Isn’t that what the acronym BLM stands for? No? There you go then, just goes to show the infinite possibilities of the English Language.
In any case, the new meaning incorporates the old one because British lives do come in various hues. That makes the acronym more inclusive, and isn’t inclusivity the name of the game, even if it’s sometimes rigged?
British lives do matter and, now that some 90,000 of them have been lost to Covid, it’s time to ponder how much. People do ponder, and two opposite views emerge, one pragmatic, the other libertarian.
The government clearly wishes to save as many lives as it can. The cynics may ascribe this impulse to purely political considerations, the idealists opt for nobler motives, and all of them, cynics and idealists alike, agree that HMG doesn’t go about its task in the most efficacious manner.
However, the pragmatists allow that the overall thrust of its policies is laudable. They ask themselves what they’d do if they were HMG, and tend to accept that it wouldn’t be strikingly different from what HMG is doing.
That some sweeping measures are desirable is proved by Sweden that haughtily adopted a laisser-faire approach to the pandemic. As a result, she ran up a death toll 10 times higher than in her more dirigiste Scandinavian neighbours. King Carl XVI Gustaf even had to apologise publicly for his government’s approach to Covid, which he correctly described as a failure.
Since this is the only European benchmark on which the validity of stringent measures can be assessed, one is justified in believing that their absence in Britain might have increased the death toll by an order of magnitude. That would mean close to a million victims, roughly twice the number of casualties the country suffered in the Second World War.
The libertarians, on the other hand, also have a point or two. First, they say that nothing about the pandemic is known for sure: its aetiology, treatment, prophylaxis, the efficacy of masks, social distancing and lockdowns, the likelihood and duration of immunity, the long-term effect of vaccination.
What is known for sure is that the people’s civil liberties have been severely and intolerably curtailed, to the point of confining Britons to house arrest without due process. This is especially objectionable in the absence of ironclad data clarifying every jot and tittle of coronavirus.
Yes, come back the pragmatists, co-opting Guy Fawkes to their cause. Desperate times call for desperate measures, don’t they? People’s civil liberties were even more curtailed during the Blitz, when a mere 43,000 died. So much more the reason to accept such restrictions now that the death toll is already more than twice as high. And we don’t even have to have blackouts yet.
Neither group invokes Christianity for support, sensing that no religion is relevant to the quotidian concerns of modern man. Progress has left Christianity in its rearview mirror, whereas the view through the windscreen unfolds in all its electronically enhanced beauty, complete with mushroom clouds billowing on the horizon.
However, just to keep the irrelevant record straight, Christ did attach value to every human life, while deemphasising the importance of civil liberties. “Render unto Caesar…” and all that. And when he said “the truth shall make you free”, he didn’t mean the kind of freedom that’s conferred by government decree.
But do let’s get back on the terra firma of unadulterated secularism. I am in general agreement with the pragmatists there, especially since they can also invoke arguments based on the outdated, but to me indisputable, notion of the sanctity of human life. Yet the libertarian argument can’t be dismissed out of hand.
The parallel lines I’ve drawn between Covid and war are long, and they don’t stop once the original reason for them has been eliminated. A trivial illustration of this tendency is the 55mph limit on US motorways introduced in 1974 during the oil crisis.
The crisis soon ended, but the risible speed limit didn’t. On the federal level it survived until 1995 and it still operates in many states. That proves yet again the immutable law of the universe: governments never relinquish everything they’ve claimed.
All modern governments, regardless of their political doctrine, are innately centralising, which means authoritarian at least latently. Authoritarianism means the state divesting the maximum number of people of the maximum amount of power.
Civilised countries have in place any number of checks on the state acting according to this inner imperative, but the state feels time is on its side. It patiently looks out for any pretext to grab more power.
Hence, the state sees an opportunity in any crisis, especially one in which large numbers of people die. Wars are ideal in that respect, but pandemics will do at a pinch.
You’ll notice that state power in Britain (and most other civilised countries) increased exponentially after both World Wars. Emergency measures were introduced during the hostilities, and after the wars ended so did many of the measures – but far from all.
No concession of power to the state can ever be entirely temporary. Even if most emergency powers run through the sieve after the emergency ends, some residual powers permanently settle between the holes.
That’s why Covid, while being the reason for temporary restrictions, may well become a pretext for permanent ones. Putting it bluntly, we may lose some important liberties in perpetuity.
On balance, I support the group I’ve described as pragmatist. But it can’t be gainsaid that a balance exists and it must be considered.
Perhaps the best course of action is to leaven acquiescence with vigilance. Do let’s comply with masks, lockdowns and so forth – while keeping an eye out for a permanent power grab by the state. Believe me, it’s eminently capable of it.