Thoughts for Governor Greg Abbott

The Governor of Texas says that the path forward (in the fight against Covid-19) “lies in personal responsibility not government mandates. “

He has said similar things quite a bit, such as Texans are smart of enough to do the right thing without the government telling them what to do. I think the Governor could use a high school refresher course in government as well as a class I will call “The absolute most rudimentary basic baby principles of logic and critical thinking.”

Here’s the deal.

On his logic, let us remove all traffic signs because Texans can exercise personal responsibility and make the right decision at an intersection. Let’s remove bans on smoking in public places because Texans can decide for themselves what is right or wrong. Let’s not ban getting drunk and driving because Texans have the right to choose for themselves, not be burdened by government intervention.

Governor, the issue is not personal responsibility vs. government mandates, but having the good sense to know where each belongs in society. There are mandates on smoking in public places, for instance, because that is a matter of “public” health not a matter of individual responsibility. While it is great if everyone makes the right choice individually, as a government official with serious responsibilities, you just can’t count on that.

Governor, you envision a utopia in which every individual will always make the rational choice all the time individually, making society run exactly the way it is supposed to. But that utopia does not exist. While if many or even most individuals always made the right choice with their personal responsibility all the time, there are always going to be those who do not. If this pandemic makes anything clear, it is that people have wildly diverging views and come to wildly diverse conclusions about what they ought to do.

Some basics in government for you, Governor. When people come together or live within the same boundaries or on a piece of land, say for example the state of Texas, we want people to have the most freedom they can have to choose the life they want, follow their own pursuits, their creativity, and their fulfillment. But to ensure that for everyone, we all agree to rules that we have to abide by (i.e. limit our freedoms) to make sure my freedoms don’t interfere with the freedoms of my fellow citizens. I can do pretty much anything I want, even if others think its lame or tasteless or even immoral (J.S. Mill made that point in On Liberty. I recommend you read it). But as soon as what I do adversely affects or could harm another, then it becomes a matter of what we call the public good. It is no longer a matter of individual responsibility but a space where the government can come in and mandate things.

Covid-19 is a virus that is highly transmissible. We know this. You understand it, I am sure, because you have been telling us all you are doing to bring in health care workers from elsewhere and other such measures because the surge is out of hand in Texas, and there is no room in hospitals for care that people need. I take it that you accept that the virus is real, not a hoax, that it is deadly, and we have a lot of it here.

Because of its transmissibility and for the good of public health so that Texans can be ensured the freedom to exercise their individual responsibility in the future and not be, you know, sick or dead, you actually can, Governor Abbott, mandate masks in public spaces. No, really! You can! And dig this, it is a hell of a lot less expensive than bringing in workers from out of state to help this independent-not-attached-to-the-national-grid-freedom-fighting state. Plus, your own healthcare workers would finally be less exhausted and exasperated.

Being a lover of freedom, Governor Abbott, I am sure you also believe in free markets. Look at it this way. You enact a mask mandate because as someone in government, you can do that for this matter of the public good (it is that part of the Constitution, for example, that talks about justice, domestic tranquility, and the general welfare right before it mentions liberties). Freedom loving entrepreneurs see the chance to build up the economy by making masks cool! They start selling a whole lot of masks because people love them! In this freedom loving state, you will have all sorts of informed consumers making rational choices because independent corporations know how to use advertising to manipulate the human mind, convincing it what its wants and needs are. People who once screamed about masks saying no one will tell them what to do are proudly sporting their flag of Texas mask!

So you save the lives of Texans, demonstrate the power of the free market, lessen the burden on health care workers, save dollars by not needing out-of-state help (that is, by making use of the national grid of health care workers), and mitigate the spread of Covid in your state! Win!!!

One last thing, Governor. You are sharply criticizing President Biden for allowing immigrants across the Texas border who are infected with Covid-19, therefore spreading the virus in our state. This indicates that you are convicted that Covid-19 is truly dangerous to Texans. If that is the case, why are you not only banning mask mandates but threatening to use your power to take people to court over it? It comes off a bit hypocritical.

That really reveals the real issue. If Covid-19 is real and if it is dangerous and if Biden is being irresponsible by allowing infected people to cross our borders because of the danger (and I grant you that is a very, VERY legitimate issue), then your response that the “path forward relies on personal responsibility,” is grossly negligent.

So, Governor Abbott, lay off the heavy-handed talk about taking people to court who are trying to protect children and their fellow citizens and go do something governor-ish for a change—maybe something like getting our power grid up to spec? That’d be swell, thanks.

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