an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

Posts Tagged ‘suffering

covid-19 – on civil liberties and death in the USA

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Canto: So, in the USA, according to today’s Worldometer figures – and it’s not unreasonable to say that these figures are only as reliable as the reporting agencies, and are probably understated – there have been slightly more than 203,000 deaths from covid19 – that’s almost 250 times the number of deaths in Australia, which has one thirteenth of the US population. This is a stark illustration of the USA’s failure to protect itself against this virus, in comparison to some other countries. Maybe this is an unfair comparison, though I honestly don’t see why it would be, but we can make an even more stark comparison. The liberal democracy that is Taiwan, the world’s gold standard in terms of response to covid19, with its population only slightly smaller than Australia’s, has experienced seven deaths so far. So, to compare with the USA, that’s a fourteenth of the population, but the USA has suffered almost 30,000 times more deaths from the virus. Such are the almost unfathomably various degrees of success in dealing with this pandemic. I’ve chosen these more or less opposite ends of the spectrum – and, to be fair, the USA isn’t the shit standard (in comparison to gold), as Brazil’s performance is even worse – in order to reflect on how best to save lives, which is surely what we want to do above all else, as a matter of common humanity.

Jacinta: And our discussion will be based on a statement made by the US Attorney-General, William Barr, who described the current lockdown in the USA as the greatest erosion of civil liberties in the country since slavery. But maybe, as an outstanding humanist, and a follower of the meek and mild Jesus, a supporter of the downtrodden, who told his followers that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19: 23-26), Barr was speaking positively about the lockdown as a sacrifice that must be made to save lives – especially those of the poor, with whom he so strongly identifies as a follower of the aforementioned Jesus.

Canto: Well, that’s an interesting interpretation, but I think the more straightforward one is that he thinks people should be free to mix and mingle, in spite of the pandemic. In any case I’ve not heard of him wanting to impose any restrictions of any kind, in spite of the covid19 death rate in the country. It would be interesting to know what he makes of the fact that covid19 is disproportionately affecting the poor as well as African-American and Latino communities. He himself is a multi-millionaire, unlike Jesus, and Euro-American, also unlike Jesus. Yet he calls himself a Christian and believes that Judeo-Christian values, whatever they may be, are the basis of civilisation, at least in the USA. I’m not sure if he’s ever sampled any other society. 

Jacinta: Which brings us to Taiwan. What is it that has made Taiwan the gold standard in dealing with this pandemic? Is it Christianity, of a different kind from that which the multi-millionaire Barr espouses, in spite of Jesus’ teachings? Or is it a very different, but equally, or more, effective tradition? Did Taiwan even experience a lockdown, of the type that Barr seems to have such strong feelings about?

Canto: So let’s explore Taiwan. in fact it has had a complex and very turbulent history, especially over the past century or so, one that, I’d say, would have made its citizens value their hard-won freedom rather more than those of most nations, including the US. I can’t imagine that these people, who’ve undertaken rebellion after rebellion, would allow their government to take away their ‘civil liberties’ without good reason. They just wouldn’t stand for it.

Jacinta: Could it be that they’re just more educated than ‘Americans’, as to their national interest? And even as to what’s required in dealing with a pandemic? It certainly seems that way.

Canto: In fact last month the US federal health secretary (I didn’t know they had one) was over in Taiwan praising the country’s covid19 response. That was a good thing to see. 

Jacinta: Yes and many prominent nations are warming in their relations with Taiwan, not before time, and it’s annoying the Chinese government no end. But on covid19, I suspect many ‘Americans’ will dismiss Taiwan’s success as typical of Asian nations and their collective, ‘sheep-like’ mentality. Clearly, collective pro-community action trumps selfish individualism when it comes to pandemics, but I’m sure Taiwan’s success can’t be explained in such simplistic terms, as the Taiwanese have fought long and hard, against the communists, the Japanese and the Kuomintang, suffering massacre after massacre, to achieve multi-party democracy. So the idea that this is about tough-minded, risk-taking ‘sovereign citizens’ who won’t be pushed around by so-called health experts versus namby-pamby obedient puppets of the state who’re prepared to sacrifice their freedom just for the sake of their lives – well, this is surely a furphy. 

Canto: So what do we make of this Barr character? He attacks ‘lock-downs’ – which are simply a needed response to the refusal by so many to wear masks and to practice physical distancing. Sometimes authorities need to clamp down, when so many lives are being lost. Every government, regardless of their place on the political spectrum, has done something to try to reduce the spread of this virus. As would be expected. And this has necessarily impinged on ‘civil liberties’, because there are obviously other priorities. So, again, what point is Barr trying to make?

Jacinta: I can’t honestly say, but it does appear that he’s opposed to lock-downs, so presumably he has other ideas for saving the lives of ‘Americans’, but I’ve no idea what they may be. He’s also said recently that ‘scientists aren’t seers’ and that ‘free people make their decisions through their elected representatives’, which is a little incoherent, because when it comes to epidemics, sensible people should obviously listen to the advice of epidemiologists, especially those who are expert in the disease, virus or pathogen in question, rather than to politicians. You don’t even have to be an adult to realise that.

Canto: Yes, people are free to decide on their own science by popular vote, but if they did, we’d still be living in caves and believing that the earth is flat. Such are the limits of democracy.

Jacinta: So in times like these, the politicians should work with the experts, which is exactly what’s happening in all those countries that have handled covid19 most successfully. It’s notable that when he talks about these freedoms and civil liberties he makes no mention of all the suffering and the deaths in the USA. It somehow doesn’t seem to be relevant to him. What a bizarre, creepy character. 

Canto: Well, as a multi-millionaire – and I didn’t realise that politics was such a lucrative business – he very likely lives in one of those gated communities (with the emphasis on the gate rather than the community). Covid19 is disproportionately affecting African-Americans, Latinos, the poor, factory workers, prisons, aged-care facilities. Not really the sort of people you associate with gated communities. So I can only suppose he’s out of touch with much of the suffering. Lock-downs affect people universally – though obviously in different ways, depending on whether you’re in a mansion or a hovel – but the financial elites naturally don’t feel equal to the poor, and their ‘inequality’ is a matter of great pride to them. Barr is being a spokesperson for these types, I think. They’re having to suffer lock-downs because the less privileged are dying. It’s just not fair. 

Jacinta: And I just want to add something here about scientists. I’ve met a few of them, and I wish I was one of their number. They don’t pretend to be seers – my experience is that they tend to be nerdy, self-effacing types, not power junkies as many politicians tend to be. They generally tend not to display all the knowledge they have – it often has to be dragged out of them, whereas the worst politicians often claim knowledge they don’t have and like to belittle the knowledge or understanding of their rivals. In this respect, Barr is very much the politician, and little else.

Canto: Yes, and meanwhile the deaths keep piling up in the USA, and at the federal level the scientists are being sidelined by the politicians, the CDC is being stifled, and the world watches on with alarm, disgust and sometimes a smug sense of superiority. It isn’t of course the end of US ascendancy – the states with the most massive weaponry will always be the most powerful – but as to moral authority, that’s fast disappearing. If you leave aside the many non-democracies, which nation is less worthy of respect and emulation than the USA? I can’t think of too many.

Canto: Well, on a more hopeful note, there’s an election coming, and the country may start to redeem itself. But it will take far more than an election to do that, IMHO.

Written by stewart henderson

September 21, 2020 at 10:47 pm

lest we forget

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2008-03-18-PeacerallyMarchlongWell today I’m just going to rabbit on for a bit, which I don’t often do, and maybe don’t do enough. It might also be good for me in that I’m trying to improve my touch typing skills, after years of two finger plod.

Today’s Anzac Day, and I’ll later be attending a humanists meet-up with war and peace as the general subject of discussion. For my overseas readers, ho ho, ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealander Army Corps, and the day was chosen to commemorate the ill-fated landing at Gallipoli in 1915,to launch an offensive against the Turks in WW1. It was the brainchild of Churchill, and it was a failure, not to put too fine a point on it, resulting in huge loss for no apparent gain.

This day has come to mean, if any easy meaning can be given to it, a day of reflection on the sacrifices made, largely by young men, in the various theatres of war Australians have engaged in. For myself, as a largely pacifist anti-nationalist, who loathes guns with a passion and sees war essentially as a whole lot of suffering endured by the largely innocent at the bidding of a powerful and belligerent few (viz Vietnam, Iraq, and of course WW1), I greet the day with very mixed feelings. It’s a good time, though, to contemplate the horrors of war and to unpick the myths, and, frankly, to be grateful that we live in a generally better-informed, more co-operative and more international age, unless I’m kidding myself (and of course it’s not true for all of our species). I saw a little news feature yesterday in which a group of Aussie secondary students retraced some of the steps of their forebears in the Passchendaele campaign. For them, as they well realised, it was just a little taster, conducted in much pleasanter weather than the real thing, with lighter backpacks and far lighter hearts, yet it clearly had a large emotional impact, which is all to the good – there’s no more valuable lesson we can give to the young than empathy and a visceral understanding of others’ experience. I wondered, though, how much they’d been given to reflect on the point of it all. I still hear schoolchildren solemnly parroting the sad nonsense that ‘they died so that we could be free’. In fact, those young, able-bodied, fresh-faced boys died because they were naive, feisty and adventurous, and had been fed on a diet of patriotic, imperialist pap – the standard diet of the era. Of the Passchendaele campaign, the generally judicious Lloyd George had this to say, in his memoirs written 20 years later: “Passchendaele was indeed one of the greatest disasters of the war … No soldier of any intelligence now defends this senseless campaign …”. As to Gallipoli, the term ‘cannon-fodder’ could’ve been invented for it, and I don’t recall the Turks having any plans to invade Australia at the time.

So we should indeed recall those sacrifices, for they did ultimately serve a purpose – the larger purpose of teaching us to be wary of authority, and of teaching ordinary working people, the sort of people who are called upon to do the dirty work on these occasions, t0 be more aware, to be more educated about what they’re letting themselves in for, and to put pressure on their political leaders to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, or to face increasingly dire consequences for their callousness or incompetence.

And to me it’s simply an outrage that the perpetrators of the Iraq war, or rather the Iraq slaughter – George W Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and the rest, have never been brought to justice. So much innocent suffering to satisfy a bullying administration intent on restoring its nation’s rep as the invincible tough-guy on the block. So much blood for such childishness.

Written by stewart henderson

April 25, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Posted in politics

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