Suddenly, and completely out of the blue, we find ourselves living in a bizarre, fantastical world that was utterly inconceivable just a few weeks ago.
We have no freedom of movement and are not allowed to leave our homes. We are forbidden to meet with family or get together with friends. We are not permitted to spend our money as we wish, other than on food or medication. We are forbidden to work and earn the money we need to survive. Like children, alcohol and cigarettes are forbidden to us. We may not assemble, and criticism of what is happening will probably soon be forbidden and punished.
Just a few days ago, we were free individuals living under the Rule of Law in a Constitutional Democracy that we believed absolutely guaranteed our freedom to do every one of the things above, as fundamental human rights. These rights, including freedom of movement, opinion, expression, and assembly were the ultimate fruit of democracy in its centuries-long struggle against authoritarianism and despotism. They were also held to be derived not from the government, but from our common humanity. Now, suddenly, and without any violent struggle or contest, we have no rights. We’ve been told that they will be returned to us, but in reality we have lost them forever, because democracy and equality, and the rights derived from them, were never more than concepts, simply ideas that came into actual existence only by mutual agreement among civilised people, because they were mutually perceived to be in society’s collective interests. However, once any party to the democratic consensus, possessing sufficient power, decides that it no longer wishes, for whatever reasons, to adhere to democratic principles, as the government has just elected to do, then constitutional democracy has effectively been terminated. If the fundamental principles of constitutional democracy may be overridden for any reason, then of course they will be, because reasons can always be found.
The people as a whole have greater potential power than any government, but if they fail to understand how democracy is conceptually constituted on basic moral principles, and that if they do not fiercely defend those principles when they are threatened or violated, then they will lose their protection, to some or other authoritarian. So, the government may well return our rights, or some of them, but those rights are now clearly in its gift, and are no longer inalienably ours. Having readily overridden them once, it knows that it can do so whenever it wishes. Our rights are forfeit, and democracy will make way for authoritarianism.
What has actually happened to bring us, as previously sovereign individuals, to be locked up like sheep, and for governments to have done something so utterly mindless as to shut down their economies? Why has it happened?
The apparent cause of all this was the appearance of another flu virus, COVID-19, in early 2020. In response to it, the panic-struck Director-General of the W.H.O. declared a pandemic on March 11, announcing that the virus presented a deadly health threat to humanity. Politicians, in their role as government agents, accepted and responded to the W.H.O.’s predictions, the great majority of them choosing to accept that the threat to humanity posed by the virus was not only greater than that of any previous virus or disease in modern times, but was sufficiently greater to warrant taking the previously inconceivable step of actually overriding the basic principles of democratic government. They also thought it appropriate to prohibit all non-health or non-food-related economic activity. To put this into perspective, these extreme and utterly unprecedented political decisions were taken at a time when the total number of people to have been killed by the virus throughout the world was estimated by the W.H.O. itself to be fewer than 4500, and when in an average year approximately 650,000 people are normally expected to die worldwide of whatever flu happens to be currently doing the rounds.
Of course, potentially there was the possibility that COVID-19 would prove to be far, far deadlier than any previous virus. The scientific data, however, did not offer certainty on this point at the time (and still doesn’t now), and though much (but not all) medical opinion opined that the virus presented a particularly deadly threat to humanity, there was no conclusive scientific evidence yet that it in fact did do so. The early scientific data available was not sufficient or comprehensive enough to rationally justify anything more by the W.H.O. than the encouragement of governments to start making preparations for a possible pandemic by increasing medical facilities and ordering masks and ventilators, but hardly more than this. The poorly-anchored decision that the majority of politicians chose to make in favour of extreme and highly unorthodox action was therefore not a rational one.
As their response to a medical threat that was not known with certainty to be greater than any faced previously in modern times, the politicians nevertheless decided to implement a course of action that was far more radical than any they had ever implemented in response to any previous pandemic or epidemic. Even if they had been declaring war against another nation, they would not arbitrarily have eliminated as many fundamental civil rights, or banned all economic activity in their own countries. Their response was grossly, even insanely, out of proportion to the probability of the W.H.O.’s perceived threat manifesting. It not only completely violates the fundamental principles of democracy, but may well, through the unquantifiable and totally unpredictable economic and social consequences of the dislocation caused by its economic measures, eventually be responsible for the death of more people than the virus. Furthermore, it was made at a time when the debt-burdened world economy was already tottering on its high heels. There was no sound reason or evidence to believe that the benefit of saving a completely unknown number of lives, would significantly exceed the equally unknown and potentially vast costs likely to result from the politicians’ arbitrary and incomprehensible decisions. For this reason, their choice was not only irrational, but also reckless. It appears to have been made on the basis of unwarranted fear, rather than reason.
Having considered why we find ourselves in the bizarre situation that we do today, we now try to analyse how such an improbable occurrence came about. What on earth could bring civilised, sophisticated, and well-intentioned politicians to violate, without shame or apology, the very fundamental principles of the democratic form of government in terms of which they were elected by the public to govern? And then bring them to so lose contact with reality that they actually conceive of prohibiting the economic activity vital for feeding and supplying the public with its material needs?
I can think of only two probable causes. Firstly, government has grown phenomenally over the past 100 years: in 1900 in the West it consumed only about 3% of the people’s Gross Domestic Product and today it generally consumes around 42%. Accordingly, government everywhere has grown into a huge, inefficient, and frequently corrupt bureaucracy, increasingly seeking to interfere with, and control every aspect of our lives. The W.H.O. is a bureaucracy and its medical personnel are bureaucrats. The Byzantine decisions made by politicians that have led to our present circumstances were essentially decisions made by bureaucrats, at the instigation of bureaucrats. Their policies, enthusiastically supported in their own interests by the media and pharmaceutical companies was, I believe, one of the two causes.
The second probable cause was one noted recently by David Robson, a British science journalist. This is the psychological behavioural factor of the inherited fear of disease that evolved in humans as social animals, living in ever-larger groups, over the course of hundreds of thousands of years. The powerful fear of disease significantly alters the way our minds work as individuals, and activates our herd instinct. Apart from becoming abnormally fearful, we apparently tend also to become more conventional, conformist, morally inclined, critical of non-conformity and dissent, and obedient to authority.
Together, I believe these two factors best explain the extraordinary social phenomenon of almost hysterical pandemic panic that we are presently experiencing, and the suggestion of which we would only a few months ago have dismissed as absurd and highly improbable in the sophisticated and democratic era in which we lived. Of course, I may be wrong, but if I’m not, and the virus fails to be as deadly to public health as was believed to be probable by the politicians, we will not only have needlessly damaged our already shrinking economies, but will also have docilely abandoned the concept and principles of democracy, without even so much as a whimper.