Government Force and Poisoned Beans

In times of "crisis" like this — and I question whether the Wuhan Virus rises to the level of an actual crisis, unless every flu season is to be regarded as its own "crisis" — it might seem strange to look to an old comic strip for guidance.  Yet such is the loss of perspective and common sense amid the current panic, and so frightening the assumption of powers by state and federal governments we the people never granted them, that it might be helpful to remember "The Case of the Poisoned Beans" from the old Fearless Fosdick strip.

You don't remember Fearless Fosdick?  That might be because it last appeared in 1977, or because it was a strip within a strip, inside another comic, Li'l Abner.  It was a parody of Dick Tracy, but it was also a more general satire of certain social pathologies — in this case, the great harm that can be done by those with good intentions, especially if they wield the full power of the state.

Here is the basic plot: aware that one can of "Old Faithful" brand beans has been contaminated (I forget if it was a maniac or a criminal with an extortion plot), Detective Fosdick decides to save lives by shooting anyone who is about to open a can of beans.  The media, corrupted by money from the Old Faithful bean company, refuses to print or broadcast safety warnings (compare to our media, corrupted by progressive ideology and TDS, that are doing the opposite by overhyping the danger), while criminals take advantage of the situation by supplying citizens with the beans the government is denying them (an obvious satire of Prohibition, still fresh in everyone's memory at that time) and by giving cans of beans to the men they want bumped off, who are duly shot dead by Fosdick.  I don't remember how Al Capp, Abner's creator, portrayed the politicians in this story, but our own modern-day Democrats have shown themselves to be utterly ruthless and single-minded in exploiting the Wuhan Virus to expand their own power.

Did Fosdick save lives?  Yes, he did — exactly one: whoever it was that would have eventually opened the poisoned can.  His approach to the problem guaranteed that no one would die from eating the poisoned beans.  Of course, he racked up hundreds of corpses in the process, but he did "save one life," to echo Joe Biden's formula.  (Actually, Biden and the gun-grabbers are worse than Fosdick, because gun control wouldn't save even one life, although it would pile up the bodies of the innocent who were unable to defend themselves from criminals and criminal governments.)

We could save hundreds of people from drowning each year by closing all pools and beaches.  We could save thousands of people from dying in traffic accidents by banning the automobile.  And if gun control actually kept guns out of the hands of criminals, lunatics, and terrorists, we could save some small number of lives by means of gun control measures (while, to repeat, losing many more).  We haven't done these things, although the Democratic left wants to do at least two of them, because we recognize that the great harm these actions would cause outweighs any possible good — and, perhaps, if we think about it more deeply, because we realize that it isn't the job of government to weigh such matters at all.  "If it saves lives" is not a serious standard for judging the morality of an action because it ignores the negative consequences of that action.

For the first time in American history, government is seizing the power to confine healthy people in quarantine on the basis that they might become sick and infect others without so much as showing that they have a dangerous disease or have been exposed to someone who has, and the power to close businesses without showing them to be harboring any contagion.  (And the power to declare which businesses are "essential" and which are not, the consequences of which no one seems to have thought much about.  We all know Democratic politicians would never use such power to single out their political opponents for harm.)  These actions may prevent some people from contracting the Wuhan Virus, which will in turn save some small percentage of those who contract it from dying.  But they are also depriving millions of perfectly healthy people the ability to support themselves by productive work, the full consequences of which are almost unimaginable if continued for any length of time.

Government is not production, a hospital, or a medical research institute; it is force.  It is a man with a gun, pointed right at us.  Most of a time, that man with a gun has no more brains than Fearless Fosdick.  We should remember that before acquiescing to government assuming frightening powers just because it declares a "crisis" or "emergency."

N.A. Halkides is a mathematician, systems analyst, and writer.

In times of "crisis" like this — and I question whether the Wuhan Virus rises to the level of an actual crisis, unless every flu season is to be regarded as its own "crisis" — it might seem strange to look to an old comic strip for guidance.  Yet such is the loss of perspective and common sense amid the current panic, and so frightening the assumption of powers by state and federal governments we the people never granted them, that it might be helpful to remember "The Case of the Poisoned Beans" from the old Fearless Fosdick strip.

You don't remember Fearless Fosdick?  That might be because it last appeared in 1977, or because it was a strip within a strip, inside another comic, Li'l Abner.  It was a parody of Dick Tracy, but it was also a more general satire of certain social pathologies — in this case, the great harm that can be done by those with good intentions, especially if they wield the full power of the state.

Here is the basic plot: aware that one can of "Old Faithful" brand beans has been contaminated (I forget if it was a maniac or a criminal with an extortion plot), Detective Fosdick decides to save lives by shooting anyone who is about to open a can of beans.  The media, corrupted by money from the Old Faithful bean company, refuses to print or broadcast safety warnings (compare to our media, corrupted by progressive ideology and TDS, that are doing the opposite by overhyping the danger), while criminals take advantage of the situation by supplying citizens with the beans the government is denying them (an obvious satire of Prohibition, still fresh in everyone's memory at that time) and by giving cans of beans to the men they want bumped off, who are duly shot dead by Fosdick.  I don't remember how Al Capp, Abner's creator, portrayed the politicians in this story, but our own modern-day Democrats have shown themselves to be utterly ruthless and single-minded in exploiting the Wuhan Virus to expand their own power.

Did Fosdick save lives?  Yes, he did — exactly one: whoever it was that would have eventually opened the poisoned can.  His approach to the problem guaranteed that no one would die from eating the poisoned beans.  Of course, he racked up hundreds of corpses in the process, but he did "save one life," to echo Joe Biden's formula.  (Actually, Biden and the gun-grabbers are worse than Fosdick, because gun control wouldn't save even one life, although it would pile up the bodies of the innocent who were unable to defend themselves from criminals and criminal governments.)

We could save hundreds of people from drowning each year by closing all pools and beaches.  We could save thousands of people from dying in traffic accidents by banning the automobile.  And if gun control actually kept guns out of the hands of criminals, lunatics, and terrorists, we could save some small number of lives by means of gun control measures (while, to repeat, losing many more).  We haven't done these things, although the Democratic left wants to do at least two of them, because we recognize that the great harm these actions would cause outweighs any possible good — and, perhaps, if we think about it more deeply, because we realize that it isn't the job of government to weigh such matters at all.  "If it saves lives" is not a serious standard for judging the morality of an action because it ignores the negative consequences of that action.

For the first time in American history, government is seizing the power to confine healthy people in quarantine on the basis that they might become sick and infect others without so much as showing that they have a dangerous disease or have been exposed to someone who has, and the power to close businesses without showing them to be harboring any contagion.  (And the power to declare which businesses are "essential" and which are not, the consequences of which no one seems to have thought much about.  We all know Democratic politicians would never use such power to single out their political opponents for harm.)  These actions may prevent some people from contracting the Wuhan Virus, which will in turn save some small percentage of those who contract it from dying.  But they are also depriving millions of perfectly healthy people the ability to support themselves by productive work, the full consequences of which are almost unimaginable if continued for any length of time.

Government is not production, a hospital, or a medical research institute; it is force.  It is a man with a gun, pointed right at us.  Most of a time, that man with a gun has no more brains than Fearless Fosdick.  We should remember that before acquiescing to government assuming frightening powers just because it declares a "crisis" or "emergency."

N.A. Halkides is a mathematician, systems analyst, and writer.