Posts Tagged ‘coronavirus’

Epidemiology is still more art than science and sometimes just speculation

July 24, 2020

The Wuhan virus, after 6 months, is still not under control.

I have grown a little tired of being told by all kinds of people that they are just following the science in the fight against the Wuhan virus. What science? There is a widespread delusion that epidemiology is a “settled science”. Epidemiology is, in reality, a mix of science and art and of “social science” (which is always a politicized view of behaviour). It is about “the frequency and pattern of health events in a population”. With a little known virus, as in this case, epidemiology relies on models and speculation. When the speculation is garbage, the model results are also, necessarily, garbage. The model results have ranged from the ridiculously complacent to the grotesquely alarmist, but what they all have in common is that they are/were wrong. Nothing surprising in that. That is the nature of modelling. A mathematical model is nothing more than a crystal ball and model results are always forecasts of the future. The problem lies in the delusion that epidemiology is an exact science and that model results give a sound and certain basis for public policy.

In the absence of a vaccine we are being led (or misled) by politicians blindly following the epidemiologists’ speculations about both the characteristics of the unknown virus and about social behaviour. In the space of 4 months the “best” epidemiologists at the WHO have changed their view of the Wuhan virus from being “non communicable between humans”, to “communicable by liquid droplets between humans”, to now be of “air borne transmission”. The experts have been divided whether transmission is from the symptomatic or from the asymptomatic. There are as many speculative views about when herd immunity can be achieved as there are epidemiologists. No one really knows. Art not science. Herds are always moving and herd immunity depends upon leaving the weak behind. Public policy is floundering as it staggers from lockdowns to no lockdowns to social distancing, from masks to no masks to some masks to masks for some, and from testing those with symptoms to restricted testing to mass testing. There is no certainty about whether testing is to be for the virus or for antibodies to the virus.

The Center for Disease Control has this definition of epidemiology:

Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events in specified populations, and the application of this study to the control of health problems.

But then they go on:

…. the practice of epidemiology is both a science and an art.

The reliance on speculation and the resulting weaknesses of epidemiology are well known and there are many scientific articles about spurious but statistically significant epidemiological forecasts. This article in the BMJ from 2004 is just an example.

The scandal of poor epidemiological research

Something surely must be wrong with epidemiology when the new editors of a leading journal in the field entitle their inaugural offering, “Epidemiology—is it time to call it a day?” Observational epidemiology has not had a good press in recent years. Conflicting results from epidemiological studies of the risks of daily life, such as coffee, hair dye, or hormones, are frequently and eagerly reported in the popular press, providing a constant source of anxiety for the public.  In many cases deeply held beliefs, given credibility by numerous observational studies over long periods of time, are challenged only when contradicted by randomised trials. In the most recent example, a Cochrane review of randomised trials shows that antioxidant vitamins do not prevent gastrointestinal cancer and may even increase all cause mortality. 
Now Pocock et al describe the quality and the litany of problems of 73 epidemiological studies published in January 2001 in general medical and specialist journals. …… Worryingly, Pocock et al find that the rationale behind the choice of confounders is usually unclear, and that the extent of adjustment varies greatly. They also confirm that observational studies often consider several exposures, outcomes, and subgroups. This results in multiple statistical tests of hypotheses and a high probability of finding associations that are statistically significant but spurious. 

Modern epidemiology starting from – say – the 1854 London cholera outbreak has vastly improved public health. But it is not just a science and it is certainly not a “settled science”. The Wuhan virus is not under control. The various public policy interventions (lockdowns of various kinds and the deselection of the old for treatment) have prolonged, rather than shortened, the outbreak. The lockdowns may have protected health systems while maximizing the number of deaths. In fact, politicians have often abdicated responsibility for public policy to epidemiologists and bureaucrats who have not been best-suited to make political decisions. In other cases public policy has exploited epidemiology to protect the system rather than protecting people.

This is not so much to criticize epidemiology as to criticize the manner in which public policy has misused epidemiology. Epidemiology can only be an input for determining public policy. It cannot replace common sense. And it is not a convenient shelter for politicians to hide behind.


 

Has “flattening the curve” maximized the number of Wuhan virus deaths?

July 22, 2020

I am beginning to think that the international lockdowns may have been a colossal mistake.

The primary objective of “flattening the curve” was to protect health services, not to minimize deaths.

In theory, flattening the curve should have given the same number of deaths but over a longer period of time. In practice, the flattened curve has kept the pandemic alive for much longer than necessary. The lockdowns have ensured that no general immunity has been achieved anywhere. The total number of deaths could well have been lower with a more intense but short-lived pandemic.

 

“Flattening the curve” Theory

“Flattening the curve” Actual?

The assumption that the curve can be flattened without affecting the area under the curve is speculative and unjustified. The two curves cannot be equated. The reality is that extending the tail of the curve by attempting to flatten the peak may have done more damage than good.

Have the lockdowns actually saved any lives?

Or have they extended the pandemic such that more lives have been lost than if there had been no lockdowns. And at the cost of a global economic shutdown. Fewer lives lost per day but for a very, very long time as opposed to many lives lost per day over a much shorter period of time.

Flattening the curve may well have maximized the number of deaths.

The Chief Minister of Karnataka State in India actually made some sense yesterday when he said:

“There will be no lockdown in Bengaluru from tomorrow. However, I humbly request the people of Karnataka — with folded hands — to wear masks and to practice social distancing. This is the only way to combat COVID-19, at least till a vaccine is found,  …….. People can resume work and businesses as usual, outside containment zones. A stable economy is essential for the state to combat the coronavirus pandemic effectively.” 

Indeed. Protecting a health service in a collapsed economy is not possible.


 

So what exactly have the lockdowns achieved?

July 20, 2020

The Wuhan virus continues to lay waste.

Cases are on the rise again.

Deaths are also rising globally.

The pandemic is now expected to continue into 2021.

There will be no reliable vaccine at least until spring 2021.

So, what exactly have the lockdowns and economic disruption achieved?

If anything?

But one thing is certain. The lockdowns have extended the life of the pandemic.

Without any lockdowns there may well have been a sharper peak.

But it could possibly all have been over by now.

The WHO is clueless. It went from “no person-to-person transmission” to “transmission by fluids only” and is now on to “air-borne transmission”.

Alarmist models don’t make for settled science.


 

 

 

Covid puts ethics under pressure in Sweden

July 18, 2020

The Wuhan virus pandemic is bringing many ethical questions about the treatment of the aged into stark relief.

90% of all deaths in Sweden due to the Wuhan virus have been of those over 70 years. I have been less than impressed by the Government and the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) in Sweden. Their “remaining useful life” criterion is rational but hypocritical in trying to maintain the pretense of it not being age discrimination. They have effectively removed those over 70 from their definition of the herd to be protected. Even the trade unions were extremely concerned about protective equipment for their members working in the care sector. They threatened to strike at some care homes. I suppose that very few inmates of the care homes are active trade union members.

Suspected cases in care homes were usually kept away from the health care system and its facilities. The health system was under stress but never overwhelmed. Isolating those over 70 certainly helped reduce the pressure on the health services, but did not protect the over 70s from themselves being infected in their care “prisons”. In most cases the inmates were infected by their carers. However, unlike the inmates, the carers had recourse to the hospitals. The isolation also eliminated – probably as intended –  any chance of the +70s participating in any herd immunity that may develop. In the fight against the Wuhan virus, “Official Sweden” (from government to bureaucrats), has taken the position that the over 70s are not part of the herd and are expendable.

Take this ethical question:

When an 80+ year old in a care home contracts a treatable condition (bacterial pneumonia for example), but is misdiagnosed (assumed) to have the Wuhan virus and, without any further testing, is put on “palliative” care (morphine) leading inevitably to death, is it 

    1. unfortunate accident? or
    2. humane care?, or
    3. negligence?, or
    4. incompetence?, or
    5. euthanasia?, or
    6. justifiable manslaughter?, or
    7. murder?

“Official Sweden” has generally taken the comfortable position that such cases  – and there are more than a few – are all “unfortunate accidents”. I would put it less complacently at 3 on the list above or even higher.

The nice thing about “unfortunate accidents” is that nobody is accountable and nobody needs to take any responsibility.


 

All the Chinese viruses from the Spanish flu to the Wuhan coronavirus

July 10, 2020

This is the Wuhan virus and it did come from China. 

Trying to be politically correct is more misleading and probably the cause of more disinformation and self-delusion than any other. Political correctness applied to the scientific process is particularly destructive and gives us the burgeoning levels of fake science. Results are determined before the investigations have begun. For the WHO it is servility to Chinese interests which has prevented the Wuhan coronavirus from being named the Wuhan virus.

It now seems highly probable that even the Spanish flu of 1918 originated from China.

National Geographic:

 The deadly “Spanish flu” claimed more lives than World War I, which ended the same year the pandemic struck. Now, new research is placing the flu’s emergence in a forgotten episode of World War I: the shipment of Chinese laborers across Canada in sealed train cars.

Historian Mark Humphries of Canada’s Memorial University of Newfoundland says that newly unearthed records confirm that one of the side stories of the war—the mobilization of 96,000 Chinese laborers to work behind the British and French lines on World War I’s Western Front—may have been the source of the pandemic. …..

…. The 1918 flu pandemic struck in three waves across the globe, starting in the spring of that year, and is tied to a strain of H1N1 influenza ancestral to ones still virulent today.

There is little doubt that the current pandemic originated from Wuhan though, every so often, some journalist or “scientist” who is part of the China lobby will cast doubt on that. 

RealClearScience:

The Asian Flu in 1956 killed between one and four million people worldwide. SARS in 2002 infected 8,098 and killed 774 in seventeen counties. H7N9 emerged ten years later to strike at least 1,223 people and kill four out of every ten of them. Now, the milder, yet more infectious COVID-19 has sickened more than 70,000 across the globe, resulting in 1,771 deaths.
All of these outbreaks originated in China, but why? Why is China such a hotspot for novel diseases?

“It’s not a big mystery why this is happening… lots of concentrated population, with intimate contact with lots of species of animals that are potential reservoirs, and they don’t have great hygiene required. It’s a recipe for spitting out these kinds of viruses,” Dr. Steven Novella recently opined on an episode of the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe.

South Central China is a noted “mixing vessel” for viruses, Dr. Peter Daszak, President of EcoHealth Alliance, told PBS in 2016. There’s lots of livestock farming, particularly poultry and pigs, with limited sanitation and lax oversight. Farmers often bring their livestock to “wet markets” where they can come into contact with all sorts of exotic animals. The various birds, mammals, and reptiles host viruses that can jump species and rapidly mutate, even potentially infecting humans. Experts are pretty sure this is precisely what happened with the current COVID-19 coronavirus, which is why, on January 30th, China issued a temporary ban on the trade of wild animals. ………

….. China is also notorious for its misinformation, secrecy, and censorship, which raises the chances that new diseases will fester and spread. Back in early January, Chinese government officials told the public that the new infection’s spread had been effectively halted. This was not true. At the same time, the authoritarian regime bullied health experts who attempted to sound alarm. The young doctor Li Wenliang attempted to warn others about the new coronavirus. He was ‘rewarded’ with a threatening reprimand by police. Li subsequently caught COVID-19 and succumbed to the disease the first week of February.

It may be called the Covid-19 virus but it is the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic


 

The great success and the great betrayal of the Swedish coronavirus strategy

July 3, 2020

The Swedish lockdown has been more voluntary than enforced. The over 70’s were told to quarantine themselves to protect the health system. Since the compliance with the voluntary social distancing requirements has been quite high, the spread of infection has not been much worse than in many countries enforcing very strict lockdowns. In total number of deaths due to the Chinese virus, Sweden sticks out among its Scandinavian neighbors who enforced much stricter lockdowns. But Sweden is not an outlier among other European countries. Economically, Sweden will probably be among the countries which recover fastest.

The Swedish strategy has been both a great success and a great failure. The numbers tell the tale.

source: worldometers

There is no right or wrong to the various strategies applied by different countries. Decisions have probably been made in good faith though these have been dominated by the culture of fear and risk aversion that permeates the world today. The fear of alarmist, imaginary crises has meant the world was totally unprepared for a real crisis. The impotence of a politicized WHO and the duplicity of a terrified Chinese bureaucracy has not helped. The stupidity of relying on imperfect and alarmist mathematical models was very evident.

But diving into the Swedish statistics also shows great successes among some very great betrayals.

Only 10% of the deaths have been of those under 70. Based on the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) criterion of “expected remaining life”, the loss of expected remaining life has been kept to a minimum. The 90% of deaths of those above 70 do not contribute much to “expected remaining life”. Among the “productive” population the loss of life has been kept down to about 50/million of population. That is the great success. 

Also among the successes have been:

  • intensive care places were more than doubled in a very short time
  • intensive care places were never overwhelmed
  • restarting the economy is well under way, and
  • herd immunity may not yet have been achieved but the risk of infection to the general population under 70 is greatly reduced. (Effectively, Swedish policy excludes the +70s from the herd).

But the cost has been the betrayal of the elderly. The unvoiced, undercurrent of opinion is that “but they were going to die soon anyway”. Care homes became virtual prisons for their inmates. Following the Socialstyrelsen’s publishing of their criteria for prioritizing lives based on “expected remaining life”, there were cases of those infected in care homes being denied oxygen and respirators. There have been cases where they have been put directly onto palliative care (sometimes a euphemism for a self-fulfilling, end-of-life care). The Swedish government through up its hands and abdicated its responsibilities to the bureaucracy of the Public Health Agency (Folkhälsomyndigheten) and of the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen). The Public Health Agency were, I think the heroes, at least for honesty and fidelity and for stepping-up, if not always for compassion. The Health Services were also among the heroes. The bureaucrats of the Socialstyrelsen were hypocritical, mealy-mouthed and less than impressive. The reality, which is the opposite of what they often voiced, is that the elderly are second, or even third, class citizens in Sweden. The Swedish herd has protected itself by excluding the elderly from the herd.

I am over 70 and may be a trifle biased. But the villains of this pandemic internationally are the Chinese bureaucracy, the Alarmist Brigade and the WHO. Within Sweden, the villains are the government and the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen).

And even if herd immunity is achieved, the over 70’s will remain at great risk until such time as a vaccine is developed. Every herd protects itself by sacrificing the weak and the sick. And the old.


 

Loneliness has become policy

June 27, 2020

A friend of ours has beginning Alzheimer’s and entered a care home for alternate weeks at the beginning of March. Then came the Chinese virus. He happened to be in the home when Sweden banned all visits by relatives because of the pandemic. His wife lives only 3 km away but she has not been able to see him since then.

I wrote this a few years ago.

When all your email is only spam


 

Man’s behaviour to man and the “human rights” delusion

June 25, 2020

During this coronavirus pandemic, many authoritarian, draconian and oppressive measures have been used across the world. They have been justified, and accepted, as necessary during a crisis. Some measures will, no doubt, remain after the crisis is over. Many infected, old people across Europe, have intentionally received a lower level of care to conserve resources. There have been cases of being denied oxygen or respirators to “protect the health care system”. In some cases, in care homes, old people have been put directly onto palliative, end-of-life care without even an attempt to treat the virus infection. “Years of useful life remaining” is euphemistically claimed not to be age-discrimination. Care decisions have not been irrational but they have exposed the myth that people’s lives are of equal value. 

As a subject, “human rights” is surrounded by such an impenetrable halo of sanctimonious political correctness that any rational discourse is suppressed. Yet the entire concept is imaginary and misleading.


I have borrowed freely from an earlier, related post: Humans are not equal


What makes a being human?

Infant chimpanzees treated and brought up as human babies, very quickly demonstrate by their behaviour that they are not human. The very few documented cases of feral children have shown that while they looked and were genetically “human”, they had an incapacity for language, social interaction and other learned “human” behaviour. Many animals have been taught some very limited skills to communicate with their humans, but they do not, by any stretch of the imagination, exhibit human behaviour. Working dogs show an ability to be able to understand some part of the abstract goals of their humans, but their behaviour is easily distinguished from that of humans. Many people behave towards their pets as if they were part of their human family, but the behaviour of their pets remains that of the animal species they belong to. Some have even tried to accord “human” status to rivers and mountains and trees. Within this century we may well achieve autonomous entities having artificial intelligence and some degree of sapience and even sentience. We may then be diverted into discussing how they are to be treated and what “rights” they are to accorded.

Does human identity lie in form or in substance? The form is appearance. The substance lies in the behaviour exhibited – not in the behaviour received. Our appearance is determined by our genes. Robots, with AI and maybe even sentience, may or may not have a humanoid appearance. The real challenge will come when we create, or encounter, an entity which does not have the form of a human, yet exhibits the full spectrum of human behaviour. Treating a chimp or a pet or any entity as a human does not make it human. My contention is that the identity of an entity lies in substance rather than form. Identity is not determined by received behaviour but by behaviour exhibited. A humanoid robot, which followed all of Asimov’s three Laws of Robotics, or was incapable of exhibiting anger or aggression or violence, would be a marvelous robot but very far from being human.

human being is a being which exhibits human behaviour.

Man’s behaviour to man.

Humans are born unique. In one legal estimate by the FBI, the criterion for a match between two human DNA profiles was to be considered satisfied if the probability of a mismatch was less than 1 in 260 billion. All the humans who have ever lived over 200,000 years as “anatomically modern humans” number about 110 billion. No two have ever been exactly alike. Humans are not born “equal” in their genes, nor are they “equal” in their nurture. They are not, through their lifetimes, equal in the behaviour they exhibit nor in the behaviour they receive.

A “right” is an entitlement to privilege. The universe provides no entitlements of any kind to any entity. No living thing has any entitlements, not even any entitlement just to live. For all creatures, survival is a result, not an entitlement. The universe we perceive functions according to laws which must be complied with, but the universe makes no promises beyond these. The world does not owe any living things – including humans – anything, whether as individuals or as species. No species has any entitlement to exist. Human survival or happiness or suffering are resultant states, not entitlements.

A so-called ” human right” is an entitlement to privilege; where an entitlement is a promise and a privilege is a position of advantage for an individual or a group. Though promised, a benefit may not materialize. Only when realized does a privilege actually become a benefit. All human societies, ranging from families to book clubs to political parties to countries, grant conditional “rights” to their qualified members. No society can, or does, provide any guarantee that the “rights” it bestows will actually be realised as benefits. All so-called “human rights” are imaginary entitlements to privilege. They have no physical existence. They do not flow naturally from the laws of the universe. The post-WW2 concept of “human rights” is as an artificial, social construct of universal entitlements of unconditional privilege. No qualification is required. It is of an imagined, social contract between every individual and the rest of humanity. The individual’s entitlements are to be considered free of the cost of any duties and are an obligation upon everybody else. Ostensibly, the purpose of the UN Declaration on Human Rights is to “improve” the behaviour of humans to each other. It is a commentary about received behaviour but does not directly address the actions which are the root causes of the received behaviour. The question is whether this “entitlements approach” has had any real impact on the behaviour of humans to other humans.

It has not.

It can not.

The range of potential human behaviour

For any creature, it’s DNA identifies the individual and the cluster of similar entities (species) it belongs to. The genome creates the species-specific, envelope of behaviour which encompasses all that all the individuals of any specific species can possibly exhibit. The scope of individual human behaviour (what each person is capable of doing) is whatever is enabled first by the individual human genome and then as constrained by the individual’s own abilities, physical state, cognitive processes and by the natural laws. Though always within the envelope of behaviour which is characteristic for the species, a person’s actions are also constrained by capability. For all living things actions are driven primarily by the individual’s perceptions of self-interest. For humans, this derives from the cognition which gives rise to reason. One person’s self-interest could well be, and often is, in conflict with that of others. Often, whether intentionally or not, one human’s behaviour causes harm to others. What constitutes “bad” behaviour is a subjective judgement. Actions may be intentional or accidental, may be motivated or reactive, but in most cases will not be considered “bad” by the perpetrators. We behave differently with different people at different times. We are capable of being, simultaneously, utterly vile to some people, while being selfless and altruistic to others. In some circumstances, or by some people, actions which cause harm to others, directly or indirectly, may be considered justified, and may even be considered “good”.

The human concept of justice is subjective and is itself founded on discrimination by the prevailing power against what is judged to be unjust or “bad”. The prevailing power gets to decide what is “bad”. We tend to overlook that justice systems are always based on societies doing future harm to some, to balance or compensate for past harm to others. All cases of sanctions or punishments or penalties are for the intentional causing of harm to those adjudged to be culpable of having done harm. For societies to do harm to those “formally” judged to have harmed others, is considered to be the proper exercise of power. It is correct, ethical and even “good”. (It is unlikely that those harmed by the exercise of justice always consider such exercise to be just).

The “sanctity” of human life has been, and still is, a popular delusion. Whether by warfare, or murder, or execution, or infanticide, or abortion, or euthanasia, or indifference, or in self-defense, or by accident, the killing of other humans has always been selectively justifiable. In every society, and throughout history, particular circumstances are allowable for the harming (including killing) of other humans as the correct and proper thing to do. Every justice system exempts certain categories of humans from the usual consequences of their actions. In the context of the universe, abstractions about the human condition, individually or collectively, are of no significance. No human life or suffering or happiness has any relevance whatsoever for the elements and the forces of nature.

Modifying behaviour

Barbarous or atrocious human acts have not changed much since ancient times when humans, at least, had the excuse of being barbarians. The portfolio of all possible human behaviour was probably established by our genes when we became human some 200,000 years ago. The extremes of how well or how badly humans can treat each other has also not changed that much. Neither were atrocities first invented by ISIS or the Nazis or by Genghis Khan or even by Gilgamesh. All behaviour deemed “inhuman”, including the commitment of “atrocities”, still lies within the envelope of potential human behaviour enabled by the human genome. Aggression and violence are survival traits and part of what makes us humans. Enlightened and civilized societies (as all societies invariably label themselves) have had, and still have, their fair share of atrocities. Even the most atrocious and “inhuman” acts ever committed, still lie within the repertoire of behaviour that humans are capable of today. Technology may have changed, but the worst behaviour today is no different to the vilest behaviour 10,000 years ago. Some of the most cultured humans, living in the most sophisticated of civilizations, have also indulged in cruel and barbarous acts towards others. They still do. History is replete with philanthropist murderers and saintly torturers. Every individual has the capacity to be a saint to some and a barbarian to others, or both to anyone – even simultaneously. Each one of us does invariably behave well to some and badly to others.

There is always a potential conflict between the interests of the individual and those of the collective. The collective always has greater force to bring to bear than the individual. While societies seek to influence the behaviour of their members, the universe is equally indifferent to civilized sinners or barbarous saints. The usual tools are legislation (and all legislation is ultimately coercion by the prevailing power) and peer pressure (the herd instinct). From time to time, some societies have managed to establish high levels of compliance with their rules of membership. Smaller societies, with greater homogeneity and a narrower range of variation among members, generally have a closer correspondence between the self-interests of the individual and the collective, and achieve a higher level of uncoerced compliance. Larger societies – because individuals are not equal – exhibit greater dissent. The more diverse a society, the greater the observed dissent. Some disparate societies have succeeded in getting high compliance by using high levels of indoctrination or repression or suppression or coercion. Even the most “enlightened” system of education  – as every education system – is all about indoctrination. The smooth functioning of a society is the usual justification for whatever chosen level of coercion that may be used. The superior force available to the collective usually prevails and particular behaviour is often suppressed. However, no association of humans has yet managed, by the act of association, to change the innate range of behaviour its members are potentially capable of. That only happens by cultural evolution in the short term, and genetic evolution in the long term. Cultural evolution gives voluntary change while genetic evolution gives involuntary change. The range of genetically enabled, potential, behaviour that humans are capable of, is not affected by whether the surrounding society is monarchic or democratic or fascist. All modes of government (including democratic) rely on the ultimate threat of superior force to try and achieve compliance. All the available examples, today and throughout history, only confirm that while some particular individual behaviour can be temporarily suppressed, the range of potential human behaviour is not changed at all. But where individuals’ self-interests can be aligned with some specific behaviour, cultural change can be effected, and that behaviour can sometimes be sustained and perpetuated across many generations. The question is how a society should organize itself such that the manner in which people suppress their own self interest and constrain their own behaviour in the treatment of others, meets the “standards” established by that society. “Standards” are not written in stone or shared by all. They vary across individuals. They vary with societies, within societies and over time. Some current standards of behaviour would have been abhorrent in the past, just as some medieval behaviour is considered barbarous today. Even what is considered depraved and decadent varies over space and time and is dynamic. Some parts of the world are considered decadent by some and other parts are considered repressive and even barbarous by others. Role models of behaviour yesterday have become contemptible today, and role models of behaviour today were once considered brutish or freakish. Some standards applicable now in some societies, or some parts of the world, are anathema in others. Standards of behaviour have to be manifested, first, locally by individuals. Every society tries to “improve” the behaviour of its members, where “improvement” is defined as greater compliance with that society’s current, consensus set of values.

The human rights delusion

For the last 70+ years the “human rights” approach has tried to decree entitlements to privileges, to be universally applicable to everybody and not conditional upon the behaviour of those privileged. The UN Declaration of Human Rights is built on the proposition that all humans should be entitled to certain unconditional privileges of received behaviour, independent of their own behaviour and which must be effected by the rest of the universe. It is implied that member countries should be making these promises, and legislating for these unconditional entitlements, to everybody without qualification (citizens as well as non-citizens). In practice, no such legislation can, or does, avoid conditions for qualification, boundaries for applicability and limits of jurisdiction. The Declaration is a well-meaning, aspirational commentary on received behaviour but does not attempt to address causing behaviour. In essence, the Declaration piously declaims that “no human should be harmed by other humans” but not that “no human shall harm other humans”. As if the level of water in the sink can be controlled without controlling the tap. The Declaration does not bother to define humans, but merely assumes that the form of a human, irrespective of substance, is sufficient for qualification. It is a wish-list for individual entitlements without any balancing duties.

The Declaration as written was profoundly influenced by the atrocities in Europe leading up to and during the Second World War. It was, to a great extent, driven not only by outrage but also by the suppressed guilt in Europe for its complicity and acquiescence. An underlying driver was that so many in the rest of Europe had agreed with and supported German antisemitism. In any event, it ends up as a self-declaration of virtue by the victors. The assumption is that the declaration of a set of unconditional entitlements of privilege for all humans everywhere (received behaviour) will somehow preempt or discourage the causing behaviour by all other humans. The Declaration is no doubt well-meaning but it is silent about the reality that all individuals act as they see fit in their own perceived self-interest – and are constrained only by their own assessments of unacceptable behaviour. Even in a crowd – be it a disciplined army or a rioting mob – actions are by individuals who judge that their self-interest lies in compliance with the actions of the crowd.

Ultimately, behaviour is manifested by individuals, who can only act locally. Whether of benefit to others or causing harm to others, an individual’s actions are dominated by perceived self-interest. When an individual “mistreats” another, the “human rights” of the victim can be declared to be violated, but the compulsions leading to the perpetrating behaviour are hardly addressed. When Cain murdered Abel, Abel’s “human rights” were surely infringed but Cain’s behaviour was not preempted (and he even got to populate the world).  My “universal entitlement” to not be tortured or murdered is of little deterrence and of no value to me if the local compulsions of others lead to my torture or murder. My “universal entitlement” to freedom of speech and expression is of little note if my cantankerous neighbour dislikes what I say or my surrounding local society labels my speech as “politically incorrect”. It matters even less when my burly neighbour or my surrounding society can exert greater force (moral or physical) than I can. When faced by physical confrontation, and irrespective of who is “right”, my self-interest lies in having access to a stick rather than in waving a “bill of rights”. My supposed entitlements are of no consequence if I am a victim of malice, or an accident, or if I am just collateral damage. My entitlements to the ownership of assets are always subject to the vagaries and expressions of superior force (including state force) around me. Any declared entitlements I may have are irrelevant if the harm I experience is the consequence of malice from someone wishing me ill, or gross negligence by someone wishing me well, or by accident. My entitlement to life, liberty and security of person has no value when my time has come, or if I am infected, or if an earthquake strikes, or a burglar breaks in, or if I am hit by a drunk driver, or if society implements a judgement of harm against me. What I actually receive depends upon the immediate, local behaviour of those around me. That behaviour may well have been provoked by my own behaviour. In practice, whatever I may actually be “entitled” to, by way of privileges in my local society, depends, first and foremost, upon my own behaviour. My supposed entitlements, if any, and even if granted, are never guaranteed – by anybody. All my supposed entitlements are of no consequence if just one person next to me – for whatever reason – exercises greater force and – whether by choice or by accident – performs an act which harms me. In practice, an artificial, global declaration of my imaginary “human rights” is irrelevant to the immediate compulsions of individuals around me. When individuals treat others well, or murder or torture or otherwise mistreat others, they are driven by their own compelling, local, immediate motivations and not by any abstract contemplation of some, artificial “human rights” of others.

The UN Declaration goes down the wrong path from the very beginning. In its “Preamble” itself:

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

“Disregard and contempt for human rights” are not the root cause of “barbarous acts”. The text is a logical nonsense. It is the same mankind which shows the disregard and contempt which supposedly outrages itself. For the text to make any sense, those who showed “disregard and contempt” would need to be separated from “mankind”. The reality is that the root cause is that all “barbarous acts” are also human acts. They are acts which lie within the capability of all humans, and are performed by individuals when particular circumstances and their local, immediate compulsions so dictate. That some humans, even if very few, take enjoyment in inflicting cruelty, is also reality. Cruel, vicious and sadistic actions lie within the natural repertoire of the same “common people” who aspire to freedom of speech and belief and freedom from want and fear. In fact, many of these reprehensible actions stem from these same aspirations. The aspiration to freedom of religion drives more religious strife than any other reason. The aspiration to freedom from want drives more robbery than any other reason. Any idealized, sanctimonious concept of humanity and the “spirit of brotherhood” which ignores this reality is self-delusional. When the Declaration condemns all received barbarity as anti-human, it becomes mired in a logical contradiction when it further insists that the perpetrators still be classed as being human. It is a focus on form which ignores substance. The Declaration denies the reality that the identity of an entity is not determined by the behaviour it receives, but by the behaviour it exhibits. Human is as human does. All “barbarous acts” envisaged by the Declaration fall well within the envelope of actions that humans are capable of and can, and do, perform. They were, and still are, usually caused by the behaviour of only a minority of individuals. Nevertheless, the minimization, if not the elimination, of “barbarous acts” requires that the perceived self-interest which compels such human behaviour be addressed, not just that a “barbarous act” be labeled so, by a consensus, after the event. The “highest aspiration” of any individual is ultimately self-interest and the “highest aspiration of the common people” has no meaning when it is the same “common people” who commit the “barbarous acts”. Being able to be cruel and nasty and barbarous is an integral part of being human and to deny that is fantasy.

Right from Article 1, the UN Declaration is pious and virtuous, but utterly false.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  FALSE

Humans are not born equal, they do not live equally and they do not die equal. The reality is that all humans are born naked, with no resources, no debts, no liabilities and with only those privileges as may be granted, or liabilities that may be imposed, by the surrounding human society. “Dignity and rights” are merely labels for a class of beneficial, received behaviour, but are not something inherent within any individual. It bears repeating to break out of this mass delusion. Humans are not born equal. They are born helpless and utterly dependent upon other surrounding humans for their survival. That is hardly being “born free”. The vastly varying levels of support they receive from others, at birth and through their upbringing, further emphasizes that they are not equal. They behave differently from each other, to each other and differently through their lives. The value of a human life to its own surrounding society is a subjective judgement. It varies across societies, from one human to the next and over the life of that human. It is neither static nor a constant. The value of a human life within its own society varies with manifested behaviour and over time. Human lives are not lived equally. The value of a distinguished life may extend far beyond the boundaries of the local society and long after that life is over. The value of an undistinguished human life may be priceless to friends and relatives, but quite low in its immediate society and may approach zero to a distant society. “Years of useful life remaining” is proportional to value.

They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.  ILLOGICAL. (REASON leads to an assessment of self-interest not of “brotherhood”).

“Brotherhood” has no meaning unless a “brother” is distinguished, by his privileged status, from a non-brother. If everybody belongs to a “brotherhood” then there is no meaning to being a brother. The “spirit of brotherhood” was imaginary at the time of Cain and is imaginary now. In reality, it is because humans are endowed with reason that they have an assessment of their own self-interest. “The spirit of brotherhood”, when it exists, is a cognitive assessment, applied to a particular group and which is always, without exception, subordinated to perceived self-interest. As it was with Cain. It is unconscionable to refer to conscience as if that label represents values common to all humans. To act according to one’s conscience may be an explanation, but can never be an excuse for behaviour. Majorities rule and minorities are always suppressed (even if not necessarily oppressed), always in good conscience. That, after all, is Democracy. “Justice” and judicial sanctions and even miscarriages of justice are carried out in good conscience. Burglers burgle and fraudsters defraud with perfectly placid consciences. People oppose, in good conscience, and even with great violence and cruelty, the equally conscientious actions of others. Every riot or revolution is made up of protesters acting in good conscience. Every war has been started for some perceived common good. Every riot that is viciously put down is for the greater good. Harming a few for the greater good is always considered morally and ethically correct. Harming others (them), for the sake of our good (us), is always acceptable even if only as a last resort. Psychopaths and drunk drivers kill and maim without conscience. The worst atrocities (and what an atrocity is, is a subjective judgement) carried out by man have always been in good conscience. The collective always imposes upon individuals in good conscience (with the excuse that it is for the individual’s own good). The forcible sterilization of, and abortions among, lunatics or blacks or aborigines or the Sami, were all considered moral and ethical in their time. Long before Nazi Germany, eugenics and birth control were promoted to facilitate “the process of weeding out the unfit [and] of preventing the birth of defectives.” The practice of coercive eugenics whether by the Nazis, or by all the supposedly charitable organisations which subscribed to the theory, were always for the greater good. Religious killings, whether during the Crusades then, or by Islamic fanatics now, are always in eminently good conscience. Human sacrifice, religious inquisitions and the slaughter of infidels were the stuff of good conscience. The stairway to paradise is littered with the tortured remains of the victims of religious conscience. Warfare, violent revolutions, executions, egregious cruelty, infanticide, euthanasia of the old, medical triage of any kind, honour killings and even abortions are all carried out in good conscience.

Article 2 is little better than sanctimonious drivel:

Everyone is entitled, to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind ….

You could as well add: without any corresponding obligations, 

This has not the makings of a contract. It sanctifies entitlements and downgrades duties. A contract is untenable if one party has only benefits and the second only has liabilities. This purports to be about received behaviour and yet assumes that initiating behaviour is irrelevant. Humans will not exclude some particular behaviour from their repertoire when they perceive a compelling self-interest in exhibiting such behaviour. Human capability for violence survives because it is a critical survival trait. Human behaviour can only “improve” if the cognitive process at the individual level perceives no benefit, and a high probability of penalty, in “bad” behaviour. Behaviour within any particular society can only “improve” if privileges granted to individuals by their local society are earned by “good” behaviour and lost by “bad” behaviour. Self-interest must be made to align with “good” behaviour for such behaviour to prevail. It is inevitable that if even “bad” behaviour can attract privileges, then “good” behaviour is undermined. If “entitlements” apply even to the perpetrators of “bad” behaviour then that behaviour is effectively shielded and perpetuated. Artificial declarations of entitlement to received behaviour, which ignore the behaviour of those being so entitled, cannot address, let alone improve, behaviour. The “human rights” approach cannot guarantee these privileges, but instead places a blanket liability on the rest of the universe to deliver them. There are no duties, whatsoever, placed on the individuals (everybody) to be granted the privileges. The imbalance is unsustainable. In any legal system, unconditional entitlements to privilege for received behaviour inherently lacks the balance needed for a meaningful social contract. It does not help that every individual is an identified, unencumbered beneficiary of a supposed contract, where all the obligations are to be delivered by an unidentified, diffuse, second party (which encompasses the rest of humanity). The artificial concept of “human rights” represents, at best, an unbalanced and “bad” contract. At worst, it is no social contract at all and misleads by feigning to be a contract.

A culture of entitlement has to shift to a culture of duties

I merely observe that since 1948, the “worst” human behaviour has not, by any measure, “improved”. By one (somewhat underestimated) count, there have been at least 24 mass-atrocity/genocide like events since WW2. More people are murdered today (around 450,000 per year) than ever in the past. However one defines “bad”, the population increase means there are more “bad” people alive today than in 1948. Even though the awareness of imaginary “human rights” is high, and even though the number of people employed in the “human rights” industry has exploded, the frequency of “atrocities” and genocide-like events has, if anything, increased. (It could be argued that the continuing growth of the “human rights” industry is itself an indicator of worsening behaviour!) We cannot even claim that the worst atrocities we commit are any less “bad”. The range of human behaviour is largely unchanged. In one sense, human behaviour may actually be worse, in that, the “entitlements” approach now provides protections even for the perpetrators of the worst atrocities. It gives rise to the horrible situation in many societies that those who harm are afforded greater privileges and protections than their victims ever had. The dead, of course, have no rights though their murderers do.

(I note also, in passing, that “animal rights” are not claimed by any animal. They know better. All “animal rights” are, without exception, claimed by some humans seeking to coerce the behaviour of other humans).

The UN Declaration is about what behaviour all individuals are entitled to receive but never directly about how an individual should behave. It is about what everybody else owes an individual. It is insidious and subversive in that it justifies the idea of having entitlements without any corresponding obligations. If the question is whether the UN Declaration can prevent atrocities from happening again, the answer is clearly that it cannot. It is not the UN or the Declaration but the interconnected world of self-interests which may prevent the scale of the Nazi atrocities from ever being repeated. If the objective is to influence behaviour, the emphasis has to shift away from entitlements to privilege and focus instead on the behaviour of individuals. Behaviour must be addressed at the point of action and not at the receiving end.  That can only happen first at the individual level and only within the “local” society. It is the impotence of global, top-down platitudes versus the bottom-up alignment of self-interest with desired behaviour. Societies can – and do – use legislation to try and influence local, individual behaviour. However, pious assumptions of “universal laws” which are not grounded at the local level, are of little practical help and add little value. The fundamental and guiding principle needs to be that all individuals are responsible and accountable for their own behaviour. Far too often the entitlements approach leads to explanations of behaviour being used to excuse that behaviour. Psycho-babble explanations of “bad” behaviour are used as an excuse. Any entitlements to privilege, in any society, can only be contingent upon behaviour. Where is the UN Declaration on Human Duties?

The artificial “human rights” concept and its imaginary social contract is unbalanced and untenable. If there is no cost to the acquisition of human rights, then they can have no great value. I come to the conclusion that human behaviour is surely capable of being influenced by a social contract. But it needs to be a real social contract where benefits for the individual are balanced by duties and obligations. Entitlements without duties are no social contract and ultimately, anti-social. It is only by aligning desired behaviour with perceptions of self-interest (and not just the interests of others), that we will see a change in the desired direction.

A human is defined by behaviour exhibited, not by behaviour received. And the place to begin is by local, not global, declarations of the behaviour to be exhibited to qualify for the privileges to be accorded to humans. The human condition will improve only when “bad” behaviour is perceived as being against self-interest, not just by labeling such behaviour as a sin against imaginary “human rights”.

“Ask not what behaviour others owe you, but what behaviour you owe to others”


 

 

 

Humans are not equal

April 25, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic brings the delusion of human equality into stark relief.

There is a myth that institutions, from the UN to countries and NGO’s, like to propagate. This is the fantasy that humans are born equal and that their lives are of equal value. All across the world we now see that the infection carriers are mainly younger and asymptomatic. The dead are mainly among the old and the weak. Everyone is now seeking “herd immunity”, but a herd is always on the move. Its security lies in leaving behind and sacrificing the old and the infirm to satisfy the predators. The coronavirus is predatory. It is the younger and stronger who can get the economies to start up again. And the old and the infirm are being left behind.

It has happened in Spain and Italy and the UK as well but I take Sweden as an example where the myth that human lives have equal value is particularly strong. It has become exceedingly clear that the lives of those who may place a greater burden on the nationalised health services are worth less than of those who won’t. Almost 90% of all deaths attributed to the coronavirus in Sweden, (actually 87% currently), are of those over 70 years of age. Many of these were because the infection entered the care homes where the elderly were trapped, mainly through asymptomatic care workers. Unions have then blocked care workers from providing care in some infected care homes. Government institutions have even formally promoted the downgrading of the value of the lives of the elderly. The Swedish Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) has explicitly lowered the priority to be given to those with a lower “expected remaining life”. It is not just coincidence that some Stockholm hospitals have rejected some of the elderly from available intensive care places, in case younger patients with a greater chance of survival might have need of them. (Expressen 23rd April)

There is nothing right or wrong with the reality that humans are not equal. Far better to openly accept the reality than hide behind a delusion.


Humans are not born equal, nor do they live equally and they do not die equal.

Humans are born genetically unique. In one estimate by the FBI for identifications in court, the chance of a DNA profile being matched by another person is much less than 1 in 260 billion. All the humans who have ever lived over 200,000 years as “anatomically modern humans” number about 110 billion. No two have ever been genetically alike or have had identical DNA profiles.

Humans are not born “equal” in their genes. The capability envelope – physical, mental and behavioural – for any individual is already set at birth (actually soon after conception). Nurture then determines what an individual can actually achieve within the capability envelope. But, no amount of nurture (nourishment, upbringing, training, learning or experience) can enable an individual to break out of the predetermined envelope of capability. Nurture may have enabled me to run faster than I can, but no amount of nurture would have made it possible for me to run as fast as Usain Bolt.

Humans are not equal either in the nurture they receive. The reality is that all humans are born naked, with no resources, no debts, no liabilities and with only those privileges as may be granted, or liabilities that may be imposed, by the surrounding human society. They are born utterly dependent upon surrounding humans for their survival. Nourishment and upbringing are determined by the far from equal capabilities of parents. Education and learning and experience vary according to the means of the parents and the surrounding society. The vastly varying levels of support they receive from others, at birth and through their upbringing, further emphasizes that they are not equal. They differ in nourishment, upbringing, training, learning and experience. They differ in what they contribute to, or receive from, their surroundings.

Humans do not behave equally. From birth and through their lifetimes, they differ in their actions and behaviour and interactions with others. They differ in the people they interact with. They behave differently from each other, to each other and differently through their lives.

Human lives are not lived equally. The value any creature places on its own life is entirely subjective and not something that can be estimated by others. Presumably this value is at the maximum possible for the individual concerned. The value of any human life within its own society varies with manifested behaviour and over time. The value to its own surrounding society is also a subjective judgement. However, it varies across societies, from one human to the next and over the life of that human. It is neither static nor a constant. The value of an undistinguished human life may be priceless to friends and relatives, but quite low in its immediate society and may approach zero to a distant society. The value of a distinguished life may extend far beyond the boundaries of the local society and long after that life is over. 

And when a human, no matter how distinguished or productive earlier, is committed for life to a care home or a hospice, the reality is that the current value of that human life, to that society, has dwindled to not very much.

Humans are not born equal, nor do they live equally and they do not die equal. 

There is nothing right or wrong with that. It just is. Far better to openly accept the reality than hide behind a delusion.


 

Globalism fail: A global pandemic is having to be handled nation by nation

April 20, 2020

“Globalism” is meaningless sanctimony without nations first taking care of themselves. In this Covid-19 crisis, there is no “globalised” solution and every nation is having to find its own way of handling the problem. There is a great deal of bilateral and even international cooperation, but every nation is then taking its own decisions for its own people. To be truly international, nations must first take care of themselves.

I have been waiting for the UN Security Council to pass a resolution banning the coronavirus. However such a resolution might well attract a veto from China.

The WHO preferred not to listen to warnings from Taiwan because they follow the Chinese line that Taiwan does not exist.

FT: The criticism by the World Medical Association … accusing it of “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus”. The WMA said the WHO’s failure to heed Taiwan’s early warnings resulted in “errors that led to the world paying a high price” in the 2003 Sars outbreak and the coronavirus pandemic. …. Taiwan has accused the WHO of dismissing its early efforts to raise the red flag that the virus might spread among humans because of the organisation’s pro-China bias. It has been excluded from having “observer status” at the UN body’s annual meeting of decision makers since 2018. 

Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, was among those to call for an investigation into the WHO once the pandemic was under control. ….. Health officials in Taiwan said they alerted the WHO in late December about the risk of human-to-human transmission of the new virus but said its concerns were not passed on to other countries.

The EU is another organisation which promotes the “globalist” religion (provided the EU is first among equals). The reality is that the EU cannot take care of any member state which cannot take care of itself. The EU has proved itself impotent in time of crisis.

Forbes: Mauro Ferrari, head of the European Union’s top scientific research body, … resigned on Tuesday, effective immediately, citing a “political thunderstorm” in the European Commission in response to his plans to address the pandemic. ….. “I moved that the European Research Council should establish a special program directed at combating COVID-19,” he wrote, but that the plan was outright rejected by the European Commission, ……..
Ferrari said, in a two-page statement, printed in the Financial Times: “I have been extremely disappointed by the European response to COVID-19, for what pertains to the complete absence of coordination of health care policies among member states, the recurrent opposition to cohesive financial support initiatives, the pervasive one-sided border closures, and the marginal scale of synergistic scientific initiatives.”

However, the EU did express solidarity with Italy and Spain but had to apologise for being incapable of providing any help.

Guardian: ….. when Italy pleaded for fellow countries to send it medical equipment such as masks, France and Germany not only failed to respond, they placed export bans (since lifted) on the export of the kit Italian hospitals were crying out for. 

 ….. Another problem for Italy is that ….. it has to pay a higher rate of interest on the money the government borrows than is the case for Germany and, when the hospitals in the cities of Lombardy started to fill up with Covid-19 cases, this gap – or spread – started to widen. It was therefore deeply unhelpful for Christine Lagarde, the president of the ECB, to say that it was not the job of her institution to “close bond spreads”. …….. Last week’s virtual meeting of EU leaders was supposed to come up with a joint approach to the crisis but was instead a complete car crash.

Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, said at the weekend: “If Europe does not rise to this unprecedented challenge, the whole European structure loses its raison d’être to the people. We are at a critical point in European history.”

The “Marshall plan” for the EU has been under discussion for over a month but the Commission cannot take their hands out of their pockets for fear of the virus.

Freedom of travel has been suspended in the EU. The EU regulations for reimbursements from airlines for cancelled flights are largely being ignored by EU member countries and their hard-hit airlines.

Of course, following Brexit, the EU has little sympathy to share with the UK.

India and other SE Asian countries have learnt to be very selective in listening to the WHO.


 


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