Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Ongoing Abuse of 'Emergency'

“Emergency Talk” used to implement restrictions will be repackaged and weaponised again

The architects of military coups and revolutions love to invoke “national emergencies” to suspend civil rights, impose curfews, and get around awkward constitutional constraints. The advantage of declaring a national emergency is that you can legitimate violent and anti-constitutional interventions, and unprecedented power grabs, under the pretext that you are saving the nation from imminent doom.

The fact that demagogues and dictators are particularly fond of invoking emergencies to legitimate their power grabs does not mean that all emergencies are fabricated by budding tyrants. But it does mean we should be extremely wary when politicians declare emergencies as grounds for suspending rule of law or expanding their power over citizens’ lives.

When a nation comes under military attack, it may be legitimate to declare a state of emergency, impose curfews, and redirect some economic resources toward national defence. But this was not the sort of situation represented by CV. We were not under military attack, and we were not facing some sort of civilisational threat. Rather, we were faced with a nasty respiratory virus with an estimated infection fatality rate in the range of 0.2-0.3%, that our healthcare systems were not properly equipped to respond to.

In the face of this nasty virus, governments declared national emergencies, suspended the right to protest, shut down businesses and schools, mandated universal masking, prohibited religious services, severely restricted travel, and attempted to regulate the number of people one could entertain in one’s home. At the time, it was predictable that this sledgehammer approach to public health would cause far-reaching and disproportionate harm to human health and well-being. But the CV “emergency” was presented as an irresistible justification for every conceivable CV intervention, irrespective of its potential collateral harms.

It would be reassuring to believe that the excesses of emergency talk seen during this pandemic were an unfortunate blip unlikely to happen again anytime soon. But emergency talk is becoming increasingly popular among our political classes and among certain classes of political activists, not only in relation to CV but also in relation to other alleged “crises” such as climate change. There is no doubt that the sort of rhetoric and ideology that was used to justify CV emergency measures can and will be repackaged and weaponised again to justify another slate of intrusive and illiberal interventions, whether to “save the climate,” or keep us safe from some other collective threat, such as terrorism.

A critical antidote to the weapon of emergency talk is awareness of its existence and the threat it poses to our freedom. Emergency talk is notoriously malleable and susceptible to abuse because, by definition, it is difficult to define the conditions of a public emergency independently of the judgment calls of political leaders. Emergency talk is especially dangerous when it is thought to empower a highly autocratic style of top-down interventions and to disempower local civil society and political actors, as it has been interpreted during the recent pandemic.

The utilitarian logic of the new emergency talk – the notion that no value or right, no matter how precious, can stand in the way of measures that are perceived as “effective” responses to an emergency – is especially insidious. Confronted with any emergency, whether real or perceived, you can use emergency talk to convince people that we absolutely must arm the government with a blank cheque to do “whatever it takes” to avert a catastrophe.

Because emergency talk activates powerful emotions of fear and terror, the invocation of emergencies can bypass people’s critical faculties, speaking instead in a direct way to their sub-rational survival instincts. This is a distinct advantage for political leaders who would prefer to save themselves the trouble of being held accountable for their actions before the tribunal of reason.

Here are some of the defining features of the sort of emergency talk we have heard during the pandemic, features that are eerily similar to the emergency discourse of environmental activists:

  • speculative and unsubstantiated scientific projections suggesting very bad things will happen to us “unless we act now”
  • speculative and unsubstantiated attributions of efficacy to policy interventions that nobody really knows will work
  • a preference for interventions that involve a massive amount of coercion and top-down control, over interventions that trust citizens to do the right thing, or simply foster voluntary cooperation in the service of the common good
  • a revolutionary spirit, that views traditional rights and constitutional conventions as inconvenient obstacles to progress
  • a blindness to potential collateral harms of revolutionary, top-down interventions in the social fabric

So next time you hear a government talk about the revolutionary changes we need to make to “fix” global warming, whether steep carbon taxes, centrally imposed limits on energy usage, or the elimination of cars from our streets, you might ask yourself:

  1. First, do we actually know that these top-down interventions will “fix” global warming and its effects? Just how compelling is the scientific evidence for their efficacy?
  2. Second, have the architects of such policies given adequate consideration to their knock-on effects on human health and well-being, and economic development, whether in the developed or developing world?
  3. Third, even granting that environmental reform is needed, do I have any reason to trust that eliteactors and institutions that used emergency talk to justify the suspension of basic liberties during the pandemic, will act in good faith and respect our fundamental liberties in the context of climate change and other emergencies, whether real or perceived?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Home-made Doom takes Home-made Emergency Procedures, but most of the masses just ignore their dance, it's so obviously insane; Mentally one has to question mush brains behind stupidity sold as reality, IMO!

American Citizen's do not have to buy everything being sold, right?