Monday, 1 November 2021

Rule of Law v Rule of Men (Plague Edition)

On Saturday afternoon I watched a mob of what seemed 10,000 closely-assembled shouters, mouth-breathers and sovereign-citizen conspiracists crawl past my office window. They were chanting "freedom" -- a subject about which I do profess to know a little -- yet the only freedom about which there appeared any articulated concern seemed to be the freedom to ignore reality.

It's ironic. For years I've struggled to interest folk in freedom. I would have given my left ball to have a parade of 10,000 people marching to demand freedom. But I would really have wanted a reasonable percentage of that number to know what they were talking about. 

I was asked the other day why so many apparent libertarians themselves don't seem to know what they're talking about when it comes to dealing with a pandemic. Or freedom. I suggested it's the difference between being genuinely pro-freedom (recognising that a context-sensitive application of rights will require govt involvement, and may require quarantines/vaccines/masks etc.) and simply being anti-govt (throwing your toys out of the cot and looking for guidance from the likes of Brian Tamaki, Mother Teresa, and Princess Diana*). It's a divide that since its inception has continue to plague (ahem) libertarianism -- the division between anarchy (no govt, on its way to mob rule) and the rule of law.

Mind you, if laws are imposed, such as laws about things like quarantines/vaccines/masks etc, the proper rule of law requires they be imposed objectively. Shops, offices, factories, schools, hospitals, employers, employees should be able to see understandable, predictable, objectively-derived criteria by which they may open, and how. Governments everywhere are trying, and flailing (and failing), but this is the standard we should stick them with: that all law, when applied -- even in times of plague -- must be objective. Which means that it must be objectively defined, interpreted, applied, and enforced. This is something all freedom-lovers should be focussed on, at all times. Not just now.

What does that mean, you ask -- too focus on new law being objective? Well, you're in luck: here's a short summary from University of Texas philosopher Tara Smith (courtesy of Stephen Hicks , who's running a course on this) of what it means, and how it's different to other views.

Any questions?

* I swear, I am not making this up.


  1. We had a similar protest here in Melbourne - one of the highlights of which (for me) was footage of anti-vaccination protesters doing cocaine. Presumably to give them the energy for all the shouting?

    Do you ever wonder whether Rand was right about the Libertarian movement? Not with regard to specific individuals or institutions (for example you, or the late LibertariaNZ party) but *in general*? That is, that the Libertarian movement as a whole is too bereft of philosophical underpinnings to bear valuable fruit? "Hippies of the Right" as she put it?

    With full understanding that I may be suggesting we play out a scene from Monty Python ... is it time to split? Create a new movement, a new term, a new ... something ... based on a more explicit philosophical platform?

    1. There were several highlights of the Melbourne protests for me. The Union characterising the workers, who were peacefully protesting for many hours were painted as being "far right plants" which was pretty much a lie, given that the reporter on the ground had spent hours interviewing many of them. Or multiple direct video evidence of police brutality - one against a women who was sitting at a bench near her home, and police questioned her right to be out (she was resting between approved exercise laps in her local park). They pushed her to the ground and were completely over the top. She took too long to identify herself and they didn't believe she lived nearby. And many more examples, covered by a non-mainstream media journalist that suggests many protesters care more about the draconian policies and power grab, than this pathetic effort to lump them in as far right or druggies. What is happening in Victoria is so anti-freedom, the only response is to be anti-government..

      How do you protest if protesting is banned in the city that boasts the record for the longest lockdown?

    2. ZenTiger, it sounds like you need to work on your feelings of revulsion toward the protesters. I recommend trying on some dehumanising language for size. It'll help to instill an unwarranted sense of moral superiority.

      Eventually, you might want to consider engaging in a campaign to remove their civil rights, too. Start slow and always give lip service to it, but your ultimate aim should be to remove their right to work, buy food, and so on.

      Do remember that first bit, though. Please work on your feelings of disgust & repulsion for them. It will make easier to strip these vermin of their rights later on.

      Welcome to Salem!

  2. I think in general she was precisely right.

    As were Monty Python.

  3. I think this issue is beyond political position. You either believe this virus is going to kill almost everyone, therefore, you can kill the economy, destroy people's life savings and bankrupt small businesses allowing the big guys to prosper, or you are more at the other end of the spectrum, where this is a very bad flu that is going to knock off mostly elderly and those with certain medical conditions adding up to around 3% of the population. Once those baselines are established, then all else follows and damn the principles, it seems.

    Mandated vaccination, in my books, is force. Denying some-one the right to work and go out in society is pretty much the same thing. The right to protest should trump the health order - it's a person's choice. Of course, if you are holding the belief that the vaccination saves you, but you still require/demand/need some-one else vaccinated for it to work, well, clearly you need to ban the right to protest no matter what.

    The problem, as pointed out, is that the way the rules are applied suggest that the virus isn't that bad. Because a bunch of people sitting in a park, gathered because they want to protest is more dangerous than a bunch of people sitting at the beach under "strict rules" a few KM from the park. The essential difference is the people at the park are guilty of a thought crime.

    It's the inconsistent rules that make a mockery of safety that make the whole situation a bit of a joke. A couple getting to Wanaka are evil, because they put everyone in danger, but 3,500 people or more can leave Auckland every day because they have a permit...

    The space craft analogy is problematic. Here's another variation of that analogy. We all agree the lock will be opened at a certain time, having landed on a planet with low oxygen levels. Some of the crew put on spacesuits, but leave the helmet off. Some crew believe the oxygen levels will be sufficient without a suit. Their choice, I guess. Time will tell. But then, the crew wearing suits claim they cannot put their own helmet on unless the rest of the crew suit up. Their suits only work properly if everyone wears a suit. Analogies are never perfect, but that is a little bit closer than a black and white "airlock open and everyone dies".

    Anyway, I believe vaccines should be a true choice, that people are over-reacting to the danger because it has been pushed that way, but it is a very serious and dangerous virus, which is why the over-hype is believed so readily.

    I've decided to get double-jabbed, although I wasn't really fussed either way, believing that getting it I am in the category that am likely to barely notice it, and build up natural immunity, which is longer lasting than these vaccines. It also gets us back to normal sooner, so simple choice. Now that the government is talking passports to have a coffee, work or travel, I'm moving rapidly to the "we must vote these people out" category.

    1. Sounds like you've had a bit too much to think.

  4. I'm surprised that anybody could describe this government's actions as "restrained".

    1. I'm equally surprised that you read it that way.

  5. And since that seemed to work I'll see if I can put in the comment that refused to appear in the original "But Hitler..." post.

    Taking the "but Hitler" analogy a bit further it should be recalled that after WWII the analogy was pushed to justify all sorts of regrettable things, some of which were needed but increasingly fell apart as the "But Hitler" comparison became increasingly strained. To whit:
    But Stalin...
    But Mao...
    But Castro...
    But Ho Chi Min...
    But Saddam...
    But Gaddafi...

    In fact that sort of thinking is merely the mirror image of those who, like Milne, survived WWI and could not imagine any justification for such a war in the future. The key point is that most such people were not willing to think anew about the current case in question. They simply applied a blanket conclusion that Hitler was no more of a threat than the Kaiser - whereas their post WWII successors began to see a new Hitler everywhere.

    In fact the questions should continue to be asked in each context: how bad is this new Hitler? How bad is this new plague?

    If we're talking some mutated form of aerosolised Ebola (Tom Clancy's choice in Executive Decisions then even I'd agree with massive and harsh lockdowns.

    But for something somewhat worse than the flu?

    As it happens I did, reluctantly, agree with the first lockdown in early 2020, on the basis that we did not yet know enough about this virus to take a risk, and also because our fragile public healthcare system might well collapse. But even then it was sold on the basis of "two weeks to flatten the curve" (meaning the same total number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths but spread out over time). Having conceded the argument to government it should not have surprised me to find them suddenly finding a new reason, elimination, to extend the lockdown for much longer. And their success in "crushing" the virus set the scene for the 2021 lockdowns - because waging WWII again against the new Hitler is as justified as waging the original one.

    I'm not an objectivist, I'm only a somewhat pale libertarian, so I certainly see a role for government, including in a case like this.

    As such my arguments against lockdowns and masks were not born of some silly utopian "foot-stamping" about government but about the simple fact that countless studies had shown the latter to be a useless exercise in public (as even Fauci and the CDC were saying early on, since they knew the medical history), as well as the concept of locking down an entire, largely healthy society being useless and even counter-productive act, such that the concept did not appear in any Public Health authority plans that I'm aware of, including our own MOH one, published in 2017, as well as being opposed years ago by people like US epidemiologist Dr Henderson (the WHO's smallpox elimination leader) when the idea surfaced out of Bush's post 9/11 planning:

    It is difficult to identify circumstances in the past half-century when large-scale quarantine has been effectively used in the control of any disease… the negative consequences of large-scale quarantine are so extreme that this mitigation measure should be eliminated from serious consideration.

    It was not of course, along with other security theatre like the Patriot Act and the TSA.

    1. Uh oh. Tom, sounds like you're one of the commenters on this blog who has had a bit too much to think, too.

      Thinking is discouraged in New Normal ideology. I kindly recommend that you get back to enjoying the paranoid, pathologized, authoritarian dystopia that society has become. Make sure you engage in regular helpings of ̶1̶N̶e̶w̶s̶,̶ ̶R̶N̶Z̶,̶ ̶N̶e̶w̶s̶h̶u̶b̶ Two Minutes Hate each evening.

      We should always have had to show a Gesundheitpass to see a movie or get a cup of coffee. In fact, you probably shouldn't be able to work or eat without it. Fur Ihre Sicherheit!

      We've seen enough of your crazy logic here, Tom. Let's get back to our regularly scheduled programming and finally take some real action against the official “Untermenschen” of New Normal ideology, please!

  6. 'Objective' law is a fantasy by those who think their subjective opinion should be law.

    Tara Smith's #5 for example refers to the kind of porn that's legal, among other things. So what's the 'objective' alternative? Presuming you think the current unmentionable categories of illegal porn ought to remain illegal.

    Also subjective, and clearly not based on reason, is the characterization of our covid situation as a 'plague' when close to 90 percent are vaccinated.

    If Brian Tamaki supporters insist on taking their chances with the virus, then the libertarian thing to do is let the muppets take their chances, and let everyone else get on with their lives.

  7. I think you've clearly identified the dividing line in your tweet to Damien Grant. Being pro-liberty, and putting the truth first (wherever it leads) on one side. Being anti-government, and letting that sentiment colour your perception of the truth on the other wide.

    We're facing a mentality that could be summarised as: "I don't like the government. Therefore if the government puts restriction on me I'm going to be against it. And if they encourage me to take a vaccine, I'm going to resist it".

    I was debating this with a vaccine sceptical libertarian, someone who's views on other subjects I respect, trying to work out the reasons for his vaccine hesitancy. At one point I said, if I grant that there's some uncertainties and risks associated with the vaccine do you really honestly believe the risk of the vaccine outweighs the risk of covid - and if so based on what?" But he couldn't answer me. All I was hearing back had little to do with the vaccine, and all about the government and press - how you couldn't trust them, etc. I finally realised no amount of evidence showing the risks of covid far outweighed the risk of the vaccine was ever going to convince him. That's because his disgust for the government/press outweighed his ability to come to a rational conclusion on the subject, even when it meant sacrificing the self interested course of action to maintain that defiance.

    1. And that's they key point (or should be) for anyone who's vaccine hesitant: "...there's some uncertainties and risks associated with the vaccine do you really honestly believe the risk of the vaccine outweighs the risk of covid - and if so based on what?"

    2. Surely, it's for the government to prove their case, not for the "vaccine hesitant" (an anti-concept) to explain theirs. Mandates are use of force and the reason they are required is because of the failure of government to make a compelling case for voluntary action. I guess some people feel that the loss of bodily autonomy requires more justification than "because we say so".

    3. Tim V - If you put aside your hostility to the government for a moment, and look at the evidence from all round the world, it's clear the risks of covid for yourself outweigh the risks of taking the vaccine. Further, that if you don't take the vaccine it increases the risk to others, as a result of you being more infectious. If you're focusing instead on whether your government's particular communications constitute proof of this, you're focused on the wrong thing - to the detriment of yourself and others.

    4. Mark T, I'd have said "Further, that if you don't take the vaccine it increases the risk to others, as a result of you being more [likely to be] infectious."
      The unvaccinated are more likely to catch the virus than the vaccinated, but the vaccinated and unvaccinated carry equal viral loads and thus, once infected, would be equally infections, according to Public Health England and this American study:

    5. Andrew B - Equal viral loads perhaps, and equal ability to infect others at their the peak of infection; but I read somewhere else that the unvaccinated will take longer to recover, and therefore remain infectious for longer. I couldn't see anything in your link that contradicted that.

      The more that are vaccinated, the fewer possible paths the virus has to survive by transmission and evolve into different variants - that current vaccines may not be as effective at protecting us from.

  8. Epistemology is, indeed, the foundation of understanding reality. The problem is that those who think these days that their epistemology is rock solid haven't a clue.

  9. "I suggested it's the difference between being genuinely pro-freedom (recognising that a context-sensitive application of rights will require govt involvement, and may require quarantines/vaccines/masks etc.)"

    I get the case for quarantining the sick who knowingly go around infecting others. Can you expand on which circumstances would justify mandating vaccinations, if that is what you meant, please.

  10. I think we need to stop confusing overseas situations, and overseas arguments, with what is happening here. Yes, giving government officials the power to mandate general vaccination of the population is to invite tyranny. And overseas, that’s called a vaccine mandate But that’s not what’s happening here, is it, and it’s wrong to conflate the two situations.

  11. Ah, so "may require quarantines/vaccines/masks etc." doesn't apply to New Zealand?
    So where would it apply?

    What's happening here is not an out and out mandating of vaccination, no. It's a mandating by 1,000 cuts - banning the unvaccinated from jobs such as teaching, nursing, etc., taking away their right to travel outside Auckland without paying extornionate amounts for tests (abandoning the principle of presumed innocence, requiring the unvaccinated to prove their not being infected while the vaccinated are assumed to be uninfected), denying them access to the state's chattel airline (KiwiRail next, or already?), etc.
    It's stacking the deck against them. That's fine if it's the free choice of private enterprises, but big businesses don't operate free of state influence these days.


We welcome thoughtful disagreement.
Thanks to a few abusers however, we (ir)regularly moderate comments.
We *will* delete comments with insulting or abusive language, unless they're entertaining. We will also delete totally inane comments. Try to make some sense. We are much more likely to allow critical comments if you have the honesty and courage to use your real name.