CultureWatch

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

Big Brother and the Corona Wars

Apr 17, 2020

These shocking stories should send shivers up your spines:

Any student of history understands that often the greatest evils that have been committed have been done by those claiming to have the best of intentions. “This is for your good” these rulers will intone. They think they are doing their people a favour as they literally get away with murder.

So the state must always be held to account, and it must be watched carefully. With all this in mind, I have been sharing some wise words by C. S. Lewis a number of times lately, and it seems that they are still worth running with. Way back in 1949 he wrote this:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

With the corona crisis we are seeing far too many examples of statist overkill. And some of the things they are doing or proposing may in themselves seem sensible, even necessary, to slow the spread of a virus. But can the cure too easily become worse than the disease?

Let me look at one such proposal now being seriously considered in Australia, and then look at some actual cases of statist heavy-handedness. You may have heard of government plans to have phone apps to monitor our movements, in a bid to check the flow of corona. As one report says:

The battle against coronavirus is going hi-tech, with Australians to be asked to download a phone app that will monitor their movements — but only with their express permission. The Federal Government believes restrictions on the community could be eased in the months ahead if there’s more testing, greater surveillance of those infected by the coronavirus and much faster tracing of those they’ve had contact with.

It is developing a mobile phone app with the private sector to help monitor Australians’ daily interactions. The ABC understands the app will be ready in a fortnight but the Government believes it would need at least 40 per cent of Australians to voluntarily sign up for it to be effective. The app would be opt-in only and not mandatory. www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-14/coronavirus-app-government-wants-australians-to-download/12148210

Hmm, yeah right. Another thing all good students of history know is that often what starts out as an optional, voluntary government policy quickly becomes a mandatory one. Or if it does not become mandatory, it ends up with the same result. The government can very easily say, “Either you agree to this program or policy or you will not be allowed basic goods and services.”

As I wrote elsewhere recently, we can see this in such things as possible mandatory vaccinations and the like, which many folks for various reasons may not be too keen about. Refusing to avail themselves of such things already means various government clampdowns. See here: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/04/13/healthcare-the-state-and-liberty/

While a measure like this may be of use in dealing with COVID-19, there are many obvious problems here, not least of which are various privacy concerns, and the very real possibility that such means now used for good can easily end up being used for evil.

As my friend Mark Rabich said about this: “How about no? The simple rule of thumb for any new government power – in this case, to track your movements – is to imagine it in the hands of your worst enemy. NOW ask yourself if you still want that power created.”

Indeed, hardcore invasive surveillance measures like this are exactly the sort of thing we now see a nation like Communist China happy to make use of. The dictators there are of course keeping a very close eye on everyone and what they are doing. They can use devices like this to reward those who are being “good” and punish those who are being “bad”.

Others have already shared their grave concerns about this app. Monica Wilkie has asked some hard questions about it. For example, “if the app is useless unless 40 per cent of the population are on board, might the government consider making the app mandatory?”

She continues:

But that is not the main concern. The real challenge will be ensuring this information is not misused – a seemingly futile task especially given governments’ history with handling citizens’ information. When Canberra introduced metadata laws a few years ago, we were told they would only be used to find terrorists. But greedy councils were soon demanding access so they could catch litterbugs.

Facial recognition tool Clearview AI was allegedly misused by members of Australian police departments. This information is only known because Clearview’s data was breached. A breach of the government’s proposed tracking app is absolutely possible — cyber-attacks have already increased during this crisis. Once we upload our data, we have relinquished control of it, and have no say over how it is used or misused. Using personal data to track COVID-19 cases has already led to public shaming….

She concludes:

So far, our governments have proved they are willing to flatten our civil liberties along with the curve. We must only leave the house now if we meet one of a pre-approved list of valid reasons. . . . Minimising the suffering and death from coronavirus is a goal we all share. But we must ensure our approach is balanced and measured. Some remedies have terrible side effects. A side effect of eradicating coronavirus could be the death of all our liberties. www.spectator.com.au/2020/04/tracking-a-pandemic-an-unacceptable-invasion-of-privacy/

Yep. And consider eight very ominous things that have recently happened in North America. A number of them, as can be seen, directly involve Christians. Let me just very briefly look at each:

A Canadian Liberal politician who wants a law that would punish anyone spreading “misinformation” about the coronavirus online has the backing of a politician who said “extraordinary times require extraordinary measures.”  Canadian Privy Council president Dominic LeBlanc was quoted in a CBC report as saying he is interested in drafting legislation that would make it a criminal offense in Canada to “spread misinformation” regarding the coronavirus that could “harm people.” www.lifesitenews.com/news/trudeau-liberals-plan-laws-to-punish-citizens-who-spread-misinformation-about-covid-19

Hmm, why do I suspect that most of the pieces I have written on corona would be considered to be “misinformation” by this little dictator? And Facebook seems to want to do the same:

Facebook will begin to alert users after they’ve been exposed to misinformation about the coronavirus, the company announced Thursday, the latest in a series of actions to curtail the spread of wrong or misleading claims related to the pandemic. Users who have liked, commented on or otherwise reacted to coronavirus misinformation that Facebook has flagged and removed as “harmful” will be directed to a website debunking coronavirus myths from the World Health Organization. www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/facebook-will-start-notifying-users-who-interact-coronavirus-misinformation-n1185146

Ha! The gospel according to WHO! Why am I not surprised FB would stoop this low? And then we had these cases of Statist overreach:

The McHenry County, Illinois, Health Department (MCHD) had refused to provide the names of all coronavirus (COVID-19) patients to police – but, on Friday, Judge Michael Chmiel ruled the MCHD must do so. The McHenry County state’s attorney’s office had sued MCHD to force it to begin supplying patients’ names to local law enforcement, prompting the judge’s ruling. www.lifesitenews.com/news/judge-orders-county-health-dept-to-give-police-names-of-all-covid-19-patients

We have more of the same here:

Michigan has already become a national lightning rod for the extent of its COVID-19 response measures, and now a judge has empowered police in one county to go even further by detaining people for simple suspicion that they’ve come down with the virus. First highlighted by radio host Steve Gruber, Kent County Chief Circuit Judge Mark Trusock’s April 6 order declares that any citizen deemed to be a “carrier and health threat” can be “involuntarily detained by a peace officer, transported to and detained in an Involuntary Isolation Facility selected by the Health Officer for observation, testing, and/or treatment.” www.lifesitenews.com/news/michigan-judge-authorizes-arresting-people-on-suspicion-of-covid-19-illness

Wow, now that really is scary. And Christians especially seem to be in the crosshairs of the Statists. Consider this worrying story about David Benham who was arrested for a peaceful protest at an abortion mill: www.falkirkcenter.com/2020/04/14/arrested-by-faith/

And take a look at this story:

Mendocino County in Northern California is restricting churches from streaming worship singing and the playing of wind instruments in online church services unless the worship originates from individual residences. The order issued by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors states, “No singing or use of wind instruments, harmonicas, or other instruments that could spread COVID-19 through projected droplets shall be permitted unless the recording of the event is done at one’s residence, and involving only the members of one’s household or living unit, because of the increased risk of transmission of COVID-19.” www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2020/april/california-county-threatens-to-jail-worship-teams-over-online-church-services

Another story along these lines is a real worry:

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, who arrested the pastor of The River at Tampa Bay Church for holding a church service that he approved three days earlier, recently released 164 criminal offenders stating it was “to protect our detention deputies, their families, the remainder of our inmate population, and ultimately, our community” in light of the Coronavirus issue. Sheriff Chronister’s bad decision has now resulted in the death of an innocent citizen who was murdered the day after the criminal was released. www.lifenews.com/2020/04/16/sheriff-arrests-pastor-for-holding-church-service-releases-criminal-who-murdered-someone-next-day/

Lastly, we have this about Doug Wilson’s church in Idaho:

On Friday, Google suspended Christ Church’s app from the Google Play store after accusing the pastors of a lack of sensitivity and/or capitalizing on the current coronavirus pandemic. The church received a notice from the platform, stating: “We don’t allow apps that lack reasonable sensitivity towards or capitalize on a natural disaster, atrocity, conflict, death, or other tragic event. Your app has been suspended and removed due to this policy issue,” the notice added. www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/in-defense-of-douglas-wilson-google-deplatforming-christianity/

Hmm, getting the point yet? And these eight cases are only the tip of the iceberg. In so many places in the West the corona crisis has become a pretext for heavy-handed Statist over-reach. Freedoms are being stripped away, and Christians seem to be especially targeted here.

Enough is enough. Yes, we need genuine and reasonable government help in a time of crisis, but we do not need Big Brother further stomping his boot on our prostrate necks.

[1740 words]

20 Responses to Big Brother and the Corona Wars

  • Another great article Bill, thank you very much.

    One thought kept coming to mind as I read though. Is it too unlikely to think the government and other agencies can already track our locations through our phones. So they are then using this “app” as a pretense to go public with the information they are already getting?
    Just a thought.

  • Thanks Mathew. Yes so much about us is already known because of the new technologies, the social media, and so on. Governments can so easily access all this. Even Orwell and Huxley did not imagine this sort of statist power.

  • I like what Bonhoeffer had to say about this… and how I can see this currently playing out even among Christians. who should know better.

    “Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenceless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

    If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who lives in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

    Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in most cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person. This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what ‘the people’ really think are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly. The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.”

  • Katie Hopkins:

    “The left have people exactly where they want them; jobless, dependent & afraid, victims all”

    https://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/2020/04/relinquishing-personal-responsibility-warm-embrace-katie-hopkins/

  • Many thanks Bill,
    I suggest all Christians need a close and in depth study of revelation 13 especially verses . It is profoundly disturbing how our freedoms are being rolled back so quickly.
    God bless
    Phil

  • When people are willing to do the right thing and end up being arrested for apprehending their basic civil rights, we know we have been thrown in the cannibal’s proverbial pot.

    You, for instance, Bill. You have upheld reasonable action to protect the community – but have soon become a target for pointing the obvious and dangerous intrusion on our rights.

  • Thanks Bill, so much of this as you say comes from “good intentions”.
    They are very hard to argue against off the cuff.
    Given time we can develop stronger views.

    Garth; One of the keys to stopping stupidity is to change friends.

  • Thanks guys. In a matter of hours a proposed voluntary government corona program seems to have become just about compulsory: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/04/17/mandatory-corona-police-powers/

  • Um… Wouldn’t you just turn off your phone, or leave it on at home? We seemed to survive life without a mobile phone in the old days…

  • Yes Tim, that could be one option a concerned citizen could run with. But what happens if and when the state says you MUST at all times have your phone with you and have it on. Emergency powers for “our own good” can so easily become Big Brother powers to enslave.

  • Garth Penglase is spot on. The phenomenon of ‘useful idiots’ goes back a long way. Dictators, autocrats and authoritarians are well versed in this form of control.

  • Is Garth Penglase referring, in particular, to the Victorian Police Department, the second trial jury, and the Appeals Tribunal which decided that Cardinal George Pell was guilty of those heinous crimes?

  • It IS voluntary you can voluntarily give the state complete control over your life OR voluntarily choose to die. Nothing mandatory at all.

    On another note: coming soon – you have tested positive for or are deemed to have the Christianity virus and we will be taking you to a “special” hospital till you are cured.

  • Stuart Robert, the Minister touting the app is a Christian as is his boss Scott Morrison. Should they know better? Or are others really calling the shots? Either way these men are on our side so let’s pray for them. It’s tough being where the buck stops.B

  • Thanks John. Yes we definitely must pray for our leaders, as I have said so often now. But the mere fact that a leader is also a Christian does not mean that they necessarily know better of course! The day we stop asking legitimate questions and holding our government to account is the day we say yes to tyranny and no to freedom.

  • Agree Bill. I suppose having been there myself or close at least constructive criticism is warranted. My point I suppose is that,ok, so just because they are Christians doesn’t necessarily mean they have it right. After all K Rudd claims to be a Christian and enough said on that. But let’s assume that they are praying for the wisdom they surely need and give them the benefit of the doubt. It s easy to snipe from the sidelines and this is not a personal criticism of you because I applaud what you and a small number of commentators are doing every day. oK?

  • Sorry Bill – a latecomer to this conversation.

    The answer to you question ” – what happens if and when the state says you MUST at all times have your phone with you and have it on – ” can be found in this quote by someone who you as an American should be familiar with:-

    “When the government violates the people’s rights, insurrection is, for the people and for each portion of the people, the most sacred of the rights and the most indispensible of duties.”

  • Thanks Edwin. Yes, Marquis de Lafayette had it quite right.

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