This week’s post is about two ironies of our time. We cannot expect humans to be consistent to be sure. But it is worth, sometimes, drawing attention to just how inconsistent we are. Governments, media, readers, whatever your politics please pay attention.
This is the latest available data from the Centre for Disease Control about the leading causes of death around the world.
The number of people dying of COVID globally was halfway up this list last year.
Road deaths globally are around 1.4 million – annually. This is less than but approaching the number of people dying from COVID last year. COVID has the drama; death on the roads is sad but expected. It is a daily occurrence.
If a plane goes down and 250 passengers die, it warrants screaming headlines, boards of enquiry, and thorough investigation. Enquiries quickly lead to improvements in air safety. The design of planes is changed; new technology is developed; pilot training is improved. 250 road deaths a month in the UK, for example, because they occur individually, rate a police report, a column in a local newspaper and perhaps a driver prosecution.
These events, whether large scale or cumulative are huge tragedies for anyone involved.
The most significant problem with the pandemic in almost every country is over-stretched services. Police fail to pursue petty criminals because they must deal with the tragedies of road accidents so often. The huge amount of money and effort now being spent on COVID could have been spent on road and vehicle safety, or on medical services, the police, or all three, long ago.
Deaths would have been lower if more money and effort had been spent. That this was never done is a result of lack of drama. In democracies, without a drama, there is no political will to act.
In another example, the number of deaths from guns in the USA was just under 40,000 in 2017. That is the population of the English city of Salisbury. Here, in 2018, Russian agents tried to kill one of their (Russian) enemies with a highly toxic nerve agent. The poison escaped and some local people became sick – one fatally. The poison could potentially have killed the entire city. One can only wonder at the repercussions of that. Yet, the same number of deaths – in one year only – caused by privately owned guns in the USA, is a cause for protest only by a few; it is defended by many others as being ‘part of the American way of life’.
If beings from another planet were to examine our society, they would surely shake their heads in amazement. It may explain why no other beings have visited the earth yet.
Rioting in Washington and Hong Kong
Within 24 hours of the riots in Washington last week, media around the world were comparing the 2019 occupation of the Hong Kong Legislative Council building by rioters with the storming of the Capitol – by rioters.
The Chinese press has been truculently ironic about the criticisms it received in 2019 (and since).
There you are. This is the same as what happened in Hong Kong. Now you know what it’s like to have to deal with political rioting. In the freedom-loving USA, the police did the same as ours did – eventually.
Hong Kong pro-democracy advocates maintain that the circumstances are completely different. The USA rioters were a ‘right-wing mob’ that was ‘trying to overthrow legitimate democratic elections’. The Hong Kong rioters were ‘brave activists fighting for freedom and democracy against police brutality.’ USA rioters bad; Hong Kong rioters good.
Let us be clear. Whatever the motivation – in both cities – these were riots. Civic buildings were occupied and damaged. Normal life was disrupted. People were hurt; some died. In both cities the riots were against the law and dangerous. Pretending that rioting is justified by the cause is misleading and wrong – always.
Yes, the emotions of crowds have their own momentum. Yes, this can lead crowd members doing things that, as individuals, they would never do.
But the cause of these emotions is irrelevant. Society must control riots or society collapses. The police in both Hong Kong and Washington had a duty to take whatever action they considered reasonable and necessary. That is their job. It is what society requires of them.
What is sad is not whether comparisons are valid or not. It is the treatment that Western media and politicians gave each set of rioters. The Hong Kong rioters were ‘heroes’; the police were ‘brutally reinforcing an oppressive regime’. The Western media loved what the rioters were doing. The Washington police did not act quickly or firmly enough against wicked ‘white supremacists.’ The Washington rioters were condemned by (nearly) all Western media and politicians. Truth is – rioting is always wrong and always to be condemned. Police forces everywhere deserve respect and support for controlling rioting.
Our next post will address the implications of these ironies for the future of China, the USA, and the world.