Man as an Island
posted by Frank Pasquale
I just wanted to recommend this Robin West essay, “Justice Roberts’ America.” It articulates the individualism at the core of the Roberts Court, even after it upheld the mandate:
The individual has a right, then, where the government has no power to command otherwise, to not obtain health insurance for himself, even if doing so is irrational, doing otherwise would contribute to the collective health of the polity and his refusal to do so raises the cost of health coverage for all. Stated positively and more generally, the individual has the right to “exit” a collective attempt to resolve a civic problem through the democratic levers of civil society.
The right to exit obliquely recognized here is not unlike other recently conceived (or dreamt of) libertarian rights. It is structurally similar, for example, to the express right the Court created from the Second Amendment in their decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago: an individual right to defend oneself with lethal force, and to thereby withdraw from, or exit, the collective, civic delegation to police forces of the work of protecting us all from social violence.
To discern the appeal of that point of view, one need look little further than the recent Batman movie. The positive social vision there is: “count on a high tech billionaire to save you.” Public institutions are corrupt; the people are a mob. On the other hand, the more futuristic “Hunger Games” rebukes that vision: billionaires with drones may have more on their minds than saving cities.
Finally, the “man as an island” mentality may be discerned in other enclave-withdrawal patterns around the world. As this essay notes:
[Consider] the rising number of elites who refuse to immunize their children from common diseases. . . . Does their rejection of participation in “herd immunity” signify not only that they don’t feel part of the herd, but that they have internalized immunization at the ontological level, it extending so far that they do not feel threatened by the re-emergence of plagues infecting normal people?
If the fates of nearby cities are easy to ignore, certainly what appear to be long-past or far-distant plagues are easy to discount as well. The problem appears to be a far larger one than mere bounded rationality.