Seatbelts, vices, and Covid-19
Let’s parse the oft-heard statement that wearing a mask is like wearing a seatbelt: a courtesy. First off the obvious in that wearing a seatbelt is not a courtesy. In fact, it’s the opposite, it’s an act of egoism. It only protects the wearer of the seatbelt and it encourages more reckless driving, therefore putting everyone else in danger. Especially bicycle accidents and pedestrian injuries are higher, when drivers wear seatbelts. From a public safety point of view, the argument should be made that seatbelts should not be worn. As a Libertarian (in the original meaning) I would say that the choice should be up to the driver, whether they want a higher chance of survival in a crash or not. The notion to legally impose on someone to protect their own life is simply ridiculous. Should every car come with seatbelts and airbags? Absolutely. Should drivers and passengers be able to choose whether to use them or not? Yes.
The mask debate touches on the above seatbelt statement on two points. Firstly, I can make a strong argument that a mask can equally propagate a sense of security and make the wearer behave more recklessly. It’s the same risk compensation principle that applies to the seatbelt. But especially, because a majority of people do not use or handle their masks in a safe way, yet they feel protected. The proven-effective guidelines of washing our hands regularly and not touching our faces take more discipline, so we opt for the masks instead. As with the seatbelts, it should be up to us whether and how we protect ourselves, because it is up to us to decide how much we fear this disease or how much our lives are worth to us. In the same vein, I maintain that people and their families who are at risk (or are simply willing to partake in the panic) could all have quarantined voluntarily. It should have been the individual’s responsibility to protect themselves — it can never be a government order forcing people to stay alive.
Secondly however, unlike with the seatbelt, there is a certain courtesy aspect to wearing a mask. When you are sick, you can protect others by wearing a mask. But again, it’s a shortcut. The more disciplined thing to do, is to not freely sneeze and cough on people around you and to stay home when you’re sick — a rule that everyone always happily ignores, whether it’s Covid season or just regular flu season.
If somewhat facetiously (and very much simplified), I am making the point that we needed lockdowns and mask orders, because half the population are assholes and the other half are weasels. They have one thing in common: they don’t take responsibility for their own actions and behaviours. The assholes are the ones going out sick and freely spreading their germs. The weasels need everyone else to protect them, they make everyone else responsible for their own health and wellbeing. Both are equally despicable!
Vices vs Covid
If you want to make an actual case for masks, better compare them to smoking or drunk-driving laws to protect us against assholes. Those are the laws in place more as a “courtesy”, because people will blow smoke in your face and they will drive under the influence (probably home to beat up their family). However, just like with the masks, these same laws protect weasels in a counterproductive way. For example, they shouldn’t be protected by occupational health and safety laws — they should be given the power to say “no” to a job that puts them in harm’s way (say at a bar, where smoking is allowed) and be supported by government in their right to say “no”. Instead the law stipulates that the job-seeker does not have the right to say “no”, because if s/he turns down a job offer they will not receive unemployment benefits. So we ban smoking instead and restrict the personal freedom for millions of people to protect the one individual. Ultimately, if the weasels were supported constructively and learned to take responsibility for themselves, they’d say “no” more often and market forces would result in mostly smoke-free restaurants and bars all by themselves, because they’d run out of employees.
Similarly for lockdowns, those wanting to quarantine should have received support and those wanting to go about their business in a responsible way should have been allowed to. At the end of the day, if everyone had been encouraged to take responsibility for themselves, things would have looked very differently. Of course, you cannot get a global population to do that within a short amount of time. We’re not used to that, because over the centuries the asshole’s entitlement has been encourage, and the weasel has been protected in all the wrong ways. I am not at all advocating that states shouldn’t provide any protection for their populations; our societies don’t have to go Darwinian. But the safety nets need to encourage self-determination, self-responsibility, and accountability.
Anyway, back to Prohibition, anyone?