosophers, such as Aristotle, believed that people would do the right thing for the common good of the community. Leaders would have civic virtue and often give up power for the common good. On the other hand, Natural Rights philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, wrote that people had rights that should be protected.
It’s so much more than masks, though.
The age old question of whether my rights outweigh the common good is a dilemma we are facing today in the mist of Covid-19. As protesters march on capitals with their firearms, demanding states and communities reopen so that people can get haircuts and eat a meal in a restaurant, they are met with nurses and front line workers in masks and gloves begging them and the government to continue social distancing and stay at home orders. There is evidence that these tactics are helping to reduce the spread of the virus. So, what do we do? Do my individual rights outweigh the common good? Can governments require people to stay home and deny their individual rights not to?
In Texas, Governor Abbott praised a jailed salon owner who defied orders to keep her store closed during the pandemic. He then modified his own executive order, thereby freeing her from jail, saying that “No Texan should face jail time for resisting an order that temporarily closes a lawful business in an attempt to feed their families.”
So, who is right and who is wrong? What is more important, public safety or individual rights? Does logic dictate that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? Do your rights really end where my rights begin?
The debate rages on. What are your thoughts?