One thing that every COVID-19 mandate has in common—masks, lockdowns, and now vaccines—is that they originated in the dictatorship of technocracy. By this term, I am referring to the combination of applied science and statecraft as the solution to the problem of suffering and death. The underlying historical context of this phenomenon is the centuries-old assumption that positivistic reasoning through government-led social conditioning and the technological application of modern scientific discovery is the only response to what we Christians know to be the effects of original sin, in either its physical or moral manifestation. Today, devoid of any reference to sin whatsoever, post-moderns are driven by a singular determination to get rid of all the “evil” stuff that threatens our individual comfortability.
It’s not that working to mitigate the effects of evil is wrong. Rather, it’s that the ethical framework of technocracy is utilitarian through and through. This means that whatever it takes to maximize pleasure and eliminate suffering must be done, regardless of whether the means are morally licit or the proposed solutions create far worse problems than the one being addressed. Embedded within this assumption is the mistaken belief that to suffer anything is contrary to human dignity.
Christianity has a different view of how to handle suffering and death. First off, we recognize that we do not have the authority from God, nor the capacity, humanly speaking, to eradicate the problem of evil. We only have a rather modest capacity to mitigate the effects of it. History has proven repeatedly that our attempts to eliminate suffering and death have profound limits. Any attempt to dig evil up, root and branch, leads by a kind of necessity to the perpetration of greater evils. This is because belief in our capacity to eliminate evil is rooted in pride and is itself a perverse form of hubris, a Promethean spirit of the highest order. This is a far greater threat to human life than any virus will ever be, if the death toll of the Gulag is any indication.
But let’s suppose for a moment that all the “mandates” we have been forced to comply with eliminated the disease, once and for all. Note that none of them have, however. Would these mandates still be justified? My answer is no. C.S. Lewis teaches in The Abolition of Man, as does Romano Guardini in The End of the Modern World, that the inherent danger in modern technology and statecraft is that it allows a very small but powerful elite to have entirely too much control over people’s lives. By its nature, technology is always controlled by a small group of people, as we have discovered this past year with social media companies and the freedom of speech.
Even a noble end can never justify giving a small number of people so much power, and why so? Because the fundamental problem plaguing human history is not disease or any other naturally harmful phenomenon. The fundamental problem plaguing human history is the corruption of the human heart that is tempted to play God over other people’s lives, even in the name of health and safety.
As a social ethicist, I have learned that we cannot merely consider the ethical implications of human acts in the abstract—especially when we are considering actions that are not in themselves intrinsically evil but, nevertheless, remain socially significant as matters of prudence. Is it morally obligatory to wear masks? Is it a matter of conscience to accept lockdowns? Are people obligated to get vaccinated?
As important as these questions are, the ethical issue is not the utility of masks, lockdowns, or vaccines for eradicating the virus. Rather, it is the moral hazard of creating a precedence for allowing powerful elites to mandate these responses. We must approach such mandates with serious realism about the fallen human condition and what happens when individuals possess too much power over others. And let me add, especially when the end is “health and public safety.”
One of the most telling signs of our times is the almost total blindness to the fact that science can be corrupted by political and economic motives. We love to condemn our politicians for their crooked partisan interests; but whenever science is at stake, we suddenly enter the fairy-tale land of moral indefectibility. We seem to assume that whatever has to do with “science” is immune from the corruption of pride, greed, or the lust for power—most especially when the health and safety of people are at stake!
Does it never occur to anyone that it is perhaps precisely when people’s health is at stake that we might just experience the highest probability of moral corruption, especially when we approach healthcare as “industry?” or “public welfare?” Fear is a great motivator and opportunity for profit and control.
The corruption of science can originate from various motives. Let’s first consider the usual suspects. The first is the prospect of scientists themselves being bribed or blackmailed to skew their research for political purposes or economic gain. Another is when we see obvious economic “conflicts of interest” between political office holders, academics, and corporate interests in the medical industry. Not to mention the pride associated with making a name for oneself but lacking the humility to admit error when new evidence emerges. I would also mention the suppression of academic freedom for “dissenters” in the academy.
We can now add to this the politicization of corporate social responsibility in response to any dissent from mainstream narratives regarding COVID-19. So, let’s not forget how much money Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies stand to make from a fear-based media- and government-driven narrative concerning a pandemic for which they allege to have the cure.
Whenever we see science used as a justification for an agenda that looks like population control—I mean psychological here not sexual, although the latter happens too—it is likely that corruption is in play. Let me clarify, however, that the corruption is almost never evenly spread throughout the social system. Most people are well intentioned in their exercise of duty to higher authority and are, thus, unwitting participants in a larger agenda of which they remain largely ignorant. Thus, I am not ascribing corruption to the average medical professional.
Nevertheless, when such political machinations are at play, someone or some group is likely operating from corrupt motives such as greed, power, or in this case excessive fear. Currently, a very strong candidate for this is none other than Dr. Tony Fauci who is a stakeholder in both Pfizer and the Wuhan Lab and the one who early on stated, “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you. Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease, it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country.” Wow. A comment like that combined with the confluence of government office, private stockholding in the leading vaccine pharmaceutical company, and government financial support for the lab that originated the virus is highly suspect.
Even more, when we see freedom of religion, movement, association, speech, and thought undermined by appeals to the common good, when what we are talking about is the private good of a relatively small segment of the population, that should tell us that something serious is amiss. The argument I am making here is not one in defense of absolutizing individual liberty, but rather an argument based upon the limits that fallen human nature imposes on our capacity or moral authority to eradicate the problem of suffering and death.
What we have done with COVID-19 mandates, to reference Aquinas, is to subordinate the common good to the private good of individuals, thus making the common good an alien good for everyone else. We have done this by making a person’s individual life (a private good) an end, or final cause, to which every other good is ordered. The problem with this logic is that it leads directly to tyranny. In fact, for Aquinas, using law to direct people’s actions to the private good of individuals is the very definition of tyranny. Accordingly, everyone must lose their human rights and access to the legitimate and necessary goods of human flourishing so that a relatively small number of people won’t die. By this logic, no one should be allowed to drive either.
The proper human and ethical response to our current COVID-19 predicament, especially given that we have little scientific consensus on the effectiveness of these mandates anyhow, is to humbly approach the situation with a modest estimation of what we can reasonably do in the face of suffering and death. It’s an approach based on the realism of common sense and not in the fear of suffering and death, nor the hubris of the technocratic mindset. While we have every obligation to care for the most vulnerable, two indispensable principles of social order come to mind for how we ought to do this—subsidiarity and solidarity.
[Photo: Bill Gates, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci (credit: National Institutes of Health)]