CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Emergencies, Big Government, and Freedom

Apr 5, 2020

We should all keep asking hard questions about what the state is doing during times of emergency:

I, like many others concerned about affirming freedom in a time of crisis, am going through my own Jordan Peterson moments right now. I refer to how often he is misrepresented whenever he opens his mouth, especially by oppositional and not very intelligent journalists. See one very famous example of this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2018/01/24/peterson-contra-mundum/

We can offer a simplified version of this:

Peterson (or any intelligent person): “I love vanilla ice cream.”
Clueless (or antagonistic) journalist: “Oh, so you’re saying you hate people who like chocolate ice cream?”

There is a complete disconnect between what is being said and the follow-up remark – as well as a deliberate twisting of the words and ideas. Let me offer one more example, one that I have personally experienced far too many times now during this corona crisis:

Me: ‘I worry about how governments can greatly expand their powers in a time of crisis.’
Clueless critic: ‘Oh, so you want millions of people to die of the virus?’

I get versions of this discussion all the time. Anytime I dare to open my mouth and share my concerns about how easy it is for the expansive state to grow into behemoth proportions in a time of crisis, I will get all sorts of folks attacking me, claiming that I am downplaying the virus and that I don’t care how many folks die. They say I need to stop criticising the government and just let them get on with the job.

Um no. I am fully aware that this is a dangerous and deadly pandemic. And I have said far too many times now: ‘Yes, there certainly is a role for government intervention here, and yes, some freedoms may need to be restricted for a while during times of a national and global crisis.’ I have never once denied these truths.

But what I have also done is try to sound the alarm, based on my knowledge of history, my understanding of politics, and my awareness of basic theology. Specifically, the state is always looking to take more power for itself; power does corrupt; and we are all ultimately sinful and selfish.

All these points could be expanded at length. For example, a time of emergency always provides the perfect pretext for the state to assume ever more powers while taking away ever more freedoms of its citizens. I will keep sounding the alarm about basic truths like this.

Does that mean I think the Australian government and others are going way over the top and should ease up? Possibly. At this point all I am doing is asking some hard questions. And during a time of crisis, the freedom to ask questions is paramount. As soon as we are no longer allowed to ask such questions in times of emergency, then you know we are in a real bad way.

I will certainly keep asking this question until the crisis is over: is it possible that the cure will be worse than the disease? It sure is possible. Do I have expert understanding and assessment of what our governments are now doing? No. But I can ask questions – as we all should be doing.

And I can be wary of fearmongering and chicken little scenarios, whether offered by the state or by individuals. The truth is, all the numbers are quite rubbery here, along with their interpretations. And it sure does not help when we get folks recklessly and in sensationalist fashion claiming that one million Australians might die from this – as I heard one guy tell me!

Perhaps most things that Western governments are now doing are good and wise. But we still need to ask questions, and we still need to be vigilant. This is one of the clearest lessons of history. For example, one can rightly ask, does it make sense for police to arrest solitary figures on the beach? Does it make sense to ban individuals from going fishing?

Does it make sense to threaten ordinary people with 6 months in jail and $10,000 fines for violating social distancing guidelines? Does it make sense for the state to have drones flying overhead to keep an eye on its own citizens? Does it make sense to attach ankle monitors on some people as part of government surveillance measures?

All these things are now happening. For good or ill, tremendous restrictions on individual liberties are happening right now. Maybe it is all fully justified. Maybe it is not. I for one will keep asking hard questions here. And others have been asking such questions. Let me feature just a few of them here. For example, in the UK Peter Hitchens was interviewed by Brendan O’Neill recently. Here is part of their discussion:

Brendan O’Neill: We live in a country where parliament has been suspended, our most basic freedoms have been eroded, we are all virtually under house arrest, and there are a whole bunch of new rituals we all have to observe when we encounter other people, which is increasingly rare. Like me, are you a bit terrified by the speed and the ease with which Britain became this country?

Peter Hitchens: …the point that strikes me here is that – particularly in the Eastern European countries, but also largely in Russia – most people regarded the Soviets’ rule with a certain amount of contempt and made jokes about it and realised they were being mocked and fooled. In this case, the population accepts what they are being told, without any question. It’s extraordinary. The old USSR would have loved to have had a population like that in the Western world and in the United Kingdom, which genuinely believes the propaganda and does what it is told. You could say, ‘The chocolate ration has gone up’, when in fact it has gone down and people will believe it.

O’Neill: You have written some very solid pieces, questioning the need for this kind of shutdown. Let’s just talk for a moment about the extraordinary situation we find ourselves in. There is this novel virus, which undoubtedly causes great harm, especially to older people and to medically vulnerable people, and in response to it – which is unprecedented in human history – we have closed down virtually the whole of society and most of the economy, and in the process we have stored up immeasurable problems for the future. I think you have found it a bit of a struggle to convince people that this might not be the best way to tackle a virus?

Hitchens: It’s extraordinary. Again, the willingness of people to accept that ‘something must be done, and this is something, so we will do this’. The argument goes, ‘We have a problem, the way of solving it is to shut down the country and strangle civil liberties. Therefore, let’s do that.’

What I have been surprised by is how little examination there has been to whether there is any logic to this. It is as if you went to the doctor with measles and the doctor said that this was serious measles and the only treatment for it is to cut off your left leg. And he cuts off your left leg and then later on, you recover from the measles and he says, ‘This is fantastic. I’ve cured you of the measles, sorry about your leg.’ That is more or less what is going on now. We are being offered a supposed treatment which has nothing whatever to do with the problem.

Other countries have not resorted to these measures. We have modelled ourselves, bizarrely, on the most despotic country in the world, the People’s Republic of China, whose statistics are wholly unreliable and whose media are totally supine, so we can’t really know what is going on there. And in fact, all the countries which have had serious outbreaks of Covid-19, they have almost all reacted differently. Even Singapore and Hong Kong, which are widely praised for what they did, did different things. And yet, oddly enough, the results in Singapore and Hong Kong were quite similar. Japan has done something different. South Korea did something different. And again, the virus actually did not continue to grow at the rates which Imperial College apparently think are inevitable if we don’t shut down our society….

The alleged cure – and it is only alleged in this case – is immensely worse than the disease, because what happens to a society which trashes its economy? I will tell you what happens. It is unable to afford proper health provision, all of its standards decline, its food gets worse, its air quality gets worse, its housing gets worse, its water quality gets worse, and everybody gets iller. www.spiked-online.com/2020/04/03/the-alleged-cure-is-immensely-worse-than-the-disease/

And Steve Waterson in the Weekend Australian said this: “National coronavirus hysteria will lead to disproportionate suffering”. Let me offer his concluding paragraphs:

Some of us are not surprised that our elected leaders and their unelected enforcers have been found wanting, but what really shakes your faith in society is how meekly their ludicrous commands have been obeyed. Did anyone real­ly think more than 500 people at Sydney’s Bondi Beach represent a threat? And if so, why the same 500 limit around the corner at Tamarama’s beach, a fraction of the size? And why a zero limit now? Why can’t a solo sunbaker lie on the grass in a park without a police car moving him on? Why can’t a boat owner take a run up the coast? Why can I only buy “essential” goods? Will PC Plod soon be inspecting my shopping bags for truffles and Toblerone?

Save your comments; I know there will be plenty of people rushing to justify any extreme measure that “saves someone’s life”. The curtain-twitchers are busy in Britain, dobbing in neighbours who leave their houses twice a day or have their girlfriend over. They’ve adapted to their police state very comfortably. Fortunate, perhaps, that Churchill’s World War II promise that “we will fight them on the beaches” was never tested.

The driver of this madness is that the data we are working with, as has been pointed out by many epidemiologists, is fundamentally flawed. If we don’t know how many people have been infected, we don’t know the mortality rate. One of our panic-stricken pollies was on the radio on Monday warning people that even if they felt fine, they could be walking around spreading the disease. A disease with no symptoms that doesn’t make you ill? Terrifying.

But those symptom-free people will never be counted, just as all the people who have avoided burdening the hospital system with their minor coughs and sore throats will never be counted, so the mortality rate is inflated. So too in Italy and Spain, where everyone who dies with the disease is recorded as dying from it, no matter whether they have been wiping their feet on death’s doormat for months.

You don’t need to be good at maths or medically trained to realise all these numbers are wickedly inaccurate. If the infection can manifest itself with mild symptoms or none, how on earth can we declare how many are infected? How many run-of-the-mill flu infections go uncounted each year? I’ve never been sufficiently troubled by a cold or flu to go to the doctor, so I’ve never featured in any statistics. Perhaps I’m freakishly lucky, but I doubt it.

Instead we have a simple division sum, but one where the denominator may be out by a factor of a hundred, or a thousand. If one in every 12 people infected dies, that’s a nightmare. One in every 1200, with 99 per cent of them already gravely ill and of advanced age, it’s not so frightening. And are the millions thrown out of work a price worth paying?

John Ioannidis, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Stanford University in the US, believes if we hadn’t counted and tested this new COVID-19 separately from ordinary colds and flu (and the scary sci-fi name doesn’t help), “we might have casually noted that flu this season seems to be a bit worse than average”.

He may be wrong, but what is certain is that for many of our fellow citizens, this will be the year everything they’ve worked so hard for — their businesses, their savings, their jobs and dignity, their marriages, their sanity, their hopes and dreams and joy — evaporated.

One day we’ll emerge blinking into the economic wasteland we have wilfully created, but next year winter will come around again, and with it more flu, no doubt with another horror mutation.

So what will we do then? You can only kill yourself once. www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/national-coronavirus-hysteria-will-lead-to-disproportionate-suffering/news-story/56f887b32023c30efcc5f51346c92051

Now, are these folks inerrant experts that we all should listen to without question? Of course not. But neither are most of our leaders, politicians, and those in the media. And when we even have major differences of opinion among our health experts, then we all need to learn to think independently while at the same time trying to heed sensible advice from the experts.

Yes we must take all the due cautions. Yes we must put up with many inconveniences while living in quarantine – at least to some extent. But we must also keep asking questions. The only thing worse than a possible collection of wolves lording it over us is a nation of sheep. That makes for a real dangerous combination.

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21 Responses to Emergencies, Big Government, and Freedom

  • Does it make sense to threaten ordinary people with 6 months in jail and $10,000 fines for violating social distancing guidelines?

    I wonder if we’ve got to such a point because we’ve conditioned people to not doing what they’re told and not being responsible for what they do.

    I wonder if things would be different if, if we got infected as a result of ignoring social distancing guidelines, we’d have to bear the full financial cost of our actions; all bills, including medical bills, rent/mortgage, etc., still having to be paid on time or penalties would apply to our failure to do that by the suppliers of those things?

  • Thanks Adrian. Yes a healthy democracy depends upon a responsible citizenry. When that goes missing, the police state becomes so much more likely – probably inevitable. Although the question here is just what exactly is reasonable individual action during this crisis?

  • I have been close to tears at watching how the British have meekly succumbed to this incarceration. There seems to have been little objection, with the majority believing it is “all for the best”; believing as they do the massaged statistics that the MSM has been feeding daily, nay, hourly, on the BBC and other channels.
    We are not suffering annihilation. It is a nasty bug, true, but nowhere near serious enough to destroy the British economy by locking everyone up and away from work. The whole affair stinks of elitist control. MSM has the country’s sheep in their hands, while rebellious types like myself are yelling away with little effect. Our British lockdown is due for review at Easter; I fear MSM’s braying for more punishment will result in lockdown extension. We could be like this for months.

  • Yes it is a real worry Chris.

  • Courts and the police, generally, are less about re-education and rehabilitation and more about punishment, convictions and criminalisation. The big question is, ‘How many criminalised members does it take, before society says – NO MORE!’

  • Thanks Bill, hang in there. Critical subtlety is not always welcome.

    Perhaps we should begin to revisit our thinking about civil disobedience.
    Another 5.5 months of this will ruin the country.
    Two weeks now is nearly enough.
    Another two weeks will be plenty enough, perhaps too much.
    More than that, and I can see that there will be serious problems on many levels that will take a long time to recover from.
    The restrictions will need to be reduced very quickly, and be aimed at protecting the most vulnerable only.
    Already some will disagree that I am too generous here.

    Even protecting the most vulnerable in our nursing homes has gone too far and is very inconsistent. eg. in the same home;
    1. Staff can come and go with proper procedures.
    Regular visitors/para staff such as chaplains and therapy workers are excluded; surely they should be accepted for entry if they comply with the rules for staff.
    2. Items from outside such as newspapers wrapped in plastic (long Covid-19 surface life) are allowed while sermon notes from churches delivered in paper form are not.
    Surely there are sensible work-arounds/solutions for these issues.

    The GRRR– is going to longer and louder, and that’s a guarantee.

  • I too am greatly concerned about the creeping erosion of freedoms during such crises.

    I saw today that a bloke eating a kebab alone in a park copped a fine. A friend’s friend and her daughter, driving in a car on her Ls, copped a fine!
    Really??
    A solo guy on a park bench, a mother and daughter alone in a car?

    This is becoming quite ridiculous!

  • Dear Bill,

    Thank you very much for another brilliant article on this topic. I am with you every inch of the way and a lot of thinking people will be too. With freedom comes responsibility – I have always thought that and many are willing to accept sensible precautions for the containment of this virus but they are not sheep willing to live permanently in a communist state. A very reasonable father was shown this morning being turned away from the beach where he had been hoping to take his two teenagers surfing. He said they had been cooped up inside for a week and needed it for exercise. Such utterly ridiculous enforcements and fines are over the top.

  • I was speaking to a pastor, in Wales, who took his wife out in her wheelchair for a stroll to a park. She is in the final stages of dementia. She finds it difficult to swallow or even chew food. She chokes on liquids. Routine is important, as is food. He was on a bench, feeding his wife part of a banana, as it’s soft and she tends to choke less often. The police told him to leave. He explained that this was one of the only times he could get his wife to eat, and asked if he could finish giving her the last part of the banana. He was told NO! and that if he didn’t leave he would be fined, even taken into custody. He wasn’t allowed to make a phone call.
    Totalitarianism?!

  • I agree this is all overkill but let’s not forget – as has been pointed out on this website consistently – that this is a country that in most states, baby murder right up to birth is legal, sodomy is legal, most Australian voted for sodomite marriage, Christians were mocked and ridiculed for opposing sodomite marriage (remember the “crucify the no voters” and other physical attacks by sodomites leading up the referendum in 2017?), annual sodomite parade year after year, sports played yearly on Good Friday, sports worshipped, tattooed freaks and debauchery and moral filth everywhere. Sorry, Australia (and the West generally), you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind now in terms of economic and social destruction caused by the panic. To that punk who said “crucify the no voters” during the sodomite referendum, if he / she is suffering because of the virus or the Government’s draconian measures, God is not mocked, you reap what you sow.

  • I just heard this evening that my niece in Melbourne has lost her best friend to the COVID 19 . She was in her early 20s and she suicided because she lost her job and had been so depressed for the past week by fear of CORONAVIRUS that she ended her life . She was overwhelmed by fear and hopelessness by this anxiety and fear of the flu ( She did not ” have ” the flu ) that she decided to end her life. I am too distraught to tell you all anything more, I am weeping as I type. This is a direct result of this irrational destruction of our Nation . Please pray that Trump will lead the WWW Whole Wide World out of this madness by Easter Resurrection Sunday. Scott Morrisons legacy will be destroying Australia, falling for this nonsense. Pray he will join Trump ?

  • How about this comparison
    a) this page ( https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/coronavirus-update-victoria-5-april-2020 ) says:

    Currently 47 people are in hospital – including 11 patients in intensive care – and 573 people have recovered.

    out of a total of 1135 identified cases, with eight fatalities (from previous day’s release as there were no new fatalities to report).

    b) this page ( https://www.tac.vic.gov.au/road-safety/statistics/lives-lost-year-to-date ) showing 69 fatalities on Victorian roads.

    Why is the Premier already signalling a move to unspecified Level 4 Restrictions, presumably more severe than what we are now living under? Is there nobody among the advisers to the State Cabinet and the “National Cabinet” daring to say “Enough!”?

    I and many of my fellow workers have been out of work for two weeks because the Premier & Cabinet have promulgated regulations to prevent us from gathering for work.

    Those same regulations prevent my employer from receiving orders from customers (those deemed to be “non-essential businesses”) who have been forced to restrict their trade or close down completely because of a widespread panic within government circles, based on predictions which have not yet transpired.

    Just as an aside, my employer is not paying Payroll Tax to the State government (by means of a temporary exemption and a reduced payroll for essential staff only) so the State coffers are not filling. However, Parliamentarians and most of the State Public Service don’t forfeit any of their entitlements, do they?

    The statistics above do not indicate any risk of flooding the health system beyond capacity. There is no need to further restrict economic and social activities in this State, nor to keep the regulations in force for much longer.

  • New announcement – more draconian measures:
    Exercise outside the home could be banned if people ignore the lockdown rules on staying at home and social distancing, the health secretary said.
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52172035

  • Scientist leading Sweden’s battle against coronavirus says Britain’s lockdown has gone too far as his country allows bars, restaurants and schools to remain open

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8188049/Scientist-leading-Swedens-battle-against-coronavirus-says-Britains-lockdown-gone-far.html

  • Good to hear, Thaddeus. We can only hope and pray that this same message will sink into the minds of Victorian and Australian politicians making these decisions here.

  • The fact that the UK has forced homosexual “marriage” and abortion onto Northern Ireland and the shutting down of the evangelizing tour of Billy Graham’s son in the UK stadiums, mostly by elected officials, and add to this the state of the Church of England plus local councils attempting to stop parental smacking and the introduction of obvious thought police type legislation and ideas such as the “Named Person” scheme designed specifically to give the state control over parenting plus the attempted shutting down and/or state control of religious schools plus the shutting down of B&Bs who did not want sodomy and adultery occurring under their roof, adoption agency intervention, good people losing their jobs etc. etc. etc. and we can see there is much damning evidence that the U.K. is run by ignorant and deluded despotic and immoral, atheistic clowns who have little regard for people’s rights.

    Australia is not quite that bad yet but we are certainly heading in that direction. Hopefully this virus outbreak will be a wake-up call to bring people back to reality. We do need proper border controls and infrastructure. We do need to be in a financially secure situation so our credit rating does not drop as it did under Labor, and we be forced to borrow money at high interest rates to do anything about disasters and thereby expose us the greater threat in the future with any future disaters, etc.

    Perhaps people will, also, come back to reality and start to realize that we will not, in any foreseeable future, be able to fight fires with electric fire tenders and electric, flying water bombers and that droughts and floods are a part of Australian weather that we simply need to cope with, whether they are getting worse or not.

    Outside of the obvious Ruby Princess debacle in N.S.W the federal response in Australia has been excellent in my view. Scott Morrison has shown he does not defer to the previous “trickle down” economics of some previous Liberal power brokers and the fact that ordinary people still have money to spend has meant that, as the drought is breaking and farmers are able to produce crops, there is still a ready market for their produce. This, in my view, bodes very well for good platform for an economic upturn as soon as is possible because this approach will definitely allow for a multiplier effect throughout the economy, not to mention help to reduce suicide rates and, hopefully, the panic buying nonsense.

    Whether Scott Morison has gone too far we will only know in hindsight but it is almost certainly preferable to take that approach than to risk an under-response. Personally I think we have been definitely blessed to have had Scott Morison at the helm during this crisis.

    Australia has shown to have had higher and better testing for the virus which seems to have demonstrated the actual mortality rate is lower than what overseas statistics have suggested but, even so, it was essential, in my opinion, that we responded based on what we could glean from overseas.

    Hopefully we will see people who have been addicted to poker machines and clubbing or sports or whatever, finding life outside their addictions and people generally will wake up to the knowledge that God knows what He is talking about and will come increasingly to repentance and to honoring Him and see that atheistic/immoral approaches to things do not work and do cause problems and always lead to more restrictive measures and inevitably take people’s rights away.

    It was Christian culture that taught us that lording it over other people is not right; a very slowly learned lesson that God tried to teach us way back in 1 Samuel 8.

  • Sadly, Michael, it is also now punishable to be ‘islamophobic’ or to speak of the paedophile islamic prophet mohammed as…a paedophile!
    But, it’s still OK to arrest, harass and bully Christians for reading the Bible publicly.

  • Thanks Thadeus.

    Yes these are the “thought police” things I mentioned. Unfortunately the UK is in an extraordinarily bad way but the Brits don’t seemed to have woken up yet to just how bad things are there.

    You would think a people who once prided themselves on being free would notice when things like free-speech, parental and property rights are shut down. You would think that people who are smart enough to know you have to invest in the future and know the value of education and monetary investment would be smart enough to know that God is not restricted by time and knows exactly the person being killed in an abortion. You would think they would have enough heart to realize that deliberately denying children a father or mother, as happens under homosexual “marriage”, is very, very fundamentally wrong. You would think they would be smart enough to realize that the principles of secularism do not override fundamental truths and that a society which does not respect the foundational basis of truth is doomed to failure.

    Unfortunately, a function of being deluded is to not realize you are deluded and what is happening in the U.K. seems to me to be way past the warning to the Laodiceans in Rev 3:14.

  • The worst thing you can tell a politician is “do something” without defining what something is. Is is like handing someone a blank check.

    We know an economic collapse is needed to bring in the mark could this be it??? A worldwide depression would certainly make people open to ANY solution even global government with a global leader. Wine, women, song, bread and circuses as long as the sheeple have these they will leave the rest up to Nanny. ‘I don’t want to have to think I just want to enjoy’ Too bad we’ve spent so many decades dumbing people down. We made them intellectual children despite being adults and children just care about fun and leave the important things to others. Government is mother government is father…… In that case I’m an orphan!

  • Yes, apparently Bill Gates has been calling for universal ‘electronic IDs and no international travel without a COVID immunisation. ID2020 for which Gates is a sponsor is pressing for RFID chipping when you get the jab. A path to Rev 13 has opened up from an unexpected quarter.

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