When Progressivism Becomes a Virus

2 Nov

When Progressivism Becomes a Virus

By T. E. Doran

“The devil is in the details.” Interestingly enough, the phrase has its origin in the idiom “God is in the detail,” which was and is to say that particulars are important. When and why the cradle shifted from good to evil is a mystery, but perhaps it had something to do with experiencing the inevitable consequence of failing the trials of minutiae. Nevertheless, this idea applies to almost every political argument and debate in the modern digital world, where Twitter and Facebook reduce nuance to ash and a handful of characters. But the phrase is rarely more apropos than it is to a discussion over what the government of California just did.

Knowingly exposing others to HIV in the state of California will no longer be a felony. This includes circumstances where a person who knows he or she has the contagion donates blood anyway, without providing disclosure of the infection.

Let’s unpack the signing of this new bill and the subsequent law change by examining its elements, starting with HIV. Several decades after we (collectively, the West) first identified the very deadly virus, most people are generally familiar with it and its accompanying disease, AIDS. It has been the focus of medical research and drug development for some time, and has cost United States citizens and citizens of the planet billions and billions of dollars. We’ve all seen the commercials, the fundraisers, and the humanitarian efforts across the globe. As a result, Western medicine and U.S. doctors have developed treatments that have the possibility of almost eliminating the lethality of the virus. But let us not fool ourselves, these treatments are incredibly expensive, can have terrible side effects, and are not a full cure. Those infected with the virus will spend the rest of their days on Earth taking drugs, fearful of the possibility the drugs will stop working or will no longer be available to them.

So why was this a felony at all and what is changing? A felony is a label we attach to a category of crime that usually involves violence and is more serious than its counterpart, a misdemeanor. A felony almost always involves a harsher sentence and more serious consequences than a misdemeanor. A discussion over the theory of criminal law and why we define crimes and punish criminals could span a lifetime, but it’s generally accepted that society wants to deter bad behaviors, punish offenders, and rehabilitate where possible, so that individuals who have committed crimes do not do so again. We attempt to meet these objectives as efficiently as possible by describing crimes and punishments across a spectrum, and we use categories of crimes to help us do so. A felony falls on the more egregious end of that spectrum.

With that context, why would we want to change the category of a crime? The proponents of this bill in California argue two things in support of changing this crime’s classification:

  1. Modern medicine has changed the seriousness of contracting HIV. The consequence of the transmission is no longer the same and being diagnosed with the virus is no longer as dangerous as it once was; and
  1. The law is not congruent with laws for the transmission of other diseases. For example, knowingly exposing someone to Herpes in the state of California does not result in the same criminal punishment as doing so with HIV would.

Republicans legislators and opponents of the law have argued that changing the classification of the crime puts citizens at greater risk. They contend that if there is a concern over similar crimes with disparate consequence, the answer may be to raise the bar for those other diseases, not lower it for HIV.

Let us address the latter point of the proponents, first. There has not been a significant change in the treatment of disease in California since the time that the HIV law was placed into effect. That is, at the time of its adoption, the incongruence existed too. It’s reasonable to assume that legislators had a reason for adopting the HIV transmission law as a felony despite having a different consequence as compared to other transmitted diseases. And to this new law’s opponents’ point, if our concern is discrepancy, why lower the crime for HIV rather than raising it for another? If we are increasing risk for our people, shouldn’t we have a better justification for doing so than “because that’s not how we do things in other circumstances.”? As another old idiom goes, “two wrongs do not make a right.” It would be prudent to justify such a change with reasoning that extends beyond just comparative law. Comparative law is useful, but when lives and health are at stake, we should demand more. We should look at the details. What really is the consequence of transmitting HIV today and have the original concerns been mitigated?

Proponents of the new bill have already implied part of our answer in their reasoning by suggesting the complications of HIV are not as bad as they once were. HIV was scary when it was first discovered. In part, because we knew little about the virus, but mostly because it was almost always fatal. The disease killed people with ruthless efficiency and still does. Very few viruses do so. In an effort to stem its spread and save lives, states across this country created rules to deter risky behaviors. Further, unlike the common cold or influenza (for which we do not punish people that knowingly spread the virus) HIV transmission can be controlled almost absolutely through behavioral control. Managing these behaviors by aligning incentives through criminal law allows us to protect people from the pain and death of the disease.

But what about the case that the consequences have been mitigated? The fatality and nature of the virus has not changed. Victims of the virus, even with modern drugs, will suffer the rest of their lives. The side effects can be awful: diarrhea, rash, nausea, vomiting, burning sensation, dizziness, aches, and serious pain. And for the rest of their lives, individuals with HIV need to consider their fate should the drugs stop working or no longer be available. Purposefully inflicting that kind of torment on someone through other methods is almost always felony criminal conduct. And just because we can delay death, we should not consider this behavior any less violent (physical acts intended to hurt or kill). Poisoning a beverage or exposing to a deadly contagion, we saw the similarity, and punished them accordingly. I’m guessing this country is virtually unanimously in agreement that knowingly exposing someone to HIV is immoral and dangerous. The fact that every Californian must now be more worried about the threat of HIV from a blood transfusion than they were yesterday is a very difficult thing to justify

Lest we also forget, HIV drugs cost money. Theft can be a felony. Theft rises to the level of felony, dependent on the state, usually between $500 and $1,000. Drugs for HIV can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime.

Is there a different, more sinister, reason for this bill? Well, there’s an elephant in the room. Liberals don’t like to make the ‘deep dive’ into a discussion regarding HIV transmission and its victims. It upsets their carefully constructed world-view fantasy and topples their house of cards. The parties engaging in these risky behaviors that are both the cause and victim of the virus tend to be the same parties that liberals and progressives champion above all others. According to the C.D.C., in 2015, only about 27% of new HIV infections were documented in white individuals in the U.S. Furthermore, 70% of all documented infections occurred from male to male sexual contact. This means that about 8% of all infections in the U.S. were straight whites. This number should be put into even further context. Whites make up 2/3 of this country’s population and almost all of them identify as straight.

The HIV problem in this country is overwhelming one of minority populations, namely homosexuals, blacks, and Hispanics. The behaviors in question are considered vices to some, but lauded by the progressive movement. If you engage in protected sex, avoid prostitution, are not a homosexual, and do not use illicit drugs (needles), the likelihood you are a victim of HIV transmission is practically zero. Progressives do not like this troublesome reality. This also obviously means that the offenders of this criminal statute, those prosecuted under it, are almost all from these minority groups.

Are progressives truly so willing to sacrifice the health and livelihoods of all of their constituents out of hidden support for these individuals and their behavior? What could the impact be of almost completely removing the criminal deterrence of passing on the disease not just to at-risk minority populations, but to the population at large?

Where’s the devil in the details? Or maybe, who is the devil in the details?      

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