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Happy first anniversary to New Zealand's brutal, pointless, COVID apartheid
A reflection on the vaccine mandate era by a friend in New Zealand, who has agreed to let me post it here. It serves as a reminder to anyone wishing to rewrite history.
A year ago New Zealand began a system of pointless, harmful discrimination. It was almost akin to apartheid: different treatment of equals based on an entirely arbitrary characteristic. It had zero public health benefit. And it destroyed many people's lives.
Here's a reminder to anyone wishing to rewrite history: it was established beyond doubt a year ago that the vaccines did not stop transmission to any significant degree. This finding was not buried in the weeds. Easy-reading summary articles in the world's most prestigious scientific journals had made it plain as early as August. New Zealand’s own Ministry of Health advised this in November, in guidance quickly pulled, presumably for contravening the government line. The Ministry concluded that:
there is currently no evidence that the application of an alternative pathway based solely on vaccination status, or the routine incorporation of unvaccinated asymptomatic individuals into a high-risk pathway, is justified.
When the PM announced the vaccine passport system, she said it would give vaccinated people "confidence" that the unvaccinated would be kept away from them. On national television, she acknowledged that this would create two classes of people.
She would have known at that point that there was no public health rationale for such discrimination – that this was simply a sledgehammer of an incentive policy, with a suppurating side order of segregation.
Everyone else could have known too. The facts were there to know. And the harms the system would predictably cause were large enough that anyone with a social conscience should have known them. There was no excuse for ignorance in the face of such a significant imposition of the power of the state over the individual. No one should have supported or acquiesced to a regime aimed at destroying the livelihoods and social lives of some 5% of the population, excluding and traumatising these people and their children, without doing a minimum of research to see whether the claims on which that system was justified were valid.
I remember the feeling of nausea the first time I used my passport. I remember thinking so, this is what being atop a caste system feels like; register this feeling, and think on it - do not hide from this, like a weakling does. Can you imagine the thoughts of a child whose parents tell them: we are not allowed to use the swimming pool or library anymore? Or the thoughts of a parent, standing in the rain outside their daughter’s club’s prizegiving, desperate to catch a glimpse of her end-of-year performance, but prevented from entering? We need to remember these thoughts, these feelings, these subjugations. We need to remember that, in an instant, “high-risk settings including large-scale events” became our local outdoor pool, sports field, and public campground. We need to remember how quickly and obediently our councils, businesses, and the media gathered in behind, fearful yet aggressive, eager to be checked for social acceptability. It was a full-court press. The upshot? Total society-wide discrimination.
We all share a duty to defend liberty and human rights. It is people who are the guardrails of democracy, not policy. Beneath the bureaucratic language and stylish tech, mandates and passports were a fundamental reorientation of our relationship with the state. From the freedom to work, trade and gather being a natural right, limited by the collective only after careful justification, to a privilege doled out on conditions set by the powerful. From a society of ‘yes unless no’ to ‘no unless yes’.
With the implementation of the vaccine passports, a major threshold was crossed. It was a time to stand up for principle. A time to think clearly and quickly. A time to acknowledge and care for the society that feeds, clothes and protects you, by defending the principles that make that possible. There were red flags everywhere: constant lying and gaslighting by the PM; the country's top legal scholars describing the passage under urgency of blank cheque legislation as a "constitutional disgrace"; children prevented from playing sport; the hospital sector losing 50 doctors, 500 nurses and 500 other employees.
In The Philosopher and the Wolf, Mark Rowlands writes:
Bad things are the result of a certain kind of failure on the part of their perpetrators. The failure is ultimately a failure of duty; but there are two different sorts of duty involved...
On the one hand, there is the failure to do one's moral duty. The particular duty in question is to protect those who are defenceless against those who deem them inferior and therefore expendable. There is, however, another kind of duty involved: something that philosophers call epistemic duty. This is the duty to subject one's beliefs to the appropriate amount of critical scrutiny: to examine whether they are warranted by the available evidence and to at least attempt to ascertain whether or not there exists any countervailing evidence...
We humans fail to see the evil in the world because we are so distracted by shiny and twinkling motives that we don't notice the ugliness beneath them. Whenever we look closely at evil, in its various forms and guises, we will always find staring back at us failure of epistemic duty and failure of moral duty. Evil that is the result of explicit intentions to cause pain and suffering is a rare exception...
This has one notable consequence: there are more evil acts and more evil people than we would care to imagine or admit. I have committed evil actions; many of them. And so have you. Evil is quotidian; it is commonplace. It is banal.
The stench of complicity, of spinelessness – of ordinary, banal evil – won't leave this country. It still disgusts me. I smell it on everyone with the intelligence and resources to have done anything other than acquiesce to this system. On every scared little grifter from the 'knowledge class' who prefers ego-stroking talk about principles than taking the necessary acts to defend them. On anyone whose job lets them read the news and have the space to think about it. On anyone working in policy. Anyone not on the breadline. Anyone who lacked not knowledge, or time, but the courage to look for the facts and recognise truth, and the conviction to let their consciences guide their actions.
No one really believed in these policies. Everyone knows it. If they had believed in them, then where was the counter-protest when they were removed? If the system truly was important to protect the vulnerable, as well as stem the anxiety of healthy 20-somethings, then where were its defenders? Why didn't people fight back? No-one cared for the end of the system – for everyone knew, not very deep down, that it had been pointless and wrong.
For many of us, New Zealand society now cleaves into two parts: those who attended the protest at Parliament, and those who failed to do so. The protest was the obvious chance to register opposition and stand up for a principle. It required setting down snobbery to stand alongside the great unwashed: the people the fancy left purport to care and work for. The proof that this was the last and best chance to fight an unjust policy is simply this: the protest succeeded in its goals. Weeks after the clearout, the mandates and passports were largely removed. That makes it perhaps the most successful protest in New Zealand’s political history. To anyone with pretensions of principle, and a self-image that tells them they'll stand up in a crisis, that truth stings. The sour faces and pouting of these folk are because they know they'll never have the bravery, audacity and creativity of the protestors in Wellington.
You had your chance. You of the complacent middle and lazy left had enough time to think your complicated thoughts. You had five months from the policy announcement in which to decide: am I someone who stands up for principle, or am I in this world for myself? That binary defines you in my eyes. My moral fellow travellers are now the people from all walks of life, holding any manner of beliefs, who saw wrongness, and were brave enough to believe it then act on it. These people; the obstinate ones, the rebels, the truth-tellers – not the talking heads in white collar jobs – are the flame-bearers of democracy, no matter how crass their habits or wild their beliefs. Intellectual snobbery and perfect grammar are not how we made this place. We made this place with truth, bravery and selflessness. It is disposition, not knowledge, that makes and preserves liberty and democracy.
I think of the others now, those who hid under the blanket, as ‘people for fun’. Not serious people. And even fun can be a struggle, sometimes. As Raimond Gaita puts it in Romulus, My Father:
For him, the pleasure of talking even about trivial matters depended on his knowing that the person with whom he was speaking was one whose responses to other topics could be trusted to be serious and decent. That was essential to his joy in conversation.
2022 for me was the year people revealed themselves. Happy anniversary, Jacinda. Your arrogance and inhumanity lost the day. And we won. Because we finally saw you, and saw each other, for who we really are.
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