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: https://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. https://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. https://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.