August 10, 2020

Rights, Risks, Regulations, and Responsibilities

This week I am following up on my post “You Are Killing Me!

As I turn right out of my driveway, and approach the end of the block, there is a large red octagonal sign which displays the letters “STOP”. If I turn right at that point and proceed another block, there is an intersection with another road. There is a light suspended above the center of the road that cycles between the colours of Green, Yellow, and Red. Proceeding across the intersecting road I immediately see a rectangular sign that displays the word “MAXIMUM”, the number “40”, and a series of symbols “km/h”. Just past the third sign is the entrance to my children’s elementary school.

We would of course recognize these as a stop sign, a traffic light, and a speed limit sign. The third might require a little translation for some, as might the first if I lived one province to the east.

What these signs do illustrate is the relationships between rights, risks, and responsibilities.

The signs are there because of competing rights. What do I mean by that?

Going way, way back, I remember my grade 11 Law course teacher, Mr. Thorne, teaching us about rights. “In general”, he said, “you have the right to do whatever you want. And that right ends and the end of someone else’s nose.”

That comment has stuck with me through this 40 years. I have the right to do whatever I want until it impacts someone else. At that point my freedom to enjoy that right absolutely, ends.

The problem comes when my right to do something conflicts with your right to do something.This is known as “competing rights.”

Let us imagine for a moment that the signs and traffic light did not exist.

Let us also assume for the moment that driving a car is a right. (We will avoid the right versus privilege debate for now, although that ties into the discussion.)

You have the right to drive your car. You need it to get to work.

My child has the right to an education. He does not have a car and so he walks. He has the right to arrive at his school alive.

We have a potential collision of rights at that intersection, not to mention a potential collision of child with car.

The right of the driver to drive to work unencumbered comes in conflict with the right of the child to arrive at school alive.

This is where the concept of “the greater good” comes in. When you have conflicting rights, they have to be weighed up against each other to determine which is of higher value.

In this case here, it was long ago determined that the driver’s right is superseded by the child’s right, and so regulations and restrictions were put into place to mitigate the risk that the child’s rights might be breached.

Libby Jones wrote this creative post back in May. You can see how it start to tie back into last week’s post.

“This is a new invention, it’s called a traffic light. When it’s green, you can drive through it. When it’s red, you have to stop and wait for it to turn green.”

“Sounds like the government thinks it knows more than I do about how to drive my own car!”

“Well, people are dying in intersections. At a very sad rate. And getting hurt pretty badly, too. And this is something pretty easy we can all do together to keep people from dying and getting hurt.”

“But I haven’t died in this intersection. And I actually don’t know anyone else who’s died here either. You sure people aren’t maybe, like, falling off their roofs and you’re just saying they died in this intersection? To make us scared so you can control us?”

“People are definitely dying in this very intersection. But just look at the light, and go when it’s green. Stop when it’s red. We’ll add a yellow one so you know when it’s about to turn red.”

“But if I have to stop when it’s red, I won’t get where I’m going as fast. Sounds like you’re infringing on my freedom. Sounds like you don’t want me to get to work to earn a living and you want me to rely on the government for everything.”

“That’s….no. No one wants that. Look, we know no one’s going to like stopping at the red light. It’s going to be a small inconvenience for everyone. But again, if we all do this perfectly, together, we can keep people from dying in this intersection.”

“Well if people are so scared of this intersection, maybe they should just walk! Leave the cars to those of us who don’t want to live in fear!”

“That’s the thing – many of the people dying *are* pedestrians.”

“Look, how about if someone wants to stop at the light they can, but if someone else doesn’t want to stop, they don’t have to. It should be my choice. This is a free country, you know.”

“Again, this will work if everyone does it together. Just one person doing whatever they want has the potential to kill other people.”

“Just one person doing whatever they want has the potential to kill other people.”

That is what I was getting at last week. The significant number for the spread of Covid-19 is the reproduction (R) value. In short it is the number of people on average that each infected person in turn infects. “The reproduction number is not fixed. Instead, it changes as our behaviour changes, or as immunity develops.” The number has to be below one to stop the increasing spread of the virus. In hindsight, here is what it looked like in the U.K. as measures were taken to control the virus. (Modelling courtesy of Mathematical modelers at the Imperial College of London.)

Clearly there were a number of actions taken over a short period of time that resulted in a dramatic drop in the R value. We can’t really judge the individaul results of each of those actions in this case as they were taken very hastily to combat a very bad situation.

Looking back at the discussion of rights: If your actions impact other people, including their right to life, then we have a competing right. In those circumstances, regulations are quite reasonable. We put in stop signs, and traffic lights, and speed limits to reduce deaths on the road. It is reasonable to do the same to reduce deaths due to Covid-19. Has there been overreach? Sure. The more we learn, the more we can get it right.

What about risk?

Justin made the comment last week:

… We fool ourselves to think we can control any of it. Covid makes the number of threats reach 1000+1. I check off several of the high-risk factors myself, so the number soars to 1007.

No one is killing anyone else…

This is where I disagree with Justin. Covid-19 does not have a fixed R value. It does not take us from 1000 to 1001. It rises and falls with our actions. The number of people dying from Covid-19 is totally controllable. Look at the graph from the U.K. above.

Those who ignore, skirt, or flaunt those regulations, are like those who run red lights, or speed through school zones, or might I add drive drunk. They increase the risk to those around them. They increase the deaths around them.

I have long felt that driving under the influence should warrant a much more severe penalty. It is like playing Russian Roulette every time you get behind the wheel. Maybe you won’t kill a pedestrian this time… or maybe you will.

I agree with Justin that I face risks every day. But I reject his contention that those risks are unavoidable and uncontrollable. The data shows that when it comes to Covid-19 that simply isn’t true.

And that brings me to my fourth word: Responsibility.

Being a member of a society involves responsibility. Being responsible to follow traffic guidelines and drive safely. Being responsible not to drive drunk. And doing your best to not spread Covid-19 to others.

My wife tells of one speaker she heard on a radio show who was commenting on a crowded Toronto park: “I would love to go to the park. But I have a nice back yard. So while I have every right to go to the park, there are others who don’t have a nice back yard, and I would like to give them the ability to enjoy the park without my extra presence.” This is acting responsibly. I would encourage us not only to obey the letter of the regulations at this time, but where we are able, to go above and beyond. There are lives (including mine) that depend upon it.

David Bentley Hart: 4 Meditations on Apokatastasis (5) — The limited conditions of choice

David Bentley Hart: 4 Meditations on Apokatastasis
5: The limited conditions of choice

David Bentley Hart’s book, That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation, sets forth a powerful, passionate argument against the traditional Christian doctrine of eternal conscious punishment — that sinners wind up forever in hell — and for the belief that all shall be saved.

Thus far we have considered the concept of apokatastasis and the implications for eschatology that arise from believing that God is the good creator of all. Then we talked about some of the biblical material that Hart uses to support his case. Last time we reflected upon the nature and destiny of human beings, created in the image of God.

In our final post, we consider David Bentley Hart’s fourth meditation on the topic of “free choice.” As most of you may know, one of the most common defenses of the view that sinners will suffer eternal punishment consists of an appeal to human free will. If people choose not to respond in faith to the good news of salvation in Christ, they face an eternal destiny separated from God in the fires of hell. As it is said, “God doesn’t send people to hell, they freely choose to go there.”

Hart finds he cannot tolerate this position. After an extended rant against the very idea of hell and eternal punishment and those theologies which have developed and promulgate these teachings, he focuses in on the free will defense.

Hence, the only defense of the infernalist position that is logically and morally worthy of being either taken seriously or refuted scrupulously is the argument from free will: that hell exists simply because, in order for a creature to be able to love God freely, there must be some real alternative to God open to that creature’s power of choice, and that hell therefore is a state the apostate soul has chosen for itself in perfect freedom, and that the permanency of hell is testament only to how absolute that freedom is. This argument too is wrong in every way, but not contemptibly so. Logically it cannot be true; but morally it can be held without doing irreparable harm to one’s understanding of goodness or of God, and so without requiring the mind to make a secret compromise with evil (explicitly, at least). (p. 171)

Why does David Bentley Hart say that this argument is “wrong in every way” and cannot be logically true?

  • “Freedom is a being’s power to flourish as what it naturally is, to become ever more fully what it is. The freedom of an oak seed is its uninterrupted growth into an oak tree. The freedom of a rational spirit is its consummation in union with God. Freedom is never then the mere “negative liberty” of indeterminate openness to everything; if rational liberty consisted in simple indeterminacy of the will, then no fruitful distinction could be made between personal agency and pure impersonal impulse or pure chance.” (p. 172)
  • “[I]nevitably, true freedom is contingent upon true knowledge and true sanity of mind. To the very degree that either of these is deficient, freedom is absent. And with freedom goes culpability. No mind that possesses so much as a glimmer of a consciousness of reality is wholly lacking in liberty; but, by the same token, no mind save one possessing absolutely undiminished consciousness of reality is wholly free. (p. 177)
  • “So, for anyone to be free, there must be a real correspondence between his or her mind and the structure of reality, and a rational cognizance on his or her part of what constitutes either the fulfilment or the ruin of a human soul. Where this rational cognizance is absent in a soul, there can be only aimlessness in the will, the indeterminacy of the unmoored victim of circumstance, which is the worst imaginable slavery to the accidental and the mindless. If then there is such a thing as eternal perdition as the result of an eternal refusal of repentance, it must also be the result of an eternal ignorance, and therefore has nothing really to do with freedom at all. So, no: Not only is an eternal free rejection of God unlikely; it is a logically vacuous idea.” (p. 178)
  • “Nothing in our existence is so clear and obvious and undeniable that any of us can ever possess the lucidity of mind it would require to make the kind of choice that, supposedly, one can be damned eternally for making or for failing to make.” (p. 180)

Hart summarizes:

If we lived like gods above the sphere of the fixed stars, and saw all things in their eternal aspects in the light of the “Good beyond beings,” then perhaps it would be meaningful to speak of our capacity freely to affirm or freely to reject the God who made us in any absolute sense. As it is, we have never known such powers, and never could in this life. What little we can know may guide us, and what little we can do may earn us some small reward or penalty; but heaven and hell, according to the received views, are absolute destinies, and we have in this life no capacity for the absolute. To me, the question of whether a soul could freely and eternally reject God—whether a rational nature could in unhindered freedom of intellect and will elect endless misery rather than eternal bliss—is not even worth the trouble of asking. Quite apart from the logical issues involved, it is a question that has no meaning in the world we actually inhabit. (pp. 180-181)

The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: August 8, 2020

Rail commuters wearing white protective masks, one with the additional message “wear a mask or go to jail,” during the 1918 influenza pandemic in California. (Vintage Space/Alamy)

The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: August 8, 2020

• • •

Graham honored, white supremicist replaced…

From RNS:

A life-sized statue of the Rev. Billy Graham will be installed in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall collection sometime next year, replacing a statue of a white supremacist that both the state of North Carolina and the U.S. House want removed.

Last week, a North Carolina legislative committee approved a 2-foot model of the statue depicting the famous evangelist who died in 2018.

The sculptor, Chas Fagan, will now begin working on a life-sized model that will have to be approved by a congressional committee. Fagan has previously created several statues of religious figures, including St. John Paul II for Washington’s Saint John Paul II National Shrine, as well as Mother Teresa for the Washington National Cathedral.

The U.S. Capitol, Statuary Hall collection consists of 100 statues of prominent people — two from each state. Graham, a North Carolina native who was born on a dairy farm in Charlotte, will take the place of Charles Aycock (1859-1912), a former governor.

Aycock was one of the masterminds of the 1898 Wilmington, North Carolina, race riot and coup, in which a local government made up of Black Americans was overthrown and replaced by white officials. North Carolina’s other statue is of Zebulon Vance (1830-1894), a former governor and U.S. senator who was also a Confederate military officer.

Meanwhile, Liberty University President disgraces himself (again)…

Boy, I wish I’d had such a good role model when I went to Bible College. #falwelldisaster

UPDATE: Falwell taking indefinite leave. (RNS)

Church can be dangerous these days…

In Monday’s post, Mike Bell wrote:

Certain things I will not do until there is a vaccine:

  • Eat inside a restaurant.
  • Attend a church.

Things I will do until there is a vaccine:

  • Wear a mask indoors
  • Avoid crowds.
  • Practice social distancing.

The thing is,  I need others to do their part as well.

Well, a man in Ohio wasn’t as cautious. According to CNN:

A man with Covid-19 went to church in mid-June, then 91 other people got sick, including 53 who were at the service, according to Ohio’s governor.

“It spread like wildfire, wildfire. Very, very scary,” Gov. Mike De Wine said Tuesday. “We know that our faith-based leaders want nothing more than to protect those who come to worship.”

To illustrate how one infected person can spread the virus, state health officials released a color graphic showing how the cases radiated to some who weren’t even at the service. [see above]

The governor said he was going to send letters to churches, mosques and synagogues to share important health information.

“It is vital that, any time people gather together, everyone wear masks, practice social distancing, wash hands, and while indoors, making sure there is good ventilation and airflow,” he said.

In the case of community spread from the worshipper at the undisclosed church, a 56-year-old man went to the service. A total of 53 people got sick and 18 of those churchgoers spread it to at least one other person.

75 years ago…

From Lynn Rusten, at USA Today:

Seventy-five years ago today, Aug. 6, 1945, the atomic bomb incongruously named “Little Boy” detonated above the Japanese city of Hiroshima, incinerating tens of thousands of people and injuring tens of thousands more. The force of the blast and firestorm from that bomb, and a second one dropped three days later, on Aug. 9, over the city of Nagasaki, were almost beyond comprehension at the time. The true toll of the massive radiation release wouldn’t be felt for years.

Today, the numbers of those who survived to bear witness to that horrific experience are dwindling, and for far too many people, nuclear weapons are an abstraction. Even for those of us who have dedicated our careers to national security and reducing nuclear risks, it’s far too easy to debate the arcana of nuclear policy, forces, deterrence and arms control without reflecting sufficiently on what it would mean for even one “small” nuclear weapon to be used.

The 75th anniversary of the first and only wartime use of nuclear weapons — by the United States against Japan in World War II — is an appropriate time to reflect on the lives lost or forever changed, and the incredible physical, environmental and economic destruction. It reminds us never to lose sight of the staggering human consequences of using nuclear weapons.

…Today, there are still an estimated 13,410 nuclear warheads on the planet, and the risks of nuclear use around the globe are evolving and escalating.

…Reversing or mitigating these threats must be on the front burner. We must keep the pressure on global leaders to work together to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and reduce the risk of their use.

MLB play of the week…

Where I live…sigh

This incident happened just a couple of miles from where my daughter and her family live. She is married to a black man. One might have thought we’re past this kind of stupid behavior, especially here in Indiana. But racism knows no boundaries, and people continue to behave without any respect for others, especially those who look different and who have long been consigned to second-class citizenship.

This is why “Black Lives Matter” matters.

From WISH TV, Indianapolis:

LAWRENCE, Ind. (WISH) — A Lawrence man is facing a federal hate crime charge and firearm offenses after authorities say he intimidated and interfered with his neighbor based on his neighbor’s race.

Shepard Hoehn, 50, of Lawrence, was charged by criminal complaint for violating the Fair Housing Act and two counts of unlawful firearm possession.

The criminal complaint against Hoehn was unsealed Thursday in federal court.

According to the complaint, Hoehn intimidated and interfered with his Black neighbor on June 18 in the 6400 block of Meadowfield Boulevard in Lawrence. He is accused of creating and displaying a swastika on a fence facing his neighbor’s home and for burning a cross above the same fence. Authorities say he also created and displayed a large sign with racial slurs, placed a machete next to the sign, and played the song “Dixie” loudly on repeat.

“Although the First Amendment protects hateful, ignorant and morally repugnant beliefs and speech, it does not protect those who choose to take criminal actions based on those beliefs,” said U.S. attorney Josh Minkler in a release to News 8. “This office will continue to prosecute federal hate crimes to the fullest extent of the law.”

The FBI and Lawrence Police Department investigated the incident.

Investigators obtained search warrants for Hoehn’s home and found several firearms and drug paraphernalia. Investigators also learned Hoehn was a fugitive from Missouri and he was prohibited from having firearms.

“The FBI takes allegations of civil rights violations very seriously and will not tolerate harassment and intimidation directed at individuals because of their race, sexual identity or religious beliefs,” said Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan, FBI Indianapolis, in a release to News 8. “Such incidents represent not just an attack on an individual, but also on the victim’s community, and are intended to create fear. The FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to work to identify those committing these acts to ensure the rights of all Americans are protected.”

If convicted, Hoehn could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each charge.

And then there’s THIS GUY in our neighboring state…

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