Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New York. Here we talk about America now.
*Interview conducted on July 20, 2020.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What’s new with America in the midst of its pandemic now?
Jonathan Engel: I think there’s a lot of talk about states that open too quickly with this new surge of viruses in so many states here. A lot of them did, something else that is problematic. It is not only opening too quickly, but too many people to this as, “Oh, we don’t need to do anything. We can go out and have good times, open churches, bars, restaurants, with everyone going in.” Obviously, this isn’t the case.
Once you open, you have to be so careful. Otherwise, the spread will happen again. Here in New York City, we have done pretty well. We are still doing pretty well. Over the weekend, there were reports of young people congregating in bars and restaurants and without masks and being to close to each other without social distancing. It is a possibility of closing down again if we start to see cases rising. It is amazing to me that so many Americans are out there talking about not wanting to wear a mask, “It is about my freedom.” Look what your freedom has gotten you.
You cannot go to Europe. You cannot go to Canada. You want to come to the state of New York. You have to quarantine for 14 days when you get here. Does that sound like freedom? It doesn’t sound like freedom to me. Freedom isn’t lack of responsibility. To me, Fat Donny, out esteemed president is out there talking about how important it is about the anarchists.
People say, “I don’t have to obey the rules, obey the law.” If that is now anarchy, what is? He is out there saying, “They are a bunch of anarchists.” You cannot believe a thing that the man says. You have to figure this out. I do not want New York City to become like the rest of this country. We are in a spot now. I am still being very careful. I allowed myself a little leeway. I have been out to a couple supermarkets.
We are wiping out food when it gets here, not prepared from restaurants, but ordering from supermarkets with wiping the cans and the bottles with alcohol wipes before putting it away. We are still doing it. But I have allowed myself to go to a couple supermarkets. Everyone is wearing a mask. But you have to be careful. You have to be careful and follow the rules.
It seems so strange. In this country, for years, the Republican Party since Reagan or before have been pushing the line that government is bad. Reagan famously said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” It is about government as part of the problem rather than the solution. Sometimes, you need government. You really do.
What is government? When you think about it, it is our collective selves. We are all together. When the second Bush was elected president, he inherited a big budget surplus from Clinton. The first thing he said was, ‘I am going to do a tax cut and give this money back to the people. This isn’t our money. It is your money.’ I was upset. It is our money. The surplus is our collective money.
It was your job, Bush, to use it in a way that benefits the most people. We really have ignored our infrastructure in this country for way too long. Why not use that money on infrastructure project? It would take a belief and an understanding that government is a reflection of the entire population of all the people, not just a bunch of individuals. I’m sorry.
No matter how much you believe in freedom, we are not just a bunch of individuals. This is not the dark ages as a peasant with a plot of land and never having to see people. This is the 21st century, as far as I can tell. You can talk about all the individual rights. Without an understanding of the collective good and having to participate in the collective good, and having to contribute to the collective good, you have individual rights, but your individual right isn’t permitting yourself to go out and kill other people. This is the big thing happening in this country.
We have done better in New York now. We have to be careful. Part of this is an understanding of living in a society and having an obligation to your fellow people, fellow Americans, fellow human beings, we all have an obligation like that. I think too many Americans put that aside and don’t even consider it. All they are interested in is “I have a right to…” It’s like, You have certain rights, and obligations too.”
Someone may say, “I love driving on the left side of the road. I lived in the UK. Why can’t I use my freedom?”” That is no more crazy than “Why do I have to wear a mask to protect people, potentially, if I have Covid-19 and give it to them?” How is this different than driving on the left side of the road? You could kill people. It is the lack of consideration of the needs of the many with those of the few.
Jacobsen: Jon [Laughing], thank you, you answered this with one question.
Engel: [Laughing] Well, I guess I had a lot to say.
Jacobsen: [Laughing] You’re welcome for the question.
Engel: [Laughing] Well, you know, it’s upsetting!
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*
Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
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