Wednesday, January 6, 2021

If You Don't Wear a Mask, Is It the Equivalent of Spraying Bullets in All Directions?

A Don Boudreaux response to Café Hayek commenter Richard Fulmer:

Mr. Fulmer:

Thanks for commenting in a thread on Matt Zwolinski’s reply to my open letter. In one of your comments you take issue with a point made by commenter Patrick Barron. Mr. Barron argues that lockdowns are an inexcusable offense against liberty because persons who are frightened of Covid-19, or who are especially vulnerable, can and should individually take steps to reduce their risks of exposure to the coronavirus. In response you write:

I choose to spray bullets in all directions and I demand that others “take whatever action they deem necessary” to protect themselves.

How virulent does a virus have to be before it becomes as deadly as my bullets? As deadly as Ebola? When it reaches that point, what is the libertarian response to the man who chooses to spray the virus in all directions?

I believe that your sprayed-bullets analogy is, for four reasons, inapt.

First, unlike people who might be murdered by a psycho gunman, individuals who are at genuine risk from Covid know, or should know, who they are. Covid does not strike indiscriminately. So at-risk individuals can indeed take sensible, individualized precautions to protect themselves without compelling everyone else to abandon normal living.

Second, a gunman recklessly spraying bullets acts in a manner that has zero potential upside for anyone (other than, perhaps, the psycho gunman). In contrast, individuals going out and about amongst others generally yield real benefits to others. These benefits can be social (e.g., fraternizing at bars), commercial (e.g., waiters helping restaurant diners enjoy meals and restaurant diners helping waiters earn their livings), instructional (e.g., teachers teaching students), and physical (e.g., physicians attending to ill patients).

Third, we humans are naturally gregarious creatures whose well-being – physical and mental – depends on our ability to interact face-to-face with others, including with strangers. We have from the start interacted regularly with each other. Doing so is part of what it means to be human. Therefore, Smith’s freedom to seek to interact face-to-face with Jones and Jones’s freedom to seek to interact face-to-face with Smith is embedded in our legitimate expectations of how human life is lived. Obviously, there is no similar expectation about being free to spray bullets into a crowd or about being in a crowd into which bullets might be sprayed.

Fourth, each of us humans – also from the start – has been a potential source of unintended harm to others. Emitting dangerous pathogens is nothing new. And unless each of us is sealed away hermetically into a bubble, such emissions are impossible to avoid. Unlike dealing with murderous gunmen, dealing with the risks of such emissions is, as it has been forever, a daily and unavoidable part of life. These risks have been, and ought to be, part of our expectations – expectations that can and will prompt different individuals to take different levels of precaution under different circumstances.

A danger of your sprayed-bullets analogy is that it implies that these risks should not be part of our legitimate expectations – or at least no more a part of our expectations than is the risk of being murdered by a sociopathic gunman.

If Covid-19 were categorically more dangerous than many other infectious diseases, then your sprayed-bullets analogy might become apt. But despite the hysteria over Covid, it is not remotely so much more dangerous as to be associated with such an analogy.

You’ll understandably protest by noting that you yourself asked the question of when an infectious disease becomes so lethal as to justify it being analogized to sprayed bullets. My reply to this protest is that, given what we now know about Covid, the analogy is too sensationalist and lurid, and too far removed from reality, to be useful. It stymies rather than stimulates useful thinking.


The above originally appeared at Cafe Hayek.


  1. Great response Don. The Covid freaks won’t listen, but the on the fence folks need to see more like this.
    Thank you.

    1. It's almost like a religious cult at this point, and nothing short of intense, individualized deprogramming will suffice at this point. But who has the time for that?

  2. The reason that the anti-lockdowners ALWAYS lose is because they cannot seem to wrap their heads around the fact that there are multiple effective treatments for the virus and every mention of those treatments is suppressed and punished by Big Tech and the government and totally suppressed by the media.

    Several ICU doctors have determined that the heartworm drug ivermectin works wonders on Covid-19 in addition to the HCQ, quercetin, vitamin D3, vitamin C and zinc treatments that had provided excellent results. Their presentation to the U.S. senate was met with defamatory disparagement by slimeball Michigan senator Gary Peters prior to the hearing. No mention of this hearing or the treatment is every made in the media. A YouTube video by a doctor who is sceptical of HCQ but not vitamin D3 and ivermectin was taken down by YouTube. The scandal here is that the powers-that-be seem intent on deprivating the vulnerable of simple, cheap and effective preventatives and treatments for the virus so that hundreds of thousands more die a grisly and unnecessary death simply to scare the Hell out of the mindless sheep, the rabble.

    1. Well, it's starts with the "my mask doesn't work unless you are wearing yours", but yeah. There are all kinds of preventatives/alternatives out there, but that doesn't play into the "We need to control people" mindset aka socialism.

  3. Maskopaths are now seeing every normal human interaction as the equivalent of attempted murder. And they think this is totally reasonable and intelligent.

    David B.

  4. And, and asymptomatic person is going out in public with an unloaded or otherwise inoperable firearm.

  5. Good read. Similarly Walter Block used "darts spraying everywhere" as an anaolgy to justify mandatory masking and quarantines.

    1. Would you expect anything different from someone who thinks child pornography should be legal and that a fetus is trespassing?

  6. I wrote an article on this issue which might be useful for this discussion:

    Block, Walter E. 2020. “A libertarian analysis of the Covid-19 pandemic.” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 24, No. 1;