The Buffalo Bulletin this past week published a misconstrued view of rights. They attempted to use what is known as “the harms principle.” This comes from 19th Century philosopher John Stuart Mill’s, “On Liberty.” They should read it. For Mill, the only acceptable use of force is to prevent harm to others – your rights end where mine begin. Fits with the whole idea of masks doesn’t it? But Mill was referring to actual harm. We have laws against punching people – that’s harm to another person. What Mill was actually arguing against is presumed harm. We shouldn’t have laws against actions that might cause harm to another person. The Bulletin is arguing the opposite.
Let’s use something Buffalo is familiar with: guns. Guns are more dangerous than this virus. You do not have a right to know that I own a gun. Using the Bulletin’s logic, we should publish that information. We don’t because that would infringe on my rights to protect myself. Because my gun does not pose harm to you, it’s your responsibility, not anyone else’s.
As the Bulletin would have it, none of us should do anything without a mask. Masks will not prevent you from contracting the virus. Maybe reduce the odds. Wearing a mask is self-protection. I’m healthy, should I wear a mask to protect you? No because there is nothing to protect you from. It is my choice, not yours.
The Bulletin states: “If we fail to take adequate safety measures … we risk new restrictions that might be more onerous than any we’ve experienced to date.” This is control. Do what we say or else! They go on, “Not for our personal safety, but so that we don’t inadvertently harm someone else.” But that harm may not exist. This is about feelings. Wear a mask to make others feel better about their personal safety. This is going to come as a shock to some of you, but you don’t have a right against hurt feelings. The Bulletin is not talking about safety, they are talking about feelings and damaging my freedom for it. The Bulletin took some literary license with Mill, I will too. My rights don’t end where your feelings begin.