Editor’s Note: As the health and economic effects of Covid-19 intensify, we asked philosopher and The Atlas Society Founder David Kelley, Ph.D. to outline some of the ways Ayn Rand’s philosophy – particularly the virtues of reason, productivity, and benevolence – can help us rise to current challenges and prepare for challenges to come in the days and weeks ahead.
In the current situation of a pandemic, the lockdown of offices and businesses, and economic losses, it is easy to lose one’s way in confusion, fear, resentment, or depression. It is all the more important to have a philosophical compass to steer by—principles that hold true of life as such, even in abnormal times.
Reason and reality
- The essence of rationality is recognizing that facts are facts.
- The novel coronavirus is a biological reality, as are its capacity to spread rapidly and its effects on people’s health. It is what it is. You can’t evade it or wish it away.
- The lockdown is a political reality – a government policy, yes, not a fact of nature – but it's the situation we are in now. For us as individuals, it too has to be accepted as fact.
- Be rational in looking for information. The internet is a fabulous resource, but it is also a petri dish for fake news, conspiracy theories, and the like – which are all the more prevalent in times of crisis. Don't fall for it.
Be productive and proactive
- Accepting facts does not mean passivity. We have choices. Our plans are disrupted, and things we took for granted (going to class or work, dining out, travelling) are not available now. But we can still choose how best to deal with these new facts.
- There's no gain in complaining, giving up, waiting passively for it all to go away.
- You can use your mind to advance your goals, thinking like an entrepreneur. You can continue your studies and be in a better position when classes resume. You can do things to continue working and advance your career, or find new sources of income.
- When things go wrong, it’s natural to be upset, frustrated, ready to blame anyone and anything for what feels like a loss. The counter-measure is to step back and appreciate what you have.
- Not long ago in human history, people had no idea what caused deadly plagues. Now we have the science to sequence the corona genome, develop vaccines, and produce everything from disinfectants to ventilators. Take a moment to thank the scientists, doctors, inventors, and business people who made this possible. Don't take their achievements for granted. Take them as a model of what you can achieve . . . .
- While most of us are confined to "sheltering at home" and "social distancing," many people continue providing services. Take a moment to thank
- First and foremost, the doctors, nurses, and others in health care who are working overtime and at risk to deal with the rise in Covid-19 patients,
- The workers in grocery stores, pharmacies, and other places who are keeping us supplied with necessities,
- The FedEx drivers, truckers, and other delivery people dealing with increased volume,
- The firefighters, police, and ambulance drivers working to deal with emergencies,
- The companies like Facebook that provide ways for us to stay connected virtually,
- The list goes on . . . . And if you're on the list, take pride in what you do.
For political activists: Be cautious in taking positions on the political response to the pandemic.
The government is now flooding the economy with credit and subsidies, which will ultimately be paid for by all taxpayers. That is at odds with a libertarian view. Yet the government ordered the lockdown in the first place, which has caused the economic problems the credit/subsidy bill aims to help with.
So was the lockdown an unwarranted intrusion into individual rights? Maybe. But we have to take two principles into account:
- Individuals have the right to life, including the right to take measures to protect their health and well-being.
- No one has the right to infect other people with a dangerous disease.
Assessing the implications of these principles is a complex judgment call. The nature of the novel coronavirus, especially its long incubation period and ease of transmission, make it virtually impossible to contain without society-wide measures.
Contagious diseases are a difficult issue for a libertarian view. The lockdown may not be the best solution, but some measures to halt contagion could be.
Of course, there is plenty to criticize in government responses, starting with China and including the regulatory control that the CDC and FDA maintained over tests.
Even so, we can appreciate the blessings of the liberty we have. We all benefit from
- The freedom of scientists to conduct research on the disease – and to communicate their results without fear of censorship;
- The freedom of producers to re-allocate resources to the crisis and find new solutions; and
- The freedom we all have to make the best of a hard time.