"Because I said so!"
Contracts, Mandates, and Natural Law
It appears as if the insanity of the past 2 years is only intensifying within the minds of the oversocialized. A handful break through, but most, when presented with data suggesting vaccines don't work to halt transmission, simply dig a deeper hole: "If only we had 100% vaccine coverage instead of 99%, transmission would have stopped!", "If only people wore N95 masks instead of cloth ones we'd be free by now!", etc. Nothing suggests that a significant number of these people will break through the other side, at least not without suffering a severe trauma (and even those who do suffer severe trauma appear to refuse to see reason).
And in the face of this, the insane are doubling down on mandates for vaccines, masks, etc. These mandates will, of course, fail, but they will soothe the psyches of the fanatic hypochondriacs who rule our society. But I'm not here to do another piece on why vaccine mandates are stupid. Instead, I want to delve deeper into the questions behind mandates. In particular, I want to delve into the following question:
When are contracts morally just/when they can be enforced morally?
The Moral Background of Contracts
Simply consenting to a contract does not make the contract morally just. A contract can only lay down a moral claim if it rests within the natural moral laws of the world. Either there is a moral law that precedes any positive laws humans make or property becomes nothing more than the whims of man.
“Owner” does not mean, and never has meant, “I am the demi-God of this patch of dirt and whatever I say is law within these fences”.
Which begs the question: what are the limits of (employment) contracts?
There are those who argue that two men, acting "freely," can come to an agreement and sign a contract, laying a set of rights and responsibilities onto each other. But these rights and responsibilities must conform to the natural moral law, lest the contract be null and void. Enforcement of said contract is tyrannical. Or, in other words:
Justice cannot be fabricated whole cloth from consent or contract.
The questions of "is it just to sell one's labor-power/to purchase the labor-power of others" or "is it justified for an employer to require their employees to take a vaccine to maintain employment status" cannot be wholly answered by what was consented to in the contract. If the contract's claims and duties do not abide by the natural moral law, the contract's claims are void. We will return to the topic of natural moral law shortly.
But first, there is a further problem with consent and appeals to "free will" that some Liberals make: that the pressing concern of particular very negative outcomes (starvation, exile, etc.) eliminate the freedom and ability to make morally significant choices (and therefore for the consent to the contract to even have any weight in the first place). To discuss this, let us take a detour into an intersection of philosophy and religion: Michael J. Murray's response to the Problem of Divine Hiddenness.
If God is good, most of our contracts are void
The Problem of Divine Hiddenness remains a pressing problem for any theist who believes in an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God attempting to defend their faith. One formulation of the problem, from Schellenberg, will be ignored here as it has been responded to by a variety of Christian thinkers (including Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Athanasius) and is discussed in the 2nd Edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The second formulation is more concerning for the theist:
If God exists, then it is important for us to believe in him in order to receive salvation after death.
God is benevolent, so he desires our salvation, and he is omnipotent, so he could reveal his existence to us if he wanted to.
Because he desires our salvation, he will give ample evidence of his existence, so that belief in him will be a straight-forward matter.
There is no evidence of God’s existence (God is hidden).
Therefore, God does not exist.
So, now, a serious problem for the theist: how to reconcile God’s hiddenness with his desire for our salvation. The clear answer is that God’s hiddenness has to exist in order to further some kind of greater goal; however, this does not explain at all what that goal might be.
The core of Michael J. Murray's response to this is that Divine Hiddenness is necessary to maintain the moral autonomy of individuals. Put more simply, Divine Hiddenness is the only way to preserve the very possibility of making morally significant choices.
Murray argues that an individual is only free to make a choice in so far as that individual is not confronted with a "significant threat." What makes a threat significant? Murray breaks this into three parts: threat strength, threat imminence, and wantonness of the threatened. From this, Murray presents the theist with a new problem: the Problem of Hell. Put simply, the threat of Hell, the eternal punishment for defying God's commands, is so great that it becomes impossible for any person's will to be free. Divine Hiddenness, according to Murray, is a way to mitigate this threat: the threat of eternal damnation no longer overrides and destroys the ability for finite individuals to make morally significant choices in their lives. (There are some further issues that arise from Murray's response which you can build reasonable rebuttals for, but those aren't relevant to this particular conversation, so I will leave this topic here for now.)
Now, starvation may not be as significant a threat as eternal suffering, but I would argue that it constitutes a significant enough threat that it makes most contracts with regards to selling one's own labor-power unjust. In fact, the power differentials today suggest that most of the contracts we "consent" to cannot be considered properly just, as the consent was conditioned by the power differentials. At least one party's choice wasn't sufficiently morally significant. Of course, any rigorous account of this would need to demonstrate and defend a framework about what counts as a sufficiently significant threat to remove moral significance from one's actions. I intend to return to this idea in the future, but this piece will not have room for it.
And so, we return to the concept of the natural moral law. If you are any kind of moral realist, as I am, the moral law cannot be fabricated ex nihilo by the actions of man and our positive law. Instead, a natural moral law exists outside of/prior to man and our decisions. Contracts that fail to respect this natural law are void.
The best one-sentence explanation of natural law I've seen is as follows:
A summary definition of natural law can be given as those moral obligations which the human person should impose upon oneself by the use of one's own intellectual powers because these actions are in conformity with human nature and dignity.
The key point here is that the actions are in conformity with human nature and dignity. The question becomes, what precisely is human nature and dignity? Again, this is something to return to in the future, as I cannot properly fulfill it in 100 words...
...BUT, I will lay out a basic outline.
A Basic Outline of Human Flourishing
At the core of human flourishing and dignity is respecting the full personhood of each human being, and allowing the space for each person to develop their talents, moral character, and self-understanding.
Step one: Close personal relationships are critical to moral development
I will not delve super deep into this, but I first point to Hugh LaFollette's piece, "Morality and Personal Relationships," for this. LaFollette explicitly argues and defends that,
"close personal relationships are prerequisites for the development of morally good people."
Furthermore, I point to Michael Stocker's "The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories":
Modern ethical theories, with perhaps a few honorable exceptions, deal only with reasons, with values, with what justifies. They fail to examine motives and the motivational structures and constraints of ethical life. They not only fail to do this, they fail as ethical theories by not doing this.
We come to universality through particularity. It is the particular relationships we are in that prime and cultivate our ability to extend our empathy to distant others. It is through these particular relationships that we are interested in that we come to understand that Others have internal depths of their own. And it is only with that understanding that we can properly extend that to rest of the World.
There is a wonderful story called "The Little Prince and the Fox," which was discussed in a beautiful piece called The Lost Rites of Friendship:
This, too, is the lesson of The Little Prince and the Fox: that friendship requires the same combination of rhythm and depth.
“To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . .”iii
The Fox indicates rightly that they have no need for each other; that true friendship transcends the initial utilitarianism of the modern world.
This depth becomes superabundant if properly attended to. It reaches out to colour the entire world in which the lover and loved one lives.
“My life is very monotonous,” the fox said. “I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat . . .”v
A society is Good if it respects the dignity of each human being and grants them room for moral development. This, of course, means that each person in the society must have the close personal relationships needed for them to cultivate their own virtue and learn to love others. What is necessary for this? First, individuals need to both be embedded in a community of personal relationships AND have more private spaces where they can engage in self-discovery and reflection. Second, individuals need the time to develop themselves, which in our society means they need the money to afford said time.
Tying it together: why most contracts today are void...and why employers can't mandate the vaxx
I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of contracts in today's world do not abide by the conditions of the natural moral law oriented towards human flourishing. I believe our society is explicitly geared to destroy the conditions of this flourishing. Material prosperity is meaningless if spiritual degeneration is the price.
And so, if most contracts are "consented to" within power differentials that present significant threats to at least one party, and if some or all of the same contracts do not abide by the natural moral law, "consent" in today's paradigm is worthless.
Considering this, your employer cannot demand you get the vaccine by recourse to an employment contract. There was no reasonable case for a vaccine mandate prior to omicron, and there absolutely is no reasonable case for a vaccine mandate now (and that isn't even taking into account the potential for unforeseen long-term consequences to pop up). Because there is no reasonable case for this, the demands by the employer lie outside the moral authority of the employer. The mandates are immoral. “Private companies” cannot just “do what they want.” (In fact, “private companies” don’t even exist)
In coming pieces, I intend to lay out the material conditions that allow for people to have the security to be able to make morally significant choices at a far greater extent than today. I believe that the "freedom" so many advocate for on both Right and Left is tyranny in disguise, aimed at enslaving people either to a class of property owners or a class of bureaucrats (or, realistically, both). If we want to achieve anything resembling a true "freedom," we require both a robust understanding of human flourishing and an acceptance of the material conditions that are necessary to make that flourishing a reality for more than a select few.
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(Image Source: Sam’s Online Journal)