The Devil’s Opinion: Rights and Responsibility, The two Rs of civil society

You can have no rights without responsibilities. It is that simple.

The COVID-19 pandemic, the restrictions imposed on people to minimise the spread of the Novel Coronavirus have instigated the best and worst thinking seen in a while.

Conspiracy ideas abound (They are not theories as they lack the main components of a scientific theory: predictive and explanatory power). There are simply too many to mention here. From the earth’s shape to incomplete challenges to the germ theory of disease, the epidemic of flawed, uncritical thinking we face is perhaps more dangerous and definitely more contagious than the virus.

Photo by Kaique Rocha

I say more contagious because ideas spread quickly; especially, ideas that appeal to human emotion over logic and reason. And I say more dangerous because the consequences of poor thinking have cost more lives than any disease we have fought before.

Now, not all nuts who believe the earth is flat think that vaccines cause autism or that viruses can’t infect human bodies. The most sophisticated arguments come from an incomplete understanding of science, for which the scientific community is largely to blame. Science has not met its responsibility to communicate complex ideas to a primarily uneducated populous. The contents of most vaccines sound like the compounds supervillains try to use to end the world in low-budget sci-fi movies. Science can sound scary.

Dihydrogen monoxide reads like something you should avoid at all costs until you realise it’s the chemical name of water.

Most of the fear-based responses to science people experience could be avoided by proper conversations between the scientific establishment and the people they aim to serve. We need more science communicators.

We should note that while some conspiratorial thinking comes from valid scepticism, the vast majority of the conspiracy “theories” out there indulge in toxic denialism that inevitably leads to poisonous doubt. The question everything mantra is currently an excuse for cynicism more than the call to critical inquiry it should be.

The diverse world of conspiracy ideas, however, has a common link. The ultimate defence against medical science seems to be consent or body autonomy.

This contention is by far the lowest form of argument, and not because consent isn’t essential, but because the argument itself makes it a joke. Consent is absolutely important to human thriving and happiness, and it is an inalienable right of the individual when it comes to choices that do not involve anyone else directly. Sex, for example, must always happen under the consent of all parties involved – refusal of sex does not endanger anyone’s health like refusal to wear a mask does.

You cannot ask for your liberties to be respected when your unwillingness to observe proper medical procedures directly trespasses into everyone else’s.

Your rights and your liberties entitle you to much more than freedom of choice; they also bind you to responsibilities towards your fellow citizens, which you don’t get to forego without negative consequences.

The Devil Unbound on Rights and Responsibility

I’ll state it this way: your individual rights and liberties are meaningless when measured up against the wellbeing of the collective. And if you have to deny (because conspiracy nonsense is toxic denialism) fundamental truths like gravity to support your tantrum, then you don’t get to play with the rest of us.

An angry Devil

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