On Sheltering in Place, or, The Unraveling of the Social Contract

hydrogen and stupidity

This follows up on my heretical thought and on Charlie Sykes’ musings on the unraveling of the social contract. I have four comments.

  1. Donald Rumsfeld said he had to fight the war in Iraq with the army he had, not the army he wished he had. By like token, I and my fellow ‘Mericans have to fight the virus with the army we have, not the army we wish we had.

As far myself, whenever I emerge from my foxhole, I treat everyone I meet as if I were an asymptomatic superspreader. And I regard everyone I encounter as if each of them was an asymptomatic superspreader.

For the time being, the governor of my state has said this is what I must do, and if I don’t, I am committing a misdemeanor. But I do not behave as I do because of what the governor of my stated has ordered, or because I think there’s a likelihood that Officer Hotshot will arrest me if I violate the order. No, I do it because I am a reasonable and prudent person.

Sykes reminds us that many of our fellow ‘Mericans are not reasonable and prudent people. That is true. But I am not sure what I am supposed to do with this information.

  1. Insofar as executive orders forbid the reopening of specified types of businesses, I suppose one can reasonably expect them to be enforced, as against the business owners.

Insofar as executive orders threaten to charge Sallie Sue here at Happy Acres with a misdemeanor when she goes to get her nails done, enforcement is, practically speaking, a toothless tiger.

Issuing toothless “orders” does not reinforce respect for the rule of law, and is, generally speaking, not a good idea.

  1. People behave irresponsibly for many reasons, including general perversity. But one reason, among many others, is that “no one can tell me what to do.” For the people motivated by that particular impetus toward bad behavior, removing the toothless legal enforcement threat might deprive them of an important mental excuse for bad behavior.
  2. In reality, guidance about responsible behavior in a time of pandemic rests not on legal authority but on medical and scientific authority.

There may soon come a time when we do better relying solely on strong medical and scientific authority, not legal authority.

If my doctor advises me that I need heart bypass surgery, no one would think to suggest that the governor should order me to follow medical advice, on pain of arrest. If I want to try out for my own special Darwin Award, I’m legally free to do that.