Thursday, 21 October 2021

"...but Hitler."

I understand the agitation. I sympathise with the reluctance to be told what to do about masks, vaccination and partying on the North Shore. I recognise the problems with keeping businesses afloat in lockdown. A abhor the knee-jerk bossiness of it all...

... and it all makes me think of nothing so much as Winnie the Pooh. Or, at least, the author thereof: one A.A. Milne.

A.A. Milne served in the First World War, after which he was so horrified at the carnage he wrote a short book called Peace With Honour -- a thoroughgoing argument against war, and an explanation in depth of why it is never justified to go to war. 

He wrote it, he said, “because I want everybody to think (as I do) that war is poison, and not (as so many think) an over-strong, extremely unpleasant medicine.” I have it here on my bookshelf. It is magnificent. Well argued, highly convincing, near-impossible to argue against.

Yet just six years later he wrote another book repudiating it all. On every page of Peace with Honour, he advised, and at the and of every argument therein, you must write the words "...but Hitler."

Hitler changed the whole context of his argument. Hitler, quite simply, made peace with honour impossible.

It's somewhat similar in times of plague.

All the arguments about the right to travel freely, the right to associate, the right not to be tracked and traced ... they all come out of the argument for individual rights, which is based on individual rights being a contextual absolute, i.e., an absolute in the context in which they are promulgated. Which is peacetime, essentially. Or plague-free times.

Which is to say that virtually all the arguments whinging I'm hearing about quarantine, all the protests against masks and vaccines, all the reasoning about being able to open up on December 1st come what may, should all have appended to them the simple two words "...but plague."

Because in case you hadn't noticed, there is a different context out there at the moment. The context of "...but plague." And in times of plague, a proper context-sensitive application of rights (which are intended to protect me from you and you from me) includes things like quarantine. And might involve things like masks and vaccination.

Is that nannying? No, it's context. 

Why? Because plague.


Peter Cresswell said...

For clarity: yes, you can argue against HOW rules are imposed in times of plague, and you can even argue WHICH rules are imposed. And you should. But you may not ignore that it is (still) a time of plague. That's called evasion.

Phil S said...

Nonsense on stilts. Plague is a VERY high bar to set. The Plague had a death rate of 30-60%. Spanish flu had 2-5%

John Ioanniddas, Professor of Medicine, Epidemiology and Population Health at Stanford showed Covid 19 IFR is around 0.15%

Philip Thomas of Bristol University used the J value model to show that the REACTION to Fukushima and Chernobyl reduced more life years QALY than the original disasters.

Nobody is disputing that Covid 19 is a bad thing but the fear mongering and over reaction is the all important context. You cannot gaslight us by pretending it is a Plague. it is clearly not.

Darryl said...

Well said Phil S. Context is a variable, up for analysis and intelligent debate.

Peter Cresswell said...

No gaslighting; it’s a straightforward metaphor referencing historic quarantines (and even many historic plagues were more minor than the Black Death, the one they call The Plague.)

But it’s hardly the main point to talk about. Call it “…but covid” if you like, as long as you add those two words to every page of advocacy you read. Because whatever distance there is between “..but plague” and “…but Covid,” there’s clearly some distance between those two over there and (over there) “…what me worry.” ‘Cos you don’t want to be in that camp.

Peter Cresswell said...

Context is not a variable. If you're talking washing babies, then the bathwater is the baby's context. If one wanted to wash babies, one would be foolish to throw out either.

Terry said...

Peter, I do find your use of the word plague sensationalist.

According to the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation the estimated Infection-Fatality Rate of Covid is 0.23% (see That is if you are unvaccinated. If the vaccine is 95% effective at preventing death as the maker claims, then the infection fatality rate should be something like 0.001%. A plague is defined by Google Dictionary as “an epidemic disease causing a high rate of mortality : pestilence.” Is 0.001% or even 0.23% a high rate of mortality? For some perspective, one has a 1% chance of dying during one’s lifetime from a motor vehicle accident.

With most the country vaccinated, and everyone having had a chance to vaccinate, it is now time to get the government out of the way, and let private property rights and hopefully some common sense determine restrictions, if any, and we each choose for ourselves the risks we are prepared to take as we go about our lives.

Terry said...

Typo. I meant 0.01%.

Anonymous said...

We live in a time when "plagues" can be manufactured on demand in the state funded lab, in the state funded media and in the fearful state of people's minds like no other time in human history. With context reduced to a mere executive function for those whose instincts are ever authoritarian, this relativist approach to rights would appear naive.

As the old saying goes, "Those who would trade liberty for security will end up with neither"

It genuinely saddens me to see another of the already sparse, dim lights of freedom in NZ spluttering in this manner.


Peter Cresswell said...

Plague is a state of mind. Right. Thanks Tom.

Peter Cresswell said...

Not sensationalist at all. It's all about establishing principles.

If you understand the necessity for quarantines in plague times, then you can accept the principle that quarantines are part of the context of rights protection during plague. (And if one doesn't understand that necessity, more fool them.)

Once the principle of plague-in-quarantine-times is accepted as being rights-protecting rather than nannying (which Phil S. is avoiding doing above) then it's a matter of arguing "how close is this to plague." Which is the very page of stats that you and Phil S. are now on...

Anonymous said...

When normally rational, level headed commentary is replaced by advocacy of indefinite rights suspension based on an enforced non-negotiable, non-debatable 'context', then yes, state of mind does appear to be a core part of the issue. People are losing their livelihoods, freedoms are being permanently lost, families are being divided and you are here cheering for 'freedom from' over 'freedom to'. Thanks Peter.


Terry said...

It's not *all* about establishing principles. It is also about correctly applying the principles you have established to the facts. The fact is we are not (or if you prefer, no longer) in a plague. The odds of a vaccinated person dying from the virus *if* they catch it is around 1:10,000. Everyone else has chosen to take additional risks by not being vaccinated. In that context, there is no justification to apply the "but plague" principle. There is no plague. The principle that should be applied is management of the health risk through property rights, and all that that entails.

Terry said...

Peter, can I ask you what your definition of plague is, and why the seasonal flu does not meet your definition?

Richard McGrath said...

Peter - there is a yearly plague of influenza in NZ with over 500 deaths. And that's with a vaccine that works. Would you support a seasonal lockdown for that?

Terry said...

A significant fact to account for in determining the severity of this disease in terms of its mortality is that in countries like the UK, Canada, Australia and NZ the average age of death from it is higher than the average age of death from all causes. How then, when vaccines are freely available and widely administered, is it not a form of sacrifice to continue to and indefinitely deny liberty to and the livelihoods of those who still have most their lives to live, “because plague”? Why should it not be up to the elderly and infirm to choose whether they want to risk partaking in certain activities, given that they are overwhelmingly the ones at risk?


Tony said...

The UK is seeing huge pressures on emergency services, this is directly from Covid patients requiring beds. This has a major impact on available treatments for other conditions - it's horribly tragic.

This is despite a relatively successful vaccination campaign. Europe isn't encountering the same impact because they kept sensible precautions and didn't go for a freedom day.

"But covid..." is a perfectly compelling argument for me - irrespective of the lethality with vaccines, it's still killing people here.

Terry said...

Tony, the solution was and still is to remove government from healthcare. Privatise it. All of it. Let the free market, including charity, supply the hospital beds, unconstrained by mountains of forcefully imposed costs, restrictions and red tape. The solution isn't to deny people their rights and freedoms because of the inadequacies of a socialist healthcare system. No one has a right to receive healthcare, or any other product or service for that matter, which is a statist, socialist mindset. In a free market, the pricing system will attract the resources and talent needed in the shortest possible time to deal with any surges in care requirements.

MarkT said...

It's disappointing (but based on recent experience not surprising) that most commenters are not responding to what Peter is actually saying.

He is not writing in support of everything the government has done. In fact he's specifically noted you can and should challenge the specifics of the rules being applied. He's simply establishing the principle that the state does have a legitimate in controlling the spread of highly infectious and deadly viruses.

Once you accept that basic principle, the discussion can then turn to how infectious/deadly it is, what controls are appropriate in that context, and how long they should remain in force. It would seem however that many of you are not even capable of getting to that stage.

I believe that once everyone has had a reasonable chance to get vaccinated against covid, the majority of the controls and particularly widespread lockdowns and border closures should be eased. But being able to even make that argument effectively and convincingly relies on accepting a role for government in the first place, otherwise you just come across as nutters that are easily dismissed, because you appear to put ideology ahead of human life.

I think what's going on here is a version of what experts on cognitive bias call "motivated reasoning" - which is to say reasoning motivated not by a quest for the truth but by the desire to support one's existing (anti government) prejudices.

Observe how the most vocal critics of lockdowns are also the most likely to be anti-vaccine - even though the vaccine offers the only reliable protection from such an asymptomatic spreader, and higher vaccination rates allow us to demand an easing of restrictions (as is increasingly happening in NZ).

Similar to a child throwing a tantrum, your brain is unwilling to process the possibility that the restrictions limiting your normal freedoms may have a temporary justification. So rather than think through the nuances of when it's justified and when it's not, and propose practical changes to the rules that might return us to normality quicker - you choose instead to just stamp your foot and yell at the government.

Unknown said...

Bloody hell and you call yourself a libertarian.

Terry said...

Mark, I recognise and accept the principle, as I wrote, but disagree with how it is being applied to the facts as of now, with the population so heavily vaccinated. I would add to that there is the context of us having a government and a population which are proving to be of such a character that the former could turn the whole exercise into Orwell's boot without too much difficulty, which should cause any rational person to pause and think carefully about how to apply the principle, just to make sure it does not lead to the very opposite of what the it is intended to produce as an outcome, namely freedom and rights being upheld. With the no-jab no-job ultimatum, mandated passports just to enjoy freedoms, and the business subsidies and bans and restrictions all continuing for the unforeseeable future, I am very very concerned we are heading down a very dark path.

Monica said...

Is this a plague? How would we define a plague? :)

I do not believe we are in a plague. I've seen life in NZ for 15 months under this plague, and life in the US for 3 months under this plague.

I have now walked around this supposedly plague-stricken land of the US and I can see for myself that the narratives on the news are nothing but a pack of lies that have been fed to the public for two years in order to keep them terrified and compliant.

I’m glad that the American people and half of the states are fighting back now and see the lies for what they are.

Nearly 2 years have passed. Roughly 5 million globally have allegedly died of covid-19. Adjusted for population, that is roughly on the order of severity of the 1958 and 1968 influenza pandemics, where the global death toll was 1-4 million each. In most countries in 2020, excess deaths did not exceed 15%, even in the US.

The NZ numbers don’t seem to support that this is a plague either. 28 deaths, with slightly over 5,800 identified cases (and probably many more that were undetected). IFR of roughly 0.5% and that's with the known cases, which squares well with what’s seen around the rest of the world.

If you are over 70, your average survival rate for covid 19 is 97%. Those are damned good odds.

Almost all of these people who died in NZ were extremely vulnerable and in care homes, and it was in the first wave. In the first wave. We’ve figured out how to protect the vulnerable now.

It’s not a garden-variety flu virus, but it’s also nothing over which to shut down the world or completely overhaul our societies, creating a global medical apartheid with products that don't even work properly. Turn off the news and dig into the data in the most highly vaccinated countries. Israel and the UK produce excellent data and release it on a daily or weekly basis, which happily gives them far less opportunity to manipulate it as the CDC of the Evil Empire does.

The way of life we’ve had for several hundred years (loosely speaking, liberal democracy) certainly isn’t anything close to perfect, but it’s a damned sight better than what’s on offer.

Tom Hunter said...

Peter, other comments I've made on other posts have published, but I've made repeated, failed effort to post on this one.

Were they rejected or is this a glitch. I guess if I don't see this one appear I'll assume it's glitch, otherwise I assume you did not approve of my comment/s here.

Peter Cresswell said...

Sorry Tom, can't see anything in the spam folder, and I wouldn't expect your comments to be rejected, however mistaken they may be. Maybe a software glitch?

Tom Hunter said...


Andrew B said...

Quarantine is very obviously a legitimate government function for those who are demonstrably sick and wilfully infecting others.

You have also mentioned negligently infecting others.

Does this mean for those for whom there is no evidence of infection (possibly asymptomatic or possibly pre-symptomatic) but who have been overseas where a virus is more prevalent or possibly in contact with the sick locally can legitimately be quarantined?
Can a government demand they take a test, and treat them as suspicious (continue to quarantine) if they refuse?

Rick said...

Here's the problem with having a non-objective ethics that is pragmatic rather than principled. An ethics that is all about the rules but willing to break them for circumstantial exceptions is just waiting for a "But Hitler" or "But Covid" or "But Heffalumps" to come along and kick its arse.

'Treaty is a Fraud' becomes 'Honor this living document'. 'The Harm Principle' had basically won the culture war but innovators found a way to slip in 'I'm offended' as a form of harm. So now we're re-litigating the same fights all over again but under different terms because we surrendered our definitions.

If your moral system is not fit to withstand Hitler and other moral innovators then where is the blame? Surely it's the fault of A.A. Milne's or anyone else's failed attempt at morality that needs to go back to the drawing board. What vanity to say that a given system is sound but that it is *morality itself* that is defunct! And then insult on top of vanity to relegate morality to a pocket universe of safe space because, according to the peace-time libertarian, ethics is fragile and not working machinery fit for using in the field.