QED

Obliged to Bow Before the Altar of Incompetence

Those characterising themselves as ‘sovereign citizens’ have been re-animated by COVID-19 restrictions. Personally, I think if we live in and enjoy the benefits of society, we should act within the laws of the land and resist flagrantly flouting societal norms of behaviour. However, two caveats apply.

Laws should be duly enacted by a representative parliament. And such laws must be morally defensible, as should societal norms. Christianity provides an acceptable moral template and runs through the American Constitution, as it does the development of common law in Britain and in Australia.

Questions arise when governments wield emergency powers, albeit under duly enacted legislation, and when private citizens take it upon themselves to act as moral vigilantes, scolding those who don’t play along. The enforced quarantining of those with an infectious and potentially deadly disease is on its face a legitimate use of emergency powers. In a medical emergency, it is appropriate to give executive government broad powers. It may also be appropriate to publicly shame those who advertently act in ways which patently and directly put other people in harm’s way.

But now, perforce, we enter the world of judgement. Which government actions are legitimate and which are not, and when do private citizens overstep the mark and deserve approbation? There are no right answers but there are some guidelines.

Executive actions should not be capricious and arbitrary. What does that mean?

It means, first, as with equal treatment under the law, that those in a similar position should be equally affected. It seems anomalous for example to proscribe elective surgeries while allowing abortions for healthy mothers and their healthy unborn babies. It seems anomalous to apply different social-distancing rules for churches as against, say, mosques.  It seems anomalous to allow people to mingle while protesting while disallowing or severely limiting wedding and funeral gatherings.

It means, second, that government actions should make sense; are fit for purpose. Keeping children from attending school, chasing people from golf courses or from beaches or parks or, as now in Victoria, preventing people from driving more than five kilometres to buy groceries, all make little sense. None will reduce the incidence of the disease. How do I know, you might ask?

Of course, I don’t know anything at all for sure. I am simply applying what is known about infectious diseases in general and about this one in particular. Children are not laid low by the disease and hardly ever pass it on. Being outdoors is better than being indoors when it comes to passing on germs. Driving ten kilometres is no more injurious than driving five – the risk of road accidents aside. And often enough someone’s favourite grocery store is more than five kilometres away. So, the rules are out of whack with common sense.

As to us private citizens, censuring our fellows is not generally becoming. Those among the public prone to scolding others take their cue from government. Fortunately, I appear to live in an area with uncensorious people and therefore have not been chided for getting too close or for not wearing a mask or for replacing a grocery item or for not sanitizing my hands. I learn from the news, and from friends who live elsewhere, that this is not the universal experience.

Personally, I just don’t buy the effectiveness of constantly sanitizing one’s hands or of wearing a mask. There is so much conflicting opinion about how the virus is spread. I cannot see how me sitting on a bus on one of the requisite crosses presents any threat unless I am sneezing or coughing and spluttering. I agree that in these circumstances a mask might be helpful but it would be more helpful not to be on the bus. And that, in a nutshell, is my strategy.

All told, it is surely civilised to set a high bar for moral vigilantism. I don’t like to see people scolding other people. Now, if someone were sneezing on the tomatoes in a supermarket there might be reason to have a quiet word. But, as I’ve said, lots of people take their cue from government. It is a malady of our age that government is thought to be wise; and, most of all, responsible for keeping us ‘safe’.

We should know by now that government is generally run by (more often than not incompetent) do-gooders who insist on helping whether such help is needed or not. Reagan nailed it, as he often did. “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”In-between elections, the two bulwarks against capricious and arbitrary governments are parliaments and the press. Parliaments have often willingly been prorogued during this pandemic – which has been a disgraceful abdication of responsibility – and the press, mostly, have been cheerleaders for whatever draconian and senseless diktats government see fit to promulgate.

Here and around the world we are witnessing the tendency of governments to overreach and restrict personal freedoms when the opportunity is presented and when not under close critical scrutiny. Perhaps, sovereign citizens are not so idiosyncratic in such circumstances.

9 comments
  • Ian MacKenzie

    Victoria has Australia’s most left-wing state government, and the current crisis has shown that government to be Australia’s most incompetent. Correlation is not causation, but drawing that conclusion is mighty tempting at present. As it is, the rest of us are getting an excellent demonstration of what life is like being ruled by a bunch of ex union officials, left-wing lawyers and career politicians whose resumes don’t include any real-life experience.

    Despite this incompetence and a thoroughly politicised and corrupt police force, legal system and civil service in Victoria, the Liberals are still not nearly as competitive as they should be. Perhaps if they were prepared to stand up for Liberal values things would be different. If not we have to conclude that Victorians are more masochistic than the rest of us.

  • Warty

    The sheer clarity of a good, common sense argument ought to be universally effective, unfortunately it is not.
    I couldn’t agree more with Peter Smith, but reason seems in short supply at this point in dystopian time. As Ian Mackenzie rightly points out, even the Victorian Liberals seem freeze-framed into timorous inaction. They remind me of the swamp Republicans over there, who can’t bear the sound of Trump’s voice, being so filled with petty disdain they’re prepared to throw the rule of law under a bus.

  • Stephen Due

    The problem in Victoria is that a progressive socialist political party has been voted into government, and is running the State in tandem with a progressive socialist public service. The Victorian Labor parliamentarians’ most prominent skills are political manipulation and the accumulation of power. Normally the government is free to legislate dreamily on fringe issues such as LBGTIQ rights, and providing suicide facilities for the elderly. But then this epidemic comes along. A lofty Health Department official acts swiftly, comparing it to Captain Cook – a fine opportunity to express anti-racist outrage. What else is a high salary in the Health Department for? Meanwhile the government, forced to put aside branch-stacking and other everyday tasks, must now act. Here the Premier’s many visits to China bear fruit, as he recalls the cryptic Chinese maxim: when the ruler is wise, the people live in fear.
    In my town, a strong, fresh breeze is blowing in off the Southern Ocean. Down the wide street, a lone individual can be seen wandering along wearing a face-mask, the badge of his citizenship in the republic of the Woke, a sign that he has been silenced, and a most suitable symbol of his enslavement.

  • pgang

    We are gifting governments the power to control us. Having given up on rendering to God, western civilisation now renders to Caesar. If w are not placing our faith in God, where else is left but Caesar? Caesar answers the call with the only means at his disposal – the sword. God answers with care and mercy.
    As long as faith in government remains the central focus of our belief in providence, the middle class will shrink and the divide between the powerful and the powerless will grow.
    Stephen Due has summarised the reality nicely.

  • Forbes

    I agree with Stephen and pgang.
    I would however say, Peter, most lefties are quite happy, even eager to seek to impose their perceived correct behaviour on us all.
    Quite unAustralian.

  • Peter Sandery

    Whilst agreeing completely with what Peter Smith has said here, may I offer a word of caution to those like Ian Mackenzie who seem to imply that greed for power at the expense of participatory democracy within a working Federation is but confined to big unions and lefty lawyers – witness the veritable emasculation of the Senate’s authority and responsibility of geographical representation.

  • Ian MacKenzie

    Peter Sandery, my comments concerned competence rather than commitment to democratic principles, and it’s worth noting in that regard that the Andrews government has now far outclassed the Rudd government for the most citizens dead due to a negligently implemented government program. As I mentioned the Victorian Opposition, perhaps we can add LINOs (Liberals in name only) to the list of those without much of a commitment to democracy.

    It is also worth asking what solution is available to the erosion of democratic rights. Peter Smith has outlined what governments should do, but apart from the next election, what constrains them when they do what they should not? Emergency powers have been abused ever since some bright spark thought them up. We know that limits documented in something like a Bill of Rights empowers unelected Judges to create law, bypassing Parliament. However unwritten conventions are also vulnerable – witness John Bercow’s abuses in the UK. It seems Churchill was right -democracy is the worst form of Government (except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time).

  • Occidental

    “In-between elections, the two bulwarks against capricious and arbitrary governments are parliaments and the press.”
    Actually the most significant bullwark against capricious executive government, in Australia, has always been the judiciary. Of course in the United States, with a different system of government, both the legislature and the press have been very effective at preventing executuive overreach.

  • Paul Maguire

    As several comments have correctly pointed out, the Victorian opposition has been completely missing in action and the PM has all but abandoned us Victorians to our fate under this pernicious ‘State of disaster’ under the most incompetent provincial government.

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