09 April 2020

Civil liberties in a post pandemic society.

Civil liberties in a post pandemic society.

Our general idea of civil liberties involves the concept of being free to do certain things.  For example freedom of speech, freedom of movement within one’s country, freedom of information, freedom to gather in groups and so on.

Unfortunately, with our subject we are trying to predict how the world of civil liberties will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic right in the middle of the pandemic with little or hardly any solid scientific facts and information are available. But this does not mean we cannot think and discuss the topic.

The key civil liberties problem these past few weeks (Mid February-April) has been the issue of lockdown (stay at home orders). Some people object to the lockdown because their freedom of movement and right to congregate with other people has been taken away from them by a government dictate. We can safely assume that these people are either misinformed or at the worst mischief makers. These people clearly don’t have the capacity to distinguish between protecting one’s life and that of others and the right to do what one feels doing.

This means that this and future pandemics will have to be managed on scientific criteria and not political ideology. Don’t forget that the coronavirus pandemic happened right in the middle of the climate change debate. And with a high dose of irony it took a deadly virus to demonstrate how serious climate change is to humanity.

A more serious concern the coronavirus pandemic has created is the fear for the economy, local and global economy, of failing to the extent of creating a long term recession. Even at the time of writing, millions of people have lost their jobs or income creating economic hardship for many people. Some even worry what will happen to certain sectors in the short and medium post pandemic terms: the aviation and tourist industries would be prime victims.

What is also clear is that the economic welfare of people in the world is as important and their healthcare. It is not sound policy to take advantage of people in developing countries, who don’t have a voice to protect themselves, since their wellbeing in a global economy is tied to our wellbeing. For example in the 1980s we had the UK Acid Rain* scandal when emissions of sulphur dioxide in the UK (due to coal burning) was affecting Scandinavian countries; exploitation of the Amazon forest: Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima Daiichi (2011) nuclear disasters: and of course the coronavirus. The point is that natural or human made global disasters are not limited by national boundaries and no one is naturally immune to the effects of nature.

For better or for worse, and no doubt to the chagrin of politicians, the coronavirus pandemic has shifted social behaviour and social restrictions based on scientific evidence and not political fiat. Evidence the ideological nonsense of President Trump, and Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, at the beginning of the pandemic and now: this should not be a surprise given both share the same ideological dogma. It is clear that when and where politicians tried to deal with a biological crisis (e.g. Chernobyl) by referring to political dogma, their policies fatally failed. The most dangerous of such dogma was the reckless British policy of “herd immunity” so much touted by the British cabinet and Prime Minister. Today it is estimated that the UK will have the highest death rate in Europe when this pandemic is over. Many argue that this ideological failure delayed the lockdown policies.

Countries like New Zealand, Taiwan and Germany took decisive action early in the pandemic to lockdown and test for the virus that paid off with the limited death rate in these countries. But the problem of civil liberties after the pandemic started well before the coronavirus pandemic even mutated into a dangerous virus for human.

Civil liberties start with the role played by politicians in protecting people especially in law and order and economic wellbeing. Today we know that privatised healthcare including the supply chain are not conducive with modern society. Mainly for two reasons, the first is that it is absurd to burden businesses with moral decision making that involve the whole nation when their model is profit motivation. Indeed, the philosophical idea behind the Hippocratic Oath is “do no harm” for example see the Declaration of Geneva*: I WILL NOT USE my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat.

And secondly it is morally unacceptable to allow private companies to decide who gets medical treatment and who doesn’t. This is the worst form of conflict of interest imaginable: profit vs doing no harm. And the best work around of this dilemma is not having to decide who gets treated but to offer treatment to those who need it.

I would expect that post coronavirus pandemic civil liberties stand a good chance of being boosted by creating a movement towards healthcare systems that provide the necessary care for free at the point of need. Plus a demand for better equitable income distribution. Let us not forget that the coronavirus proves extremely fatal when people are already compromised with some underlying disease. So it makes no sense to withhold normal health care treatment from people because of money and price and then go into spasms of panic when we are hit with a life threatening disease such as the coronavirus.

We also have to be clear and distinguish between providing free health care at the point of need and managing such health care. The advantage of this strategy is that this system would be managed by professionally qualified people who are independent from the political system. Indeed, standard Hippocratic Oaths emphasise the professional conduct of health carers and the integrity of medical knowledge.

Some would ask how are we supposed to pay for this service? It is well documented for example that the EU estimate that member states lose one trillion Euros a year due to tax evasion and tax avoidance. Although health care is expensive it is also an activity where there can be huge economies of scale and efficiencies. Take the standard campaigns of flu vaccination: as a cost the bill for such vaccines must be quite high but the benefits of limiting flu incidences would pay off in the general population. And equally important any competition in the profession is competition to improve the service and treatment and not profits.

Another possible development in civil liberties post pandemic is that people will demand that politicians are really held accountable for their actions especially when they act from ideology or vested conflict of interest and not objective criteria such as biological criteria. Holding politicians to account is a civil liberties issue because our wellbeing and economic standards depend on their decisions. Dr. A. Roberts* in a YouTube lecture “Why Hitler Lost the War: German Strategic Mistakes in WWII” presents a very strong argument that Hitler lost WW2 not because he was mad but because his decisions were always based on his dogma or ideology of National Socialism. Thus the protection of the Reich was constantly being compromised.

My approach to the topic of civil liberties post pandemic is based on two arguments. The first is that our idea of civil liberties must now also include what those in authority have to do for us. The idea that civil liberties are things we are allowed to do is as useful to us as suing an 18th and 19th centuries horse and cart to distribute goods from an operation like Amazon. It is not enough we have the right to do something but today the authorities must by their actions and policies guarantee such rights.

The second aspect of civil liberties post pandemic is that our civil liberties would be better guaranteed if all aspects of society are managed by people who are professionally trained in their technical fields. This does not mean that mistakes and failures won’t happen but it does mean that people and their methodology is open and transparent. Basically scientific facts and methodology cannot be falsified and manipulated: any tampering with reality would fail miserably.

Take care


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*UK Acid Rain at Environpedia

Declaration of Geneva

*Dr. A. Roberts presents Why Hitler Lost the War: German Strategic Mistakes in WWII.

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