What’s Wrong with Mandating Tests?

Renewed calls for mask mandates are on the rise, as reports of scary Covid variants are making their way through the news. My perception is that most people will not accept this. It’s fairly well known among the public that masks do not work to halt the transmission of respiratory diseases.

There is even less support for vaccine mandates. There are more successful lawsuits against vaccine mandates each month, and greater numbers of doctors are speaking against forced medicines. Many of them seem to be rediscovering informed consent. 

There is one other area where mandates may still have a foothold: that is in the test for disease, particularly Covid. Take a test before you enter a public space; take a test before you go to work; take a test merely because the authorities say so, because they want to track where the virus is going. There are many authorities saying that testing should be mandated, and many ordinary citizens are going along with the idea, thinking, “What’s the harm in taking a test?”

Should you be required to take a test for Covid or any other disease in order to participate in society?

This question seems slightly different from the questions of the other two mandates that have been presented in the past few years. The attack on vaccine mandates has been straightforward: Covid is not dangerous to large cohorts of the population; the vaccines do not prevent transmission; the mRNA jab has been known to cause harm. Likewise, with masks, the arguments are centered around the idea that they don’t really work, and they might also cause harm. We have heard about respiratory problems from microparticles and learning disabilities in children, from their stunted growth in communication skills.

To combat mandated testing, these arguments do not hold as much sway. It’s difficult to argue that testing for Covid might harm the person being tested, and therefore, it’s difficult to attack on the grounds that the tests don’t work perfectly well. 

Even the arguments I have heard against mandatory testing usually have a qualifier in them about the relative danger of the disease in question: “I would understand mandated testing if this was a highly virulent and deadly virus.” 

There have been many times we have heard from public health officials about the need for centralized control of people’s behavior in the response to disease. Indeed, even Jay Bhattacharya, who has been fiercely against lockdowns and who has promoted focused protective measures, has said that a scenario could arise where such coordination may be necessary. In discussing the rising lack of trust in public health, he says:

In theory, there is a risk to restricting public health action: It will make coordinated nationwide action more difficult in the next pandemic. What if next time, we have a disease outbreak that requires every part of the country to shut down everywhere, all at once, for a long time?

My issue is with the word requires. Required by whom and to what end? A disease is not an agent. Whatever it may do to us, diseases don’t require action. Humans in charge require action. 

So let’s ignore for the moment whether tests work or not, but instead focus on what it means for someone to have the authority to say that you must take a harmless test. 

Does someone, anyone, an individual or a government authority, have the right to require you to do something, just because it won’t hurt you? 

And on top of the claim that you are not being hurt, there is the more insidious charge: you are being selfish. The authorities and society have decided that the needs of the group rise above the needs of the individual. Certainly this seems to be the case if the test causes no harm. But who is being selfish here? Is it you or the selfish collective

Regardless of whether you are not being hurt, and whether you are being selfish, here is the essential point of requiring you to take the test. 

The point is that the outcome of the test will influence or dictate your subsequent behavior. 

Based on the test, it is implied that you will have to do something about it, or that someone will make you. If you test positive, will that mean you cannot go out? Will it mean that you will be locked in a room and can’t see your family and friends? Will it open the door to other bodily controls, like mandated medicine? 

If there is no understanding that your behavior will be dictated by the result of the test, what’s the point of the test?

This question can be stated more precisely by saying: the act of forcing you to take a test for disease removes your agency. The idea of agency, as introduced in the Enlightenment, is that each individual carries a moral responsibility for their actions, and that each individual should have that responsibility. The responsibility to act in a way that respects the life and liberty of others should not be taken or assumed by another person or authority. 

I have heard the argument that authorities test not in order to control our behavior and thus remove our agency, but instead only to understand how the virus may be spreading in a particular area. Then they can then understand how to best focus resources to help where outbreaks occur. This is indeed the path that Bhattacharya is on in his article: mandatory testing is justified for the public good when there is no infringement of individual rights, and that a uniform nationwide response is never the correct answer.

But I ask you this: how many times in the past three years has mandated testing led merely to expanded awareness of where the virus is headed and not to control individuals? I have heard many stories personally of individuals who tested positive and were immediately quarantined, and then subsequently tracked by authorities through their phones. I have also read more horrible stories, of arrests and inhumane conditions. In fact, the language around these enforced behaviors gets even more dire than that.

On March 22, 2020, Trump said, “In a true sense, we’re at war. And we’re fighting an invisible enemy.” Trump along with many others compared fighting a virus to fighting a war. In fact, that is how the whole pandemic response was run, as a national security operation

But what is war? War occurs when two groups of people attempt to kill each other. That is, when individuals and their governments use their agency to seek out and destroy others or to defend themselves. When individuals claim not to use their agency, as when they say, “I was just following orders,” or “We all have to do what the authorities are saying is correct,” they are merely abdicating their own agency, but not relieving their own responsibility.

Robin Koerner describes this connection in his recent article, “The Complicity of Compliance.” He points out that in such situations, people merely subordinate their agency to an agenda. They do not alleviate the burden of their responsibility, although they think they might, they are only going along with the immoral action of the state. 

How does this compare to a “war” against a virus? A virus has no agency, and more importantly, an individual carrying a virus has no agency. Any individual, sick or not, cannot decide to infect another person. You may argue that a person can use their agency to attempt to make another person sick. You could cough in someone’s face intentionally, for example. But this is about the extent to which you could go to use your agency to attempt to infect others. It is your moral decision not to cough in someone’s face.

Now let’s get back to mandatory testing. What happens to your agency when someone or an authority requires that you be tested for a particular virus? As I’ve described, the test comes with an implicit assumption that your behavior will be controlled if that test is positive. Will you be quarantined? Will you not be permitted to enter a public space? Will your movements be tracked? 

The deadliness of the virus is irrelevant. 

The accuracy of the test is irrelevant. 

The motivation of the authority is irrelevant. 

What matters is that by requiring a test, the authority has removed your agency. 

You can no longer act in a way in accordance with your morality and conscience, and the door is open for your liberties to be removed.

So really, how harmless is it to allow any authority or state actor to require that you take a test for disease? This is a trick. By going along, you are thus agreeing to subordinate your own agency to that of the state. 

This situation throws us back to before the Enlightenment, before the 17th century, to a time of feudal control of the lives of individuals. If the state says you do it, you do it, whatever it is. The comparison of virus control to feudalism has been made many times. 

Is that how you want to live your life? 

Or has freedom been good to you?

Take a test voluntarily if you like, if you think it will help to protect your family, friends, and all of your compatriots, or possibly if you think it will help authorities to understand the spread of disease. Respect others and do not try to infect them, as unrealistic as that notion may be. 

But do not submit to mandatory testing for disease. Maintain your independence, your morality, and your conscience; do not be tricked into relinquishing your agency to the state. It is a trick to obtain control over your life that you will have willingly surrendered. 

Your moral responsibilities are yours alone. Keep them that way.

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