Risk aversion and the modern socialist

Henry normally puts his articles up by himself, but it’s not here and this one really gets to the heart of one of the critical issues of our time: ‘Official Socialism’ skulking beneath the cover of Covid. I’ll give you the opening and you can pursue the rest for yourself:

As COVID-19 hit these shores, the country’s medical bureaucrats must have felt like the members of a small and rapidly diminishing cargo cult when they finally glimpsed ships on the horizon.

Propelled onto centre stage, obscure officials suddenly acquired a notoriety rivalling that of ex-royals. With the nation hanging in suspense, their daily reading of the tea leaves received the weight antiquity reserved for the oracle at Delphi, determining whether we could go to work, eat out or travel. And as they lurched between shutting states down and opening them again, most of us, who a year ago could scarcely pronounce “epidemiologist” (much less spell it correctly), quietly accepted their verdict, getting on with life and trusting that governments would do their best.

No doubt, circumstances partly shaped that response. COVID-19 is potentially lethal and relatively contagious; particularly when it first appeared, there were good reasons to fear the threats it posed.

But while it would be wrong to dismiss the public response as irrational, it is clear its extent takes some explaining. Two inter-related trends seem to be at work.

There is, to begin with, a long-term rise in society’s aversion to risk that is apparent not just in social behaviour but in the very words we use. In effect, “security”, as it evolved from the Latin, originally referred not to the absence of risk but to its stoical acceptance as an inescapable aspect of the human condition. In a usage that remained current in most European languages until less than a century ago, to be secure was primarily to be serene: to have the peace of mind needed to face life’s contingencies and ultimate finitude.

Instead, in today’s world, the quest for security involves the demand to eliminate uncertainty, or at least reduce it to the point where the anxieties it causes hardly intrude — and in particular, where death, “the rude touch of the Terrible Surprise” as Philip Roth called it, is cauterised from everyday existence.

I will also give you the last paras which really are worth thinking about:

Perhaps that is the fate the pandemic foreshadows — the “Official Socialism”, which LT Hobhouse ridiculed in his vastly influential Liberalism (1911) as “a scheme for the organisation of life by the Superior Person”. This was, he said, a regime in which “the aristocracy of intellect which fills the civil service decides for each man how he should work, how he should live, and indeed, whether he has any business to be born”.

Good stuff, in theory, Hobhouse went on to add; but, while the “Superior Person’s way may be much wiser, it is not the ordinary man’s” — and the “ordinary man” is quite fond of making his own mistakes, rather than being told to make someone else’s.

One certainly hopes so; yet authority once gained is not readily relinquished. Moreover, comparing our experience, viewed as a whole, to that elsewhere, many Australians might draw the lesson that it hasn’t been as dreadful as all that. With the desire to be cradled from risk as potent as ever, those ships the Superior Persons were anxiously awaiting may indeed have finally arrived.

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14 Responses to Risk aversion and the modern socialist

  1. Entropy says:

    the “ordinary man” is quite fond of making his own mistakes, rather than being told to make someone else’s.

    Awesome quote.

  2. Walter Plinge says:

    As I posted in the comments to Henry’s article: an excerpt from Brian J. Ford’s 1982 book (still in print) The Cult of the Expert:

    The spreading acne of Nonscience has taken the new and wild-eyed race of Experts into every walk of life…It is surprising how seriously they are taken; but there is a self-centred headiness, almost an ebullient mania of oppressive righteousness, about the Expert of today…he intimidates all outsiders with the piercing eye, the jutting chin, the uncompromising manner which demolishes all opposition.

    Experts always tell you things, they never ask. Every Expert pushes aside criticism or probing, he merely asserts. Experts fly from ideas like midges from fire-smoke; they congregate around piles of data instead. Above all, they adore their power to rise above everyone else in the scramble for prestige, without the slightest wisdom, or worldliness, or even common-sense, behind them.

  3. stackja says:

    USA CDC reports influenza cases at record low. Mystery?

  4. Fair Shake says:

    Another great quote ‘authority once gained is not readily relinquished.’ In fact Andrew’s wants it longer and harder.

  5. Paul says:

    Make some one else’s mistakes

    Or put another way socialists always put its failures down as the wrong Dear Leader

    The right person will implement socialism the right way

    So say all those who make mistakes.

    But I contend these are not mistakes but pure evil deliberately set upon the population for political power
    Socialisms failure is not a mistake, its implementation is

  6. Roger says:

    Another great quote ‘authority once gained is not readily relinquished.’

    A bit off topic (although not entirely), but the perfect example:

    The Commonwealth took over all income tax powers from the states in 1942 citing the war emergency.

    The emergency ended in 1945.

  7. Roger W says:

    I was able to post this in Henry’s comments section, thanks to information from last night’s post by Steve:
    And only yesterday, an authorized reporter with an official media pass (Avi Yemini, who is national bureau chief for Canadian-based Rebel News) was banned from Dan Andrew’s press conference on the orders of the Premier’s Personal Assistant. (The police office is on tape, saying “And the Premier’s Personal Assistant doesn’t want him here at the conferences.”). So, can we expect a Four Corners special? Will the 7.30 Report cover it? Will it be on ABC or Commercial news 24/7? Or is the Victorian Premier a protected species? All reported today in Quadrant.

    Lots of likes so far, so plenty of people recognising the evil that is Andrews’ Victoria at present.

  8. John says:

    Nonsense. This post can still be shared using links in facebook. Use a little bit of human ingenuity. I believe everything is impossible … until somebody makes it possible!

  9. duncanm says:

    and the “ordinary man” is quite fond of making his own mistakes, rather than being told to make someone else’s.

    the consequences of socialism is the magnification of mistakes by those ‘superior’ people – by millions.

    Like an organism with little genetic variability – it is vulnerable to being extinguished by a singular threat.

  10. duncanm says:

    Experts fly from ideas like midges from fire-smoke; they congregate around piles of data instead.

    an amusing analogy. Data as piles of shit.

  11. Delta says:

    Yes and from WMBriggs this morning: Dear Quacks & Experts: Your Loss Function Is Not Our Loss Function

    Experts have decided that since they know more about facts, like how lithium causes docility, that they therefore get to decide on the morality and propriety of any and all acts based on these facts.

    Even if we grant experts their claims of knowledge—a generous and absurd admission—it just does not follow that experts know best about what to do. About anything.

    Because a doctor says you might have a malady, it doesn’t mean the treatment the doctor recommends must be followed. The horrors of the treatment, to you and which the doctor will not suffer, may outweigh the chance the malady strikes you. Or you may prefer the suffering due to the disease over the pain and expense caused by the treatment.

    What is important to a doctor is not necessarily important to you. The doctor doesn’t want to be sued for malpractice, or must follow a rigid protocol, and is over-cautious. And, as said, he doesn’t have to suffer the decisions he makes for you. You do.

    In decision analysis we say the doctor’s loss function is not the same as yours. The consequences of actions don’t carry the same weight for everybody. But we now pretend they do. Because experts.

    We used to know all these things. We don’t anymore.

    Now we have experts who say idiotic insane things like we have to wear masks forever. Pronouncements which we have to pretend to take seriously because the expert is in government employ.

    This expert won’t be tarred and feathered, or even laughed into oblivion. He’ll almost surely be promoted.

  12. Trax says:

    These recent lockdowns and other enforcements have been an excellent example of why socialism always will fail.
    Look at all the unintended consequences, constant changes due to preventing even the most reasonable behaviour and the fact many rules don’t even make sense to the problem at hand. Never mind that half the time, as admitted, the politicians made unnecessary decisions just to send a message.

  13. Boxcar says:

    Is”addiction to fear” more appropriate than “aversion to risk”.
    The world is full of petty tyrants who rule our swimming, bowling and footy clubs, and the unwashed fall in or fall out until an Outlier arrives and calls “enough”.
    Most politicians are just more of the same, but with a higher view of their very average intellects. Rudd & Turnbull are perfect examples.
    They don’t live for leadership, they don’t even know the difference between leadership and control.
    They want control, and fear begets control.
    But the real divergence is at the point where the masses pray for their political “leaders” to find a cure, that is the last thing the politicians and their fellow travellers want.

  14. John A says:

    Perhaps that is the fate the pandemic foreshadows — the “Official Socialism”, which LT Hobhouse ridiculed in his vastly influential Liberalism (1911) as “a scheme for the organisation of life by the Superior Person”. This was, he said, a regime in which “the aristocracy of intellect which fills the civil service decides for each man how he should work, how he should live, and indeed, whether he has any business to be born”.

    Ah, now I know from where the writers of “Yes, Minister/Yes Prime Minister” drew their inspiration!

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