By Allan Stevo
A reader writes:
Not quite hardcore libertarianism here.
You wrote in a June 10, 2021, letter to the Trader Joe’s CEO “Your organization has a woeful history of disability discrimination.”
Don’t private organizations have a right to discriminate?
You also wrote “Your organization has been discriminatory against employees who have an inability to safely wear a face mask.”
No one is compelled to work at Trader Joe’s.
-The Masked Man
Dear Masked Man,
Thank you for the opportunity to address this. It would not be the first time I have received this critique.
I am, in fact, working on a lengthier piece currently to exhaustively address this topic in which property rights are argued to discourage communication. That is the fundamental criticism I’ve been able to identify at the heart of claims that libertarians, conservatives, free market types, and other advocates of freedom only have two ethical options in the face of mask mandates or other health mandates at businesses: 1.) Grin and bear it or 2.) Walk away quietly.
There are several misnomers here in your note to me.
Misnomer #1: If a person complains, they are obviously in violation of the property rights of another.
Legitimate complaints can be had:
Between customer and business owners,
Between two members of society,
Between shareholder and corporate leadership,
Between neighbor and business owner,
Between a more informed and less informed person.
It does not make one a nuisance to want to converse civilly. It does impeding upon the property rights of another. It can, of course, be carried to a level intended to menace or harass. There are limits to this behavior. The limits are far from being broached in this situation.
Ethics dictates that such a conversation occur. I would be remiss to see the level of harm being done to society at the hands of the most reprobate leadership without reacting to it.
Effectively, to silence another on this topic, to argue “property rights” to silence the civil discourse I advocate for, is to say that no one deserves a voice. The argument suggests we are all only economic players with no right to a voice beyond our economic activity. I can’t imagine anyone reasonable feels such a thing.
What is being presented is therefore not an argument against the right of a person to have a civil disagreement with another, but a problem with the topic of the disagreement. Let’s then move on to that more central topic.
Misnomer #2: If a person says “disability discrimination,” they are obviously seeking to use the force of the state to impede upon the property rights of Trader Joe’s.
Trader Joe’s has corporate values that oppose
disability discrimination. To stop a person from entering a business because they cannot wear a face mask safely is disability discrimination. Trader Joe’s has yet to have that internal conversation fully. There is disagreement among leadership at Trader Joe’s on the topic, and leadership that opposes this discrimination can use a few more arrows in its quiver.
Though there may not be a legal right, the argument can be had that certainly Trader Joe’s is well within its ethical property rights to discriminate against the disabled. That is not what Trader Joe’s leadership is trying to do. What they are trying to do is to avoid standing up for their stated corporate values because the risk of standing up is harder for them than the ease with which they can tell lies internally.
Misnomer #3. It is just to ignore the log in a person’s eye and to focus on the speck.
The idea that health mandates and medical records are a legitimate subject matter for any company to use to relate with its employees and customers is a big violation. The idea that I am being a nuisance by bringing up this idea is a very small violation, minute in the grand scheme of things. Am I seeking to be perfect? No. Certainly not. I’m seeking to negotiate several less-than-pleasant options. Perfection is not afforded me on this one.
I’m going to call silence on this topic right now “cowardice.” I’m going to call the wearing of a face mask right now, and for any reason, “a lie.” A year ago I couldn’t have said those things. Now, there is no reasonable reason that any healthy individual should be wearing a mask, unless that person is willing to be cowardly enough to tell another person a lie.
Perhaps “Mask wearers are good for society,” needs to be a chapter in the next version of the classic Defending the Undefendable. However, I think it would be our of place.
Defending the Undefendable looks at economic good done by people chasing money and ultimately benefiting others in society. It does not look at people being cowardly and dishonest. The service provided by the slum lord is not comparable to the disservice being done by the mask wearer. Walter Block in the book defends the unpopular scapegoats. Quite the opposite here, I seek to scapegoat the popular heroes. Those who wear masks are not righteous. They commit some of the most evil acts of 2020 and 2021.
Only because one is accustomed to seeing oneself as part of the collective and accustomed to seeing individual acts as irrelevant, can one shrug their shoulders at occasional mask wearing as “No big deal.” Anyone wearing a mask is a huge deal, because I recognize the influence of the individual, the ability for individual action to ripple out, the agency of the individual. The collectivist can shrug his shoulders at such minuscule evil as a drop in the ocean. The metaphor is faulty. Human activity is no drop in the ocean. Each individual act matters.
There Is Something Dishonorable In My Letter
What I believe verges on the dishonorable is the idea that I would help someone sue Trader Joe’s for this, which is what this letter is meant to be. I would use the ugly tool of the state to fight what are notable steps toward tyranny. The real complaint should be: Can Allan be a libertarian and be willing to use the court system?
That’s the discerning attack I really deserve.
I don’t have a good response beyond this: Trader Joe’s, which has become a government agent (“a person who acts on behalf of another person or group”) in the enforcement of medical despotism has become fair game for the tools of government to be used against it.
Am I comfortable in that answer? No. It might need a lot more unpacking, but it’s certainly fair to use the tools of government to fight an agent of government.
Another Distracting Complaint: Being Overly Focused on the State
Many libertarians then say, “Well, your argument is with the state, not the private business owner.” My argument is with every coward who wears the mask and every liar who perpetuates this nonsense, private or public.
I spent long year’s of my life (almost a decade) trying to make sense of the deportation of the Jews from my ancestral land of Slovakia and to make sense of the communism of Czechoslovakia. I spent many waking hours for years informally interviewing those who lived through it, seeking to make sense of the transition of how it occurred. Understanding how this happened was an obsession of mine. Over and again I heard “It all felt so normal” or “We didn’t realize anything out of the ordinary was happening.”
I finally walked away from those years of study saying “I sure wish I could understand how such a prosperous and free place could go haywire.” At an academic level, I longed to see the shift into communism take place firsthand, right in front of me.
I wanted to see that on an academic level, out of a desire to learn, but I wished no such horror on any people.
The One Reliable Defense Against Tyranny
I knew one thing: if you are vigilant around all individual rights, and stay far from slippery slopes, you might avoid any such descent into tyranny.
Hindsight is 20/20. It’s hard to tell when you are on the precipice of a slippery slope. If you focus on stringently upholding individual rights, then you have little need to time and identify the slippery slope, because you are doing your best to protect freedom in every given moment.
But this moment we live in is either near the edge of that slippery slope or past the point of no return. I think the former, and not the latter.
Time will tell. It is my hope for time to show that those who fought this battle stopped themselves from tumbling down that slope by focusing aggressively on autumn 2021, the beginning of the next flu season, a period in which we will either see victory or in which we will come to see how bad the point of no return really looks.
My Dream, Unfortunately, Came True In March 2020
Last year, around the Ides of March 2020, my dream came true, and I finally came to understand, for the first time, what happened that the Jews could be deported in the early 1940s and that communism could descend upon Czechoslovakia so seemingly popularly in 1948 (even though it was so unpopular that it came at the hands of a stolen election). But many people acquiesced.
I know that he who will wear a mask, ever, for any reason, will take this dangerous and experimental vaccine. He who will wear a mask, will say yes to much worse. He who will wear a mask will say yes to deporting the next group of Jews (many were deported after World War II, from lands their families long occupied, showing that the imperative to stay away from the dehumanizing slippery slopes of World War II were not learned — Germans, Hungarians, and many others in Europe, and Muslims and Hindus in Asia among others, representing millions of instances out of an even larger post-World War II trend).
He who will wear the mask, will take the lie of the PCR test. He who will wear a mask, will give up his guns. He who will wear the mask, will betray his most proudly and loudly spoken values. He just hasn’t heard the right reason yet.
He who will wear a mask is not a person of values, but a person of preferences.
You Must Stop Wearing A Mask For Any Reason
If you wear a face mask for any reason, I’d like to ask you to stop that behavior.
No government has any business masking you. No government agent has any business turning you into a second class citizen on behalf of government. No one should be complying with this.
We need a firm boundary against this slippery slope.
40 years from now, historians will look back at this summer 2021 as the moment that decisively cemented in place the corona communism of 2020, or they will see it as the period in which the slide into communism was brought to an end.
I ask you to help me bring this to an end. We really are at the tipping point and almost no one is seeing it. I am Moishe the Beadle in Elie Wiesel’s Night yelling in the streets that the government and their agents mean to do us great harm. I see what’s happening and see how it can be stopped and ask for help doing what works to stop it, and so many of my fellow libertarians shrug and say “but property rights,” before strapping their mask on, bending over for the test, taking their injection, and going on with their day.
Property rights are no excuse for silence, cowardice, or deceit. That the agents can nominally be said to be private entities does not earn them exemption from criticism of this most vile behavior that pushes us toward such great evil. To say so is to enable that evil.