Passing Bull 233 – Am I a mere statistic?


In the discussion about the virus that threatens the world, we can see two sides forming.  One wants all possible steps to be taken by government now to stop the spread and reduce the risk.  The other favours less intervention with a view to keeping the economy going for as long as decently possible.  If you put it that way, a lot depends on the scope of the term ‘decently.’

Those on the side of the economy – if I can put it that way – are fond of quoting statistics.  They refer to other causes of death.  Death from this virus may or may not be excelled by deaths by influenza, pneumonia, road accident, or gun use, in the United States.  But how is that a reference to one cause of death might logically affect the way that we deal with another cause of death?

I have to confess a personal interest.  By reason of my age and health – especially the heart and the lungs – I would be a luscious target for the virus, and one of the first to be thrown overboard if those in control determined that the life boats were insufficient and that they had to decide who should be saved – which is, as I understand it, the position in at least Italy right now.  While it may be possible to envisage such a phase of death-sentencing triage, allowing people to play God over the lives of other people is abhorrent to any reasonable notion about the rule of law, or, for that matter, civilisation.  In the fullness of time, I will be a statistic.  But it is appalling to think that other people might see themselves as empowered to say when my humanity should succumb to arithmetic.

Some colour is given to the argument for the economy by saying that we are at ‘war’ with the virus.  The short answer is that government cannot claim new rights or powers, that affect our rights and powers, merely by claiming to affix a different label.  And we should remember not just the hollowness but the danger of the term ‘war on terror.’  The results were not pretty.

And while I am about it, the Second World War was a real war, but for the most part parliament kept its normal routine. There is something than worse than odd in suggesting that this crisis makes parliament unnecessary.

In a book about Terror and the Police State, I said:

In his book Bloodlands, Professor Snyder estimates that Hitler and Stalin murdered more than fourteen million people between Berlin and Moscow in twelve years.  While it may be within the power of the human mind to plan murder on such a scale, it is hardly within our power to comprehend the human evil that is required – or of the injury to mankind…….

If you accept as an article of faith that each of us has our own dignity or worth just because we are human, then it is wrong for anyone to treat anyone else as a mere number.  We are at risk of doing just that when we seek to compile numbers of the victims of the three regimes that we have been looking at. 

The essential crime of both Hitler and Stalin was that they degraded humanity by denying the right to dignity, by denying the very humanity, of people beyond count – by denying the humanity of one man, woman, and child multiplied to our version of infinity.  Every one of those victims – every one – had a life and a worth that came with that life that was damaged or extinguished.  …..Professor Richard Snyder endorsed the proposition that ‘the key to both National Socialism and Stalinism was their ability to deprive groups of human beings of their right to be regarded as human,’ and when we descend to statistics, we might do the same. 

In short, a government that treats me or anyone else as a disposable statistic resembles those governments that we least admire.


But if the present crisis does not convince our leaders of the dangers of big government, nothing will.

The Australian, 27 March, 2029, Maurice Newman

It is a terrible time to be a small government ideologue.

The Guardian, 28 March 2020, Katherine Murphy

Those quotes might stand for the difference between two media groups on the current crisis.  It is frankly hard to see our present trials as an ad for less government.  And it is appalling to think that a government appointed Mr Newman as Chair of the ABC.

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