Authoritarian Australia – Opting Out


Australia Goes Full Stasi

You’ve certainly heard the story: This week in Melbourne, Australia, a pregnant woman was arrested in her home in front of her children. Zoe Buhler’s “crime” was posting on Facebook about a forthcoming anti-lockdown peaceful protest. The police officer claimed this was “incitement” and hauled her off to jail in her pajamas.

Some states in Australia have already seen the most brazenly authoritarian interventions by governments in response to COVID-19, with Victoria enacting curfews and police home visits to ensure only designated persons have left for designated reasons.

I challenge anyone to defend the government’s actions.

The way that this debate has been framed, to justify freedom-destroying lockdowns and other non-pharmaceutical interventions, is that individual rights must be sacrificed for the sake of public health. This has also been used to justify what the police did to this woman.

The first problem with that is that there has been no resignation that sometimes it can be taken too far. The implicit assumption is that anything the state does to combat the virus is justified. This latest incident has suggested that policy-makers have no upper limit as to what freedoms they will curtail.

But more fundamental than that is that the individual rights versus public health dichotomy is bogus. There is nothing to say that the virus might be better managed as decisions are left to individuals and property owners – people generally speaking don’t want to get sick or make other people sick. Governments thrive in a crisis, however, and didn’t think twice before going full Stasi.

The empirical data also does not support interventions, especially now as we’re many months into the epidemic. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research recently showed that the lockdowns can’t be proved to affect the virus much, because “those policies have varied in their timing and implementation across countries and states, but the trends in outcomes do not.”

This makes a mockery of the whole pro-lockdown ideology, exemplified by such analyses put out by Our World in Data, which basically states countries with good health outcomes don’t on the whole have worse economies. I was actually struggling to understand the practical point they were making until I realised they had just assumed that countries with better health outcomes must have implemented a lot of non-pharmaceutical interventions.

Which as we now know, have had little to no impact on trends. Proper lockdown-skeptics have also never accepted the tradeoff between health and economy. No, lockdowns are bad for the economy, violate our rights, and also in fact do not achieve health aims. We have a lose/lose situation here.

There is no longer any justification for this power grab, if there ever was. I humbly await from those who accused us of wanting to kill our grandmas an apology for their mistake.

Why is everything so crazy right now?

Part of it might be illusory. Remember two years ago when, after the net neutrality bill was repealed, the sky fell? Well, that’s what the Democratic Party and CNN would have led you to believe, conjuring up scare stories of comprehensive throttling of the web by service providers, forcing us to pay to Tweet or watch YouTube videos. Yet now, to highlight the basic insincerity of these people, it’s all been forgotten.

It’s obvious that the majority of what’s presented as a “scandal,” the majority of headline news even, is a manufactured crisis. This weekly cycle of drama is designed to put us in a constant fight or flight mode. This is deliberate trauma, especially as we get deep into election cycle as interested parties make drastic last ditch grabs for momentum.

The dilemma is whether it’s more sensible to participate in This Week’s Outrage and attempt, maybe in vain, to break down the narrative and offer a more nuanced principled take, or just opt out entirely. I lean more to the latter, perhaps out of sheer despair.

Yet there is a very real sense in many people that things are bad, and what’s more, we should do something about it. The coronavirus is a massive fear, and governments’ attempts to curb it have foisted upon many peoples’ an authoritarian movement most of us have not witnessed in our lifetimes. Americans have had to suffer the fiery results of ill-conceived and unprincipled rioting, and likely in future to suffer aggressive martial powers in response. It’s rough, and not just a mirage. We can’t just sit back and do nothing, surely?

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James Smith

Writer and film-maker from the United Kingdom. Digital nomad. Author of 'The Shy Guy's Guide to Travelling'.