On abortion, vaccination, drugs, and hypocrisy
The political philosophy of Team Reality, and the eighth deadly sin
As many of you have pointed out, the same liberals who wanted Covid vaccine mandates are screaming the loudest about the end of Roe v. Wade.
The hypocrisy is obvious. As one reader commented:
The wailing and gnashing of teeth over this by the people with no qualms pushing vaccines on everyone with a job (and more if they could get away with it) -it just blows my mind…
True. All true.
Except for one inconvenient fact: the hypocrisy runs both ways.
Conservatives who hated mRNA jab mandates have no problem with the idea that the state should control whether a woman must carry a baby to term.
Your body, your choice.
Except when your choice offends me.
The violation of physical autonomy is the state’s greatest power. No one should propose it lightly. At least two conditions must be met.
First, the restriction must have an overwhelming theoretical justification. Not merely strong. Overwhelming.
But a mere statement of principles is not enough. The rule must have some practical hope of success.
Mandatory mRNA vaccinations for adults fail on both grounds. We have always understood that population-wide immunity is a secondary consideration for vaccination. The primary benefit of any vaccine goes to the person who receives it.
Coercing people to be injected with a powerful biotechnology for their own protection would be immoral even if the vaccines worked as promised. We don’t force adults - except for a tiny number who are judged incompetent or mentally ill - to take medicines against their will.
The fact that the shots do not work means they fail the second condition too, making mandates not merely a moral failure but repugnant. The same applies to masks and lockdowns, the other great fripperies of Covid.
Abortion restrictions satisfy the first condition. They’re morally justifiable. No one is more innocent than a fetus.
But they fail the second. They cannot survive in the real world, not without a level of police power incompatible with a democratic state.
Some of you have asked me about drugs, and specifically where my views on cannabis fit into this paradigm. Why should drugs be illegal?
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I believe prohibitions against drugs can be theoretically justified. Drugs regularly harm not only the user but the people immediately around him - who are often children. (In contrast, the pleasure of drug-taking accrues only to the user.)
Further, many people can use drugs - even cocaine and heroin - without becoming addicted. But many others cannot. Neither we nor the first-time user can know whether he will become an addict until too late.
Addiction is a horror both in theory and practice. Addicts are cruel to themselves and to everyone around them - again, especially, children. They are nearly as damaging to the rest of society. To be blunt, they are parasites, often incapable of work and committing criminal acts to pay for their habits. Their drug use may drive them to violence through aggression or psychosis.
Addiction is equally problematic ethically. It cuts against demands to allow users autonomy, as addiction by definition robs the user of choice. And if addiction is an illness, as advocates for drug users insist, it is a mental illness (what other kind could it be?).
The safest course then is to do everything possible to reduce the number of addicts. Addiction is notoriously untreatable; only the addict can stop using (strange illness, that).
Since using a drug even once carries a risk of addiction (different drugs have different risks, but all are higher than is often understood), and since we cannot know who will become addicted, and we cannot really treat addiction, we are well justified in trying to stop it on the way in - discouraging use by making it illegal.
If all of this seems high-faluting and theoretical, it’s not.
For two decades we allowed physicians and drug companies to make legal opioids widely available to huge numbers of Americans. They were not only not prohibited, they were medically supervised and even paid for by insurance.
The consequences were horrific.
But does drug prohibition satisfy the second condition I’ve outlined? Is it practical? This is a harder case, but I would argue the answer is yes. Prohibition is not completely effective, not even close. But laws against drug use have a notable effect on the number of people who are willing to try illegal drugs, an effect visible between countries as well as over generational periods in the United States.
What about alcohol? Alcohol prohibition is theoretically justifiable but practically impossible. We tried that experiment. It failed. But alcohol is the exception, not the rule. It is far more embedded in our culture - not just in the United States but almost everywhere - than any illegal drug, including cannabis.
The answer is not to legalize other drugs and encourage their use, but to discourage the use of alcohol without prohibiting it. Unfortunately, for the last 20 years we have gone the other way, with “wine mommies” and television ads for hard liquor.
Again, the results have been dismal.
Look hard enough, and you can see a coherent Team Reality philosophy on these social issues. I say it’s coherent, anyway, and since I’m the cruise director, you have to listen to me at least long enough to get to the bottom so you can tell me what an idiot I am.
It leans libertarian, but with a strong dash of utilitarianism: that is, the greatest good for the greatest number. It tries not to make moral judgments and avoids religiously backed precepts; render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.
Sexual matters, especially, are outside the state’s interest: adultery, gay sex and marriage, the general moral panic of #metoo. Prostitution is a close call, and I haven’t thought enough about it to have a confident answer, so I will punt.
Gambling is an interesting case. I think we were somewhat better off when it was restricted geographically, but it seems less devastating than drugs for most people. (Which may change now that real-time sports betting on phones is available.)
In the end, Team Reality understands that the seven deadly sins catch us all, tries to be compassionate except when the costs of compassion are more misery - as with drug legalization - and finds an eighth sin the most common of all.
The eighth is hypocrisy, of course. Who among us is innocent? Not me, for sure. I bang on Moderna and Pfizer for the billions they have made, but I’ve profited from Covid too. Ugly but true.
With that I’ll sign off. The floor is yours.