I tend to side with the liberal/Democrat perspective of the argument. The reason behind it is simple and, if I’m being honest, biased: my OCPD. Allow me to explain.
Conservatives have a capacity for kindness – it’s not that I would generalise that they do not care about people. What I would generalise is that conservative/Republican policies like to draw a circle around groups of people and apply that kindness only to them. Whether that exclusion is one of hatred or indifference, the end result is an exclusion.
As someone with OCPD, I have issues with pretty much everyone on the ethics front. Liberals are nowhere near perfect and I have ethical concerns specific to them. Politically I tend to align with them and what follows is an examination of why rather than an endorsement of liberals over conservatives.
People Arguing COVID Restrictions
One of the more tiresome areas lately has been COVID, for everybody, albeit for very different reasons. I, for example, have grown tired of people not following the prescribed measures to curtail COVID like social distancing, mask wearing, and vaccines. Other people disagree, and the arguments tend to boil down to, “You can’t tell me what to do.”
What bothers me in these cases is not only the lack of principle but also pretending that a principle is the reason.
In a general sense, I tend to agree that one cannot mandate a vaccine and beyond few basics cannot mandate what someone wears. I do agree with that. This is a health crisis, however, and that changes several of the factors.
For example, if you do not want a flu vaccine, do not get a flu vaccine. I believe you should get one if not for yourself then to help protect your fellow citizens who are unable to receive a flu shot and are at risk of complications. The latter argument applies to COVID as well. Without requiring vaccines for things such as travel or entry to indoor venues, people should want this vaccine if only to protect their fellow citizens. We’ll come back to this.
COVID is a pandemic though. This is an actual health crisis and not a seasonal illness. That means that the measures are not just preventative at the personal level but that they are also necessary at a social level to stop the spread of a highly contagious disease.
The government and many businesses stopped precisely where they should: no one is mandating that everyone get the vaccine. They are saying that without the vaccine you will find certain public venues closed off to you. That is their right and, I contend, moral obligation because your refusal to get the vaccine cannot jeopardise everyone else in that public space.
This is not an infringement of your freedom – that is stopping you from infringing on the freedom of everyone else in that space. You have the freedom to be in that space if you meet a simple social requirement.
That’s literally how society works.
You drive on a specified side of the road obeying all applicable laws and signals. It’s the same thing. That is the principle at play here – when in public we give up certain freedoms to stop the place from burning to the ground. You cannot drive wherever you want and blow through red lights. Doing so would jeopardise others and as the others we hold people accountable for that sort of thing.
You can choose not to receive the vaccine. You cannot choose to be a walking petri dish during a global pandemic.
The same is true of masks. You do not want to wear a mask? Do not wear a mask. Certain things will be unavailable to you for the time being though. If you think there’s a principle at play that says, “No one can mandate what I wear or do not wear,” you are wrong. We do it all the time. We have dress codes. Places require shirts and shoes. Schools have famously mandated the hell out what girls may wear or not wear for generations.
The principle is the social contract: the point at which we curtail individual liberties to allow for individual liberty. The moment an individual has so much liberty that they actively begin to impede others right to the same, all liberty is gone. That’s one tyrant terrorising the larger group.
One of the most annoying arguments I have seen is that COVID restrictions relate to bodily autonomy, and it often comes in the context of juvenile taunting that seems directed at the “my body, my choice” argument associated with abortion.
Like this one:
No, it’s not. This is the whole point. Why would your bodily autonomy be worth more than someone else’s life? The only way that math works is if the first individual is worth more than the second, and there is no basis for that argument here. Other people cannot forfeit their entire life to pursue an individual’s liberty to deny requirements like a mask mandate or this vaccine (again, not forcing masks onto people or vaccines into people, but requiring them for access to public venues).
What makes the abortion debate unique is the dynamic of foetus and mother. That’s a whole other thing that I’m not getting into here, but the idea that “It’s my body and I can do whatever I want with it” does not extend wildly.
I segue into the other category of gender equality here because we introduced the concept of the social contract, but now we need to introduce the concept of systemic inequality. We saw in the first section about COVID an example of how the Republican argument tends to ignore the social good in favour of the individual to the extent that it hurts many individuals, but that neglects an important aspect.
One of the conservative talking points recently is regularly maligning “identity politics.” This is the idea that “woke liberals” treat entire groups as monoliths and pit them against one another to promote their agenda. What the focus on identity does in reality is highlight the way in which the traditional social contract disadvantages people because they are members of a particular group.
Is everyone in that group the same? No. No group is a monolith. What a group has in common is a single characteristic to which precisely zero other statements are inherently true.
What does that mean? It means that the population of “Jewish people” has precisely one characteristic in common: they are Jewish. Does being Jewish mean attending weekly religious services? No. Some Jewish people do attend a weekly religious service. Some do not. Non-Jewish people attend a weekly religious service.
While we might say that a characteristic is generally true of a group (in the sense that it is specifically true of a plurality of members), that characteristic is not necessary to membership in the group.
The problem with this is that humans possess inherent, unconscious bias and oversimplify things. So we take those generalities and apply them to anyone who, in perception or in reality, belongs to the group. Some of those generalities are not even based in fact, but get passed around so frequently that members outside the group accept them as true.
Consider this example relative to women: most societies in the world are patriarchal. This does not mean that men have to hold explicit control over the society (for those thinking things like, “The Vice President is a woman so…”). It means that the systems of that society have a basis in the exclusion of women.
In the United States, suffrage did not occur until almost 1920. Prior to that, women possessed no direct say in their governance and all decisions were by and for men. In some areas it might explicitly target women for exclusion, in other areas it might disadvantage them indirectly.
The United States legal system operates on the premise of “innocent until proven guilty.” It’s a brilliant system intended to keep innocent people out of prison and ensuring due process for all accused. In theory, it’s the best legal system (it has flaws, but that’s a separate topic).
When we apply this system to a society with the traditional views it has for men and women, it becomes especially problematic. First, it’s a society with a long history of men in positions of power over women (in the household, at work, in politics, etc.). We see again and again complaints from people (mostly men) about not understanding the “new rules” or “new guidelines for behaviour” as we address sexual harassment and assault.
The rules and guidelines did not change. This is the whole point. What changed is society finally got enough inertia to stop tolerating to a greater degree. Men have always crossed these lines and the expectation was for women to remain silent about it. Women who speak up about it face varying degrees of backlash (from men and women), up to and including physical violence.
One of the greatest perks of this for men (the most likely perpetrators) against women is the combination of gender expectation and “innocent until proven guilty” works so well to silence victims.
We see this perhaps most clearly in opposition to the “Believe women” push. Some misinterpret this statement to mean that we view women as infallible or beyond reproach. The point is that guilty men hide behind the system “innocent until proven guilty” to prevent any examination of their behaviour. While a man should be and is innocent until proven guilty, there is also room for investigation of wrongdoing.
“Believe women” is little more than a societal plea to hold off on “innocent until proven guilty” until we hear the allegation and cane make an appropriate investigation into it. The current system, which presumes the man’s innocence, fights the victim’s effort to even raise the wrongdoing to attention. It makes the entire process futile because once it does reach the due process stage the “innocent until proven guilty” principle makes conviction unlikely.
To reiterate, “Believe women” is not about presuming guilt or abandoning due process. It’s about ensuring due process for all parties involved by not presuming the victim is lying about or exaggerating the events from the start.
We see this in all walks of society: gender, sex, orientation, race, religion, ableness, and so forth.
What does this mean regarding ethics? It means that while I find a lot of common ground with conservatives regarding ethics their application at the social level alienates entire segments of the population.
For all the supposed talk about tolerance and, typically Christian, values, the policies they support manage to disadvantage women, LGBTA+, immigrants, the disabled, minorities… and the reasoning behind most of the support is what we saw earlier, “My bodily autonomy is worth more than your life.”
It’s a belief in tolerance insofar as everybody falls in line with their way of thinking and living. They understand that some trade-off is necessary in a society, but they are unwilling to make those trade-offs anywhere that curbs their belief in order to allow for someone else’s. That’s how we wind up with people complaining about a decline in Christian values in what they view as a Christian nation while espousing freedom of religion.
There’s freedom of religion insofar as it does not conflict with Christianity at all. This is where Chick-fil-A’s and Hobby Lobbies enter the chat, with the “tolerant” belief that “gays can be gay” while supporting organisations that actively harm them or business owners refusing service on the groups that someone is LGBTA+.
My own parents and I have had to debate the role of race in things. While my parents would take a strict “we don’t hate anyone because of race” position, I have struggled to convey the systemic nature of the problem. My wife and I just purchased a house because we had help from our parents, who purchased their houses with some help, albeit less, from the parents. That’s generational wealth.
When I try to explain the direct line from slavery to Reconstruction to Jim Crow and how explicitly racist housing policies and zoning generations ago means simply being black today is a disadvantage, I lose them. No, that nice neighbourhood near you might not have a policy against black people living there, but the history of that area might make the neighbourhood prohibitively expensive for them.
Where housing is cheaper, jobs are scarcer. When jobs are plentiful, housing is more expensive and wages are not commensurate. Forcing minorities into historic communities that prevented the accrual of generational wealth means that minorities today still face a disproportionate disadvantage.
Pointing to successful minorities, either on the whole (the model minority myth with Asians) or with specifics (like Oprah and LeBron James), presents further damage by dismissing the realities facing most people in those populations. Again, not a monolith – there are examples of success, but the general reality is the rule.
The problem is not that generality guides attempts to resolve the issues but that generality is what causes the issues. The liberal attitude is not, “Most black people face this challenge so it’s all about race,” but rather, “This problem exists and disproportionately affects black people because social generalisations are the basis for it” even if that basis is hundreds of years ago.
The general issue I have is that the conservative position aligns with personal politics rather than social ones, which is counter to the entire idea of a society. De-regulation, small government…all of these things speak to maximal personal liberty but ignore a simple fact: everyone doing whatever they want is chaos, not liberty.
The social contract is similar to the process of pricing an item. We are looking to draw a line against personal liberty at the point that it leaves as much intact as possible while allowing others’ personal liberty.
Conservative positions tend to exclude and are short-sighted. They seek out ways to improve their liberty without examining anyone at the table with an alternate perspective, so all of their self-negotiations add to their side while taking from the others. The irony is that conservatives often complain about a liberal agenda, but the truth (of which one will never convince a conservative) is that liberals are fine with conservatives living their lives as they see fit. The only ask is that it not interfere with others’ ability to do the same, which is not a concession many conservative policies will allow.
Gay marriage – nope. Never mind that it has zero to do with them. They can pursue a heterosexual marriage and live exactly the same. But they will actively lobby to stop homosexual couples.
Socialised medicine – nope. That’s communism. People are not entitled to health and people do not live forever. It does not matter that necessary things like insulin are prohibitively expensive. On the other hand, the socialised police service is fine. Suggestions that we de-fund the police and allocate those funds to social programs that better serve the public need (like mental health and substance abuse workers, rather than sending police into situations they do not understand adequately) are met with strong opposition.
Freedom of religion – nope. Not really. It’s freedom of Christianity and tolerance for religions until they do anything perceived to conflict with Christianity. The idea that the very existence of atheism or other religions is an existential threat to Christianity should alarm everyone because it’s a clear endorsement of the idea that only Christian values should exist. Counterpoint? Be Christian. Have fun. Leave others alone to be not-Christian because it does not concern you.
The simple theme here is that I support individual liberty to the extent that it does not impede others’ right to the same. My right to swing my arms ends at your face. If I want to smoke cigarettes, I can do that (I don’t) – I cannot do it in most public spaces because other people did not consent to having smoke in their face. I drive my car in a lane and obey all applicable laws – I don’t cut through lawns and blow through signals because it’s faster for me. I’m an atheist – I don’t care if someone else is a Christian or Muslim or Sikh. That’s their thing.
Conservative policy is all-too-often, “I’m going to do what I want and everyone else should just deal with it.”