I am very undecided about what to do. I don’t want to call the authorities in my community, but I think there must be some kind of responsibility for the blatant disregard for the rules and the profound disrespect for others, not to mention that this restaurant has created a potential virus vector. What would be an ethical analysis of this situation? Name omitted
You witnessed a possible super diffuser event, and if you leave things as they are, another could show up each day at this restaurant for the foreseeable future. Diners can end up causing illness and death elsewhere due to their disregard for the rules. In these circumstances, reporting what you have seen could save lives.
There may be reasons not to bring the full weight of the law to bear on people, especially those with whom you have a connection: perhaps the law is irrational or is enforced with a heavy hand. But here the rules are rational and it does not offer any reason to think that the application will be inappropriate. Meanwhile, the restaurant can still serve its customers with its takeout service. Current projections bring us into March with more than half a million deaths from Covid-19. We need to take all reasonable steps to stop the spread.
Like many single people during the pandemic, my brother and I, both in their 30s, have been living intermittently with our two baby boomer parents in the home we grew up in. The four of us are quite close, and our relationships are good: we talk frequently, we go for walks, we play and we have dinner together frequently. The only major cause of tension is disagreement over the obligation that adult children have to be “friendly” with our parents. Among other things, this includes making sure to let them know when we leave the house, although they grudgingly agree not to tell them where we are going. When I tell them that I wish I could leave without notifying them, or I refuse on principle to report my brother’s whereabouts, they get angry.
The house is too small to allow any degree of privacy. I fully believe that, as a guest, I have a duty to do whatever my parents ask of me; but on the other hand, I wonder if my obligations could somehow be more like a roommate. My parents insist that they want to make me feel as comfortable as possible. After discussing the matter, it seems like I’m going to act in a way that hurts his feelings or just give in and accept my own feeling that I’m under surveillance. What should it be? Name omitted
Your parents, apparently, They say it’s about being “friendly”; you say it is a matter of being “under surveillance”. Neither description seems correct to me. Your parents may enjoy having you around, but they are doing you a favor by allowing you to stay with them during the pandemic. They have agreed, albeit reluctantly, that you don’t need to say where you are going. (I agree that it would be intrusive). But is it really a burden to tell someone whose house you are living in when you are going out for a while? It’s not about being friendly; it’s about agreeing to a request that guests have the right to make, even if those guests are their children.
I agree that it is not your job to report on your brother’s movements; Hosts do not have the right to force guests to regulate the behavior of other guests. But because the house is small and presumably everyone can figure out who comes in and who goes out, the information your parents ask for is just something they will probably learn anyway. Saying “I’m out for a few hours” is not the same as submitting to surveillance. Also, I wonder if this is not more a question of anxiety relief than control. Old habits die hard; Parents may worry when their children disappear without warning.
Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at New York University. His books include “Cosmopolitanism”, “The Honor Code” and “The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity”. To submit an inquiry: Send an email to [email protected]; or email The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10018. (Include a daytime phone number).