By JJ Martinez
I wish that it were possible to write a proper rebuttal to Ryan James Solis’ essay “The ethics of prisoner vaccination.” As El Paso continues to struggle with COVID-19 and the disparities that have come because of it, how the city distributes vaccines and to whom is an entirely valid topic of discussion and debate.
Solis, however, did not present any argument and instead chose to stitch together vague, incoherent assertions and present them as an ethical inquiry. Calling something philosophy, however, does not make it so.
Putting aside its argumentative flaws, Solis identifies the overarching problem with his essay within its first few paragraphs. He says he believes that the treatment of incarcerated peoples has been “swept under the rug” and that his aim is solely to “propose a perspective that inspires questions and thought in the reader’s mind.”
Yet, by not seriously engaging with a situation that quite literally means life and death for incarcerated people, he is doing exactly that. If Solis truly believed what he wrote in the second-to-last paragraph — that the public has “an obligation to our prisoners as we have responsibilities to other citizens” — he would’ve done much more research on a subject he obviously is not knowledgeable in, the research that true philosophy (and journalism) require.
He would not have sidestepped such an ethically consequential governmental decision by simply labeling it as too “complex” and “not clear-cut” — no serious philosopher would. Instead, he rejects this obligation in favor of not only questioning the humanity of prisoners but inviting debate about it — as if their humanity is something that should be up for debate in the first place.
Refusing to take a “definitive stance” and opting instead to play intellectual god with people’s lives is the epitome of privilege — and no reader should engage.
While Solis’ article was published as an op-ed, El Paso Matters could have rejected the submission, as it says it may do “for matters of taste and accuracy.” By choosing to publish this, El Paso Matters has chosen to elevate a distasteful, inaccurate commentary which butchers philosophical (and journalistic) standards in favor of a false narrative of objectivity, one which the author isn’t even capable of defending.
If El Paso Matters wants to live up to its goal of creating “solutions-driven conversations about complex issues,” it must do much better than this.
J.J. Martinez is a lifelong resident of El Paso, Texas. He is a senior at The University of Texas at El Paso studying philosophy, religious studies, and political science.
Cover photo: The Rogelio Sanchez State Jail in East El Paso has had hundreds of COVID-19 infections among inmates, including 12 active cases as of Friday. (Photo Courtesy of Texas Department of Criminal Justice.)