You may have missed some of my recent pieces for DIPLOMAT. So try this one:
This one on Covid-19 and the Strange Death of Human Rights:
Enter COVID-19. It turns out that the Enlightenment and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and almost everything else ever written about human rights was wrong. Far from being unalienable, all human rights are subservient to a brand-new doctrine: State-Sponsored Safety.
The right to travel and to enter your own country freely? To run a business? To comfort a dying relative? To invite friends round to your home? To have some privacy and not be monitored by the state when you go to a café? To sit in a park? To go to a football match or just kick a ball around with friends? To walk about not muzzled like a dog?
All gone. Because YOU HAVE TO BE SAFE. AT ANY COST …
The philosophical problem with the way that states around the world have responded to the COVID-19 is that they have panicked and abandoned this sense of proportionality. Focusing policy responses in a crass utilitarian calculation on more or less measurable COVID-19 deaths means that unmeasurable things such as the a priori value of human rights don’t count at all.
It’s not that COVID-19 isn’t a problem. Of course, it is. But the intelligent policy issue here is how COVID-19 compares as a problem to other problems. And how far it’s wise to throw resources and restrictions at this problem at the risk of creating new problems or making other problems (say cancer and depression) far worse.
Yes, money can be spent on trying to make any one thing ‘safer’. But money spent on this won’t be spent on other things that might have far greater positive multiplier effects. Throwing money at the latest supposed disaster risks being a ghastly example of confirmation bias. You focus on what you can see but play down or ignore what you’re not looking at or can’t see, including deaths caused by your new policies that happen some way in the future …
Hence the ruinous (intended?) consequence of this COVID-19 epidemic, namely that all sense of state self-restraint in curbing human rights has been jettisoned. Why not maintain a constant State of Emergency just in case as the ‘new normal’? After all, human rights around the planet have been slashed because of the COVID-19 emergency, with hardly a squeak of protest. What about the far greater climate emergency?
When I was growing up it was impossible to deny that human rights in ‘Western’ countries were orders of magnitude more respected than in the communist or wider autocratic world. The Cold War ended. Freedom won. Hurrah.
Yet since then it’s all got … slippery. There’s no longer a confident Western instinct of freedom. Our human rights are gnawed away as the state adopts a creepy sense that anything goes in keeping people safe from illness or injury or even a stupid Tweeted insult.
We’re victims of speedy global convergence on a new oppressive collectivist idea of lowest common denominator freedom, with states around the planet now at one in agreeing to tolerate only as much freedom as they can’t avoid conceding.
No leader on Earth will now step forward and speak honestly:
“Citizens! Bad news!
This winter there could be over 40,000 deaths from flu. This is more than happened in 2014 and in many other bad winters we’ve had.
Some pressure groups are demanding that I proclaim an emergency, shutting down normal life and cancelling your human rights. Because ‘if even one life is saved, it’s worth it’.
No! The underlying logic of that argument is insane. And the economic and human costs of implementing it will be calamitous for decades to come.
Take sensible personal precautions if you feel unwell.
Otherwise? Carry on.”