What’s public, what’s private?

Robert Reich compares different ideas of freedom:

Trump and many Republicans insist that whether to wear a mask or to go to work during a pandemic should be personal choices. Yet what a woman does with her own body, or whether same-sex couples can marry, should be decided by government.

Trump and most Republicans are not very good at thinking about (or noticing) the ways individual acts can affect other people and/or the world we have to live in. In the abstract, absolute freedom sounds appealing, but in the reality, we live among people and most of what we do affects others. It’s about degrees and kinds as opposed to freedom v not-freedom. Flouting public health measures during a pandemic doesn’t take a whole lot of careful thought before you can figure out how it harms anyone.

What’s public, what’s private and where should government intervene? The question suffuses the impending election and much else in modern American life.

It is nonsensical to argue, as do Trump and his allies, that government cannot mandate masks or close businesses during a pandemic but can prevent women from having abortions and same-sex couples from marrying.

Trump doesn’t really give a shit about either abortions or same-sex marriage, he just likes sticking it to the liberals and being the meanest Republican who ever republicanned.

During wartime, we expect government to intrude on our daily lives for the common good: drafting us into armies, converting our workplaces and businesses, demanding we sacrifice normal pleasures and conveniences. During a pandemic as grave as this one we should expect no less intrusion, in order that we not expose others to the risk of contracting the virus.

But we have no right to impose on others our moral or religious views about when life begins or the nature and meaning of marriage. The common good requires instead that we honor such profoundly personal decisions.

The when life begins question is tricky, because ordinarily you could say that’s a scientific or philosophical question, or both, or some of each. The reason you can’t leave it at that in the case of pregnancy and abortion is the troublesome fact that the question takes place inside the body of a person, a woman. All the way inside it. The pregnancy, the process of becoming, is internal to one particular woman. It’s personal to her first of all. Even if you think the fetus has rights, even if you think the fetus has a soul, even if you think the fetus is not just alive but a person, you still have no right to dismiss the fact that the fetus is inside a woman. Her wants have to matter.

3 Responses to “What’s public, what’s private?”