Sunday, November 10, 2019

Semi-Random Musings (17)

How many significant lessons have you absorbed from the history of neighboring provinces or states back in the 1640s, and how often do you reference them when making important decisions today? My guess would be not too many, and not very often.

At the Red Sea, shortly after the final vanquishing of the Egyptian army, Moses and the people of Israel sang these words to the Lord: “The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.” Perhaps at the time that was more anticipatory than precisely accurate: Philistia was all the way across the Sinai Peninsula. It seems unlikely the news of Pharaoh’s stunning defeat could have traveled so far so fast.

Today, 9/11 is well into our rear view mirror, the Cold War is an unfamiliar subject to Gen Z and most Millennials, and the Vietnam War might as well be the War of the Roses for all we have learned from it. We do not remember the lessons of the past, even the very recent past. So then, even if, as Moses sang, the lessons of Egypt were indeed learned by other nations, one wonders how long the fear and reserve they produced would have lasted. A generation? Two maybe? Human nature appears to be chronically forgetful.

Amazingly, almost 400 years later, when the Philistines believed themselves to be under the judgment of the God of Israel, we read that their priests and diviners gave them some astute and unexpected counsel:
“Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After [the God of Israel] had dealt severely with them, did they not send the people away, and they departed?”
Hey, I have no doubt the more intellectual Philistines kept decent written records. Many ancient cultures did. But it wasn’t their nation that was beset with plagues or their countrymen who vanished into the Red Sea. Who even looks at 375-year old manuscripts, let alone retains their contents and seeks to apply the lessons they teach us in the present day? Either the memories of the Philistine priests and diviners were nothing short of remarkable, or else when God decides he is going to make an impression, he does a uniquely effective job ...

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I’m fairly confident that when God told mankind, “Fill the earth and subdue it,” he was not thereby sanctioning cloud seeding, bio-engineering, GMOs, sex-selective abortion or any of a host of other presumptuous attempts to give a certain subset of human beings more effective control over the rest of us, and over the planet generally. The Divine mind is certainly more than equipped to anticipate we would eventually engage in this sort of craziness, but knowing human beings are capable of just about anything does not equate to approving whatever it is we might get up to.

My own take has generally been that human management of the earth is a whole lot safer when it operates more like Daylight Savings Time. DST simply means we acknowledge that our way of measuring time needs to be adjusted occasionally to maximize available light and enable us to be more productive. Rather than seeking to transform the earth, we try to get the best from it by adjusting ourselves to it.

Mind you, even such subtle reconfigurations of our biorhythms are now being shown to produce a surprising array of ill effects. Switching ourselves to Daylight Savings Time, it is now being argued, causes increases in car accidents, workplace injuries, heart attacks, cyberloafing and cluster headaches.

LiveScience offers the profound observation that the reason a change in rhythms has such significant effects on us “remains unclear”. My question would be: “If we don’t know why a little thing like DST affects some people so acutely, why on earth would we ever dream of messing with anything bigger and more far-reaching?”

Hubris, maybe.

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Speaking of forgetting the lessons of history, the UK’s National Health Service (the rough equivalent of Ontario’s OHIP and the very rough equivalent of the US’s on-the-rocks Obamacare program) announced last week that it will now deny healthcare services to citizens who use “threatening and offensive language”, “racist or sexist language, gestures or behaviour” or make “malicious allegations”. The intent is to muzzle Brits who disagree with current immigration policies.

To the best of my knowledge, the UK is the first major Western state to make its basic rights offering contingent on political correctness. (China has been doing something like this for a while, but we expect it there.) Bear in mind that older citizens who may find themselves newly excluded from access to necessary medical care under the new policy merely for expressing their personal opinions online have been funding the NHS with their taxes, in some cases for their entire working lives. It is hard to imagine that the faceless civil servants who gave birth to this inspired notion will not suggest revoking vested government pensions on the same shaky basis a week or two down the road.

Especially alarming for Brits is the fact that the terms “threatening”, “offensive”, “racist”, “sexist” and “malicious” are all pretty much undefined, allowing censure to be applied however the unelected NHS bureaucracy sees fit, and making it all but impossible to legally contest an exclusion. Freedom of expression is officially dead in the UK, and if this policy is enforced, some significant number of citizens will shortly follow suit.

Needless to say, this is a spectacularly bad idea. Political change tends to come suddenly and shockingly for most people affected by it. I am reminded of the poor advice given to King Rehoboam by his contemporaries. Their political inexperience and failure to learn from history led them to assume a show of strength from the throne would force the disaffected Israelite population to walk back its demands for tax reform. Instead, governmental overreach split the kingdom. The secession that followed was initially non-violent, but quickly turned bloody when the state futilely attempted to suppress it.

A sentence executed passively rather than actively still produces the same outcome. What the UK’s government is now telling its citizens through its healthcare-admin proxy is that conscientious objection to mass migration may be treated as a capital offense. When you send the message that an idea is worth killing for, those on the other side of the argument can hardly be faulted if they conclude you might be right.

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