Fear and Freedom
I know that in the current state of fear that this blog might meet with some resistance, please be gentle and think about what I am going to say before you react. Take the time before you form an opinion to think about where you see the world headed on its current trajectory in the next 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 1,000 and 10,000 years. It’s a long time and honestly, most people (myself included) are barely looking beyond the next 5.
On September 11, 2001 (911) there were 2996 people killed and over 25,000 injured when multiple planes crashed into buildings in the United States of America. The events were heard around the world. America vowed that they would not be caught off guard again. The resulting system that was built by the NSA is unparalleled, from what is recounted in the autobiography “Permanent Record” by Edward Snowden. If half the things that are mentioned in the book actually exist then we should express some concern about what this system could do for good and also for evil.
I have to admit that there are some things in the book that I shook my head at, for example, there is one point he talks about a system that will allow you to drill down on a person and even view the footage from their laptop camera. The events that transpired from the deaths of 3000 people compromised the liberties of an entire country and the worse thing about it is that we did not realize what was happening. In the 19 years that followed that event most of us went on with our lives without knowing that our internet, phone conversations and chat messages. We see companies like Facebook taking the lead from the government and openly admitting that they are monitoring our chat messenger conversations. Don’t only look at Facebook here, they are not the only company doing this and although a lot of work is being done in the guise of “voice recognition” we have to be careful about the freedom we give up in free.
Although users of the telephone system and internet in the US and in China did not have a choice when the government started monitoring their chatter when we signed up on our favourite social media site we voluntarily gave our rights to our own information in the EULA that we signed. Where the US and Chinese government ironically justify this sacrifice of individual freedom as necessary to protect the freedom of the whole we justify our personal sacrifice of freedom as necessary to keep in touch with our friends or to see the latest cat video or meme that people are talking about. None of us spend the time to carefully consider the implications that this might have on our own personal freedom. Now we see people talking about “tracking corona” and looking to social media as a way to “help protect the world”. I would like you all to think about where this might go in the next 1, 5, 10, 20 years and beyond.
COVID-19, the Flu and Car Accidents
I’ve been reading about the virus and, like others, I have compared it against the flu. In the case of the flu, we see about 12,000-61,000 deaths annually in the US since 2010:
The deaths here are recorded only if the person that died was accurately diagnosed as having the flu. This data does not accurately track how many people that died but did not know they had the flu. If we look at COVID-19 related deaths in the United States we see that deaths are tracking at about 39,000 currently. I could not find stats that indicate if that 39,000 people that have died from COVID-19 reduce the number of total deaths recorded by the flu. Until I see stats to the contrary though I am going to assume that they are. So now we have a case of a virus outbreak that has the net effect to kill no more people than the yearly flu stopping the global economy and removing my right to go to a nice restaurant and enjoy a meal. In the future, this could also remove my rite to privacy as well. That is terrifying.
I know that there are people turning red, jumping up and down in their chair and saying, “BUT THIS IS NOT THE FLU!!”. Fine, that’s not a point I really want to argue, I am merely comparing mortality rate stats. I also don’t want to argue the point, “well if we didn’t do this then it would be worse”. It might have been worse. I am not denying that swift action, in this case, was a bad thing. In fact, I believe that when there is a problem if you act swiftly initially you can contain it better than if you delay. What I am saying is that now that we have made the initial response let’s take some time before we make another knee jerk reaction to silently, or even publicly, condemn everyone in the world to surveillance.
I would like to look at another entirely unrelated stat before I move on from this point: deaths attributed to car accidents. One stat cited in Wikipedia (ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motor_vehicle_fatality_rate_in_U.S._by_year) is that in 2016 there were 37,461 people killed in 34,436 motor vehicle crashes. Using a percentage calculation with these numbers does not really make sense (thanks Novy!) but if we contrast the absolute mortality rates against the flu we do see comparable mortality rates. For instance in 2017-2018 out of 45,000,000 people that contracted an illness 810,000 were hospitalized and 61,000 died:
Doing some simple average calculations we see that is about 7% of those hospitalized die. Looking at COVID-19 we see that in the US out of 746,625 diagnosed cases there is a mortality rate of 39,083 which is about 5.2%:
I am an avid cycler and over the course of a year I have had a number of close calls, one of them being yesterday. I was almost sandwiched between a driving and a parked car. The driver apologized profusely. I escaped with only a couple of skinned shins and palms. I am not going to stop biking because of this.
Hugging is for Humans
We are social animals. Even those, that are self-professed agoraphobics like myself, crave healthy, safe interactions with others. We need to feel connected, we post pictures of meals on Facebook because we want to share our lives with one another. In the span of a month, we have allowed ourselves to be separated without question. I am not saying we did the wrong thing reacting swiftly, nor am I disputing that we should stop washing our hands. What I am saying is that after this is done we should carefully consider our next moves. We should try to look at the next 1,5,10,100 years if we are able and determine if the moves we make will make our lives better or worse than they were before. We need to ask ourselves if what we are doing will have serious implications on our personal freedoms and way of life. We need to ask ourselves if the “safe” world that we are building is actually one that we would like to live in. We should ask ourselves and our children if this is the type of world that they would like to live in and remind them how it was “when we were young”:
Be kind and gentle to each other out there and remember, none of us makes it out of this alive.
With Love, Clayton.
- September 11, 2001, Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_11_attacks
- Tracking App Being developed by Apple and Google – https://www.aclu.org/news/privacy-technology/apple-and-google-announced-a-coronavirus-tracking-system-how-worried-should-we-be/
- Permanent Record by Edward Snowden
- iPhone camera hack – https://thehackernews.com/2020/04/hacking-iphone-macbook-camera.html
- Facebook monitors messenger conversations – https://thenextweb.com/facebook/2018/04/05/facebook-confirms-it-spies-on-your-messenger-conversations/
- CDC Stats
- The vehicle fatality rate in the US per year – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motor_vehicle_fatality_rate_in_U.S._by_year