Reason vs Justice

There is a lot of talk about “reasonable” restrictions in light of Corona Virus: wearing masks, contact tracing, small group meetings, six foot of distance, etc. There are a lot of people who are responding by refusing to follow one or more of these new-normal rules, and there are a lot of people responding by criticizing those people. It’s an ever escalating argument. I’ve seen a lot of vulgar language from both sides emphasizing their point that “we will not comply” and “you must comply.” Emotions run high. And the question is asked, “Why would someone object to a perfectly reasonable rule, and why do they think their liberty trumps reason?” The problem is one of justice.

It is perfectly reasonable for someone to say that those who have higher intelligence must care for those who have lower intelligence. In certain severe cases, it may be required that a person have a caregiver. But it is unjust to use intellect as a basis for enslaving others. And such arguments have been made – not just in philosophy but as a matter of law. They are seldom made anymore, but they were made as recently as 50 years ago, and they were all the rage before 1865.

Similarly, we might argue that certain acts clearly demonstrate patriotism, and lack of those actions demonstrate lack of patriotism – even of disloyalty. Treason is still a death penalty offense. And yet, requiring reasonable acts of patriotism as a show of loyalty can lead to oppression and persecution, as happened to Christians before 314.

Groups that stand in harms way could reasonably be asked to move along for their own safety. If I went into an outlaw biker bar, and the barman suggested that I exit quickly, it would be in my best interests to listen to him. But if the same argument is used for mass relocation programs (Japanese in the American West, Jews in Axis-territory during WW2 for example), it is gross injustice at best, and genocide at worst.

Reason often leads to tyranny. Mao was very reasonable as he starved 20 million of his own people. These example are neither unlikely to occur again, nor isolated incidents.  That is why many are unmoved by those who say “there is no reasonable argument against XX. Your freedom and liberty must yield to my reason”. We have already heard the reasonable argument “You must close down your business indefinitely, and if you re-open do so under rules that are certain to bankrupt you”. This is unjust, no matter how reasonable the arguments in favor may be. Historic and ongoing abuses of that sort are why we have a “takings clause” in the bill of rights. Health commissars are the new “by order of the kings”, and many innocent hardworking people have already faced financial ruin over these reasonable restrictions.

It is also why when people are told “There is no reasonable argument to be made against you giving up your rights”, many are refusing to do so for that exact reason. Because historically reason is a path to injustice. Reason is a dangerous thing. We listen to it, but it must always be kept captive to higher principles (love of neighbor, justice, etc.).  Otherwise, it is reason run amok. And few things are more dangerous. It is worth remembering that reason made the atomic bomb. The scientists immediately turned to religion to try and convince the government not to use it.

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