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What will you yield?

Duke Gorlois of Cornwall: “Lord Uther, if I yield to the sword of power – what will you yield?”

Uther Pendragon: “ME YIELD !!!??”    (from the film Excalibur*)

We are yielding quite a few liberties to the dread virus – to the need to flatten the curve of disease to what the NHS can handle. Steve Baker’s speech says it well.

As regards mere money, the government will provide tide-you-over assistance to those whose cash flow cannot outlast these measures. Their loss will still be a net loss (and since all the government’s money is ultimately provided by us, the tide-you-over sum will one day be repaid with interest) but there is help for those facing outgoings with no incomings.

How about the liberty account? As we yield many liberties, could the state perhaps yield back a few others they have taken? Might the police who will now ask, “Is your journey really necessary under our latest emergency regulations?”, include all who were previously asking, “Is your remark really permissible under our modern hate speech laws?” Any chance the power of the state, when not enforcing the new rules, could be wholly focussed on fighting things the public consider criminal, not things the politically correct consider offensive?

It is a fair question (to the state, but even more to the ‘elite’ apocalypticists): if we yield to the danger of the virus – what will you yield?


* (Quoted from my old memory of the film. If I’ve remembered it right, I think Uther’s grammar is wrong here – it should be “I YIELD”.)

21 comments to What will you yield?

  • Snorri Godhi

    As we yield many liberties, could the state perhaps yield back a few others they have taken?

    Let’s hope so, but … are you Brits really yielding any liberties?

    Here one can see most clearly the difference between the classical-liberal and classical-republican notions of liberty.

    For classical-liberals, Brits were always free to leave home and go about their business, because the government always let them do it.

    For classical-republicans, Brits were never really free to leave home and go about their business, because the government could always have prevented them from doing it. (Though a degree of freedom comes from the risk of losing power at the following election, and other disincentives of keeping people at home.)

    —-
    PS: it seems to me that
    “ME YIELD !!!??”
    and
    “I YIELD !!!??”
    would be interpreted very differently by most people.

    Excalibur is quite a good movie btw. Not faithful to the Arthurian canon, as i discovered later; but hey, legends are constantly retold! Even Batman is already being retold.

  • Nullius in Verba

    I can only cite JS Mill on this.

    “The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

    What of our freedom to murder our fellows? To poison the air? To engage in biological warfare? Is that a liberty we are being denied unjustly?

    On the government’s interpretation, there is no issue. We have no automatic liberty to harm others, breaking quarantine harms others, so they are perfectly within their rights to prevent it. There may be shades of grey around the question of how do we decide whether an action constitutes a harm to others, and what if a person has a different opinion to the authorities on the question. Most people support the government, but of course a mere majority is not in itself sufficient to overide the rights of a single dissentient. There may be an argument to be made there. And also perhaps on the question of consent.

    But so far as the stated justification is accepted – that it it is to prevent significant harm (potentially many deaths) being done to others, and will cease as soon as that no longer applies – I don’t think there should be any libertarian objection to the principle. Only perhaps to the way it is being applied.

    Of course, if they decide to keep the powers after the crisis is over, that’s a different matter. But we’re not there yet.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @NiV

    We have no automatic liberty to harm others, breaking quarantine harms others…

    This is a good way of looking at things but please be careful. I know (I claim professional expertise here) that it’s not all one way. The economic hit will cause deprivation and health effects; the isolation will cause suicides. The lives saved may be almost exclusively measurable in weeks whereas the bad effects may last for a (shortened) lifetime. So the argument is NOT all one way. Trump, as is so often the case, has a major point – `is the cure worse than the disease’?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “So the argument is NOT all one way.”

    Agreed. There are harms with either choice, which have to be weighed against one another. Just as you can kill in self-defence or in defence of others, for example. Again, it’s a question of how the principle is being applied in this case.

    I just saw this, which seems to me extremely relevant to the question.
    https://order-order.com/2020/03/24/steve-bakers-emotional-dystopian-society-speech/

  • Paul Marks

    Nullius in Verba – thank you for pointing to possible problems with J.S. Mill. One could go on for a long time about possible philosophical and political confusions – for example he said he supported political liberty (in the sense of rolling back the state), but then said that “everyone agreed” with local and national governments doing X,Y,Z more things (which was just not true – unless by “everyone” Mr Mill meant himself and his friends) and, philosophically Mr Mill does not even seem to have believed in the human person (he seems to have accepted the doctrines of Hobbes and Hume which deny the human person – the “I” or at least “reinterpret” the person so radically as to make the “I” a nothing) – but he was NOT as bad as you are implying.

    An individual with an infectious disease that can cause death is one thing – one can say “I am very sorry, but you will infect others – we must prevent you doing that” – it is a very hard case, but one can make an argument for it.

    But an ENTIRE POPULATION? Where is the testing – who has the disease and who does not? Why does no one in authority seem to be interested in this?

    In the very speech that is cited there is talk of “six months” or “a year” – indeed there is no end date on the in the Bill (now to be an Act) at all.

    This is not America where it is certain areas of country and till just after Easter.

    “Six months”? “A year”? The country would collapse in that time – one what not need to worry about the virus (although it may well kill me) as the population would died of other causes – such as starvation.

    So even by the low standards of Bentham style philosophy this does not work – it does not even pass the “greatest good of the greatest number” test, let alone the liberty test.

    And, by the way, why were the borders of this nation left open to the virus for months.

    Why?

    And no, chanting “racist, racist, racist, Diversity is our strength!” is not an answer.

    Let us hope that medical science in such countries as the United States and Israel will actually provide real answers to this dreadful disease.

  • Paul Marks

    Snorri – you may be right about the “Philosophical Radicals” of the 19th century, Mr Mill (James and John Stuart) who followed the ideas of Jeremy Bentham, David Hume and Thomas Hobbes.

    It is quite true that to such folk, human beings have no rights AGAINST the government (indeed they did not believe that human BEINGS existed at all) – and so they believed that Parliament could do anything it wanted to do.

    But that is hardly the position of all Classical Liberals.

    After all there was a long tradition in the Common Law, upheld by such people as Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke and Chief Justice Sir Thomas Holt (the classic “Old Whig”) that held that the power of Parliament was LIMITED not absolute. That there were basic principles that were beyond Acts of Parliament.

    Of course you may mean such people when you say “classical republicans” – after all (by some definitions) one can believe in the MONARCHY and still be a “Republican” – as long as one holds that the monarch is no beyond the fundamental principles of natural justice than the Parliament is.

    Hence the idea of the “mixed Constitution” (the Monarch in Parliament – not Parliament alone) and the idea that were limits on what Acts of Parliament can do.

    Of course it came to be accepted that an Act of Parliament could do anything, say order everyone with brown eyes be burned alive, – but the American Founding Fathers were not the only people to reject such madness and evil.

    There was a large number of Constitution Clubs in the United Kingdom up to the First World War, and the British National Rifle Association was bigger than the American one (much bigger).

    Nor was their opposition to the “Divine Right of Parliament” or “the Divine Right of the 51%” theoretical – if World War One had not arrived, the nation might well have divided on the issue of “Home Rule” in Ireland by Act of Parliament.

    The Ulster Covenant of 1912 is often dismissed as religious bigotry – and (sadly) there was some of that. But that is NOT all it was. It was actually, in part, a restatement of what the Ulstermen (and women) held Classical Liberalism (the Old Whig tradition) to be.

    The Ulster Division was one of the most famous British Divisions of the First World War – but it was really organised before the First World War. It was a PRIVATE ARMY -the Ulster Defence Association, and it was not raised to serve Parliament – if need be it might have shot that Parliament to Hell, with a lot of help from people in England, Scotland and Wales (these people were called “Conservatives” or “Liberal Unionists” – the modern Conservative Central Office would have hated them, and the feeling would have been mutual). But the First World War intervened – so we will never know for sure.

    Still let us turn our attention back to the present – if the situation sorted out by Easter then things will be O.K. (not for me personally – but for most people).

    But if things drag on after Easter things may not be O.K.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “One could go on for a long time about possible philosophical and political confusions – for example he said he supported political liberty (in the sense of rolling back the state), but then said that “everyone agreed” with local and national governments doing X,Y,Z more things (which was just not true – unless by “everyone” Mr Mill meant himself and his friends) and, philosophically Mr Mill does not even seem to have believed in the human person (he seems to have accepted the doctrines of Hobbes and Hume which deny the human person – the “I” or at least “reinterpret” the person so radically as to make the “I” a nothing) – but he was NOT as bad as you are implying.”

    Do you have references to those? I don’t recall seeing him say that.

    I had no intention of implying that Mill was in any way bad. I’m a great admirer. But Mill himself discussed how applying the principle could lead to difficult judgement calls, and I think it is only fair to recognise when that applies to this case. Given the extremity of the choices – hundreds of thousands of deaths versus economic ruin for many businesses – and the major uncertainty and dispute over the epidemic projections, there can be no doubt this is a hugely difficult choice for any Prime Minister to take.

    I can certainly understand the positions of people on both sides.

    “But an ENTIRE POPULATION? Where is the testing – who has the disease and who does not? Why does no one in authority seem to be interested in this?”

    With the test they had up to now, you can’t tell who’s *had* the virus, you can only tell who has it now. So unless you test everyone in the country every few weeks, which would be enormously expensive and a logistical nightmare, it doesn’t actually help.

    And as a method of tracking the progress of the disease it doesn’t work either, as until the proportion of the population who have the disease exceeds 1%, you need huge sample sizes to get enough resolution to measure such tiny proportions. Again, not cost-effective.

    However, they have recently bought 3 million antibody tests that can determine whether you ever have had it, which is much more useful. It will enable people to effectively be given a permanent certificate of immunity and allowed back to work. I understand they’re starting with health workers and then other essential workers, but this is something that could be expanded, especially in the final stages of the epidemic.

    And as I suspect the proportion of the population that have at some stage been infected has now passed 1%, it may also be now worth doing random samples to track progress. I have no special insight into the government’s thinking, but it would make sense to me.

    “In the very speech that is cited there is talk of “six months” or “a year” – indeed there is no end date on the in the Bill”

    My understanding was that the original bill had a sunset clause to nullify it after 2 years, and that they have been adding amendments to also have reviews every 6 months. Baker’s suggestion was to limit it to 1 year instead and if necessary to debate an extension. I can see the case, but I think there may be a risk that such measures seem less bad once one is used to them than when one is introducing them for the first time from a mindset used to liberty. I’ve got no view on which risk is worse.

    ““Six months”? “A year”? The country would collapse in that time – one what not need to worry about the virus (although it may well kill me) as the population would died of other causes – such as starvation.”

    The Imperial College paper that highlighted the problem of the NHS running out of beds proposed that one solution would be to turn the lock-down on and off. You lock-down to slow the rise and keep the numbers within the capacity of the NHS, then as the numbers fall you drop the measures, then as the numbers rise again you lock-down again. It has been suggested that this might have to go on until a vaccine or other treatment is available, which could potentially be in 18 months time. Hence the choice of time limit in the bill.

    If it turns out Hydroxychloroquine or one of the many other drugs being trialed works, it might all be over by May or June. (I’m not sure of the logistics of making and distributing billions of pills so quickly – but I’m very dubious. However, I can’t say it’s impossible.) But until that’s been demonstrated, this is just in case it doesn’t. We could be stuck doing this for a very long time.

    Food distribution is classed as essential work and still allowed.

  • Ferox

    My uncle works as a truck driver. He tells me that for now, they have basically repealed all the nanny-state regulations about working hours, mandatory breaks, etc. and have told them to just run run run.

    It seems at least possible to me that when this is all over some people are going to point to the fact that things were able to work in the absence of those regulations and question whether they are needed at all … might not their de facto repeal be extended indefinitely?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Niall,

    +10 on the grammatical point.

    .

    Expatiating a bit, completely O/T, feel free to move on:

    In the minds of those who don’a spika so good Inglees, which appears to be most of us (but of course never including myself), there does not appear to be any consciousness of any difference between “I yield” and “Me yield.”

    Which one might argue is fair enough, because “Me yield” has no meaning anyway, in Standard English (i.e. grammatical English — contrary to at least one of the on-line dictionaries).

    But that would be like saying that there’s no underlying difference between 0 and any Natural Number, at least to those who take it for granted that “Me yield” is meaningful. That, however, is untrue.

    It depends on your particular application of the “made-up” “number” 0.*

    Actually, N’Yawk-style Yiddish puts it better:

    “What! I should yield? !!!”

    which is grammatical at least until you get to the question mark.

    .

    *Because if one is taking 0 as “the number of things in an empty bunch,” the nonexistent contents of the bunch are uncountable: You cannot count what isn’t there, unless you’re so flabbergasted that you think that there is no difference between the meanings of “something” and “nothing.” Which is a bit nihilistic for me….

    But if you are taking 0 as meaning, for instance, the total number of units of distance that you have walked in moving from A to B and then returning to A by backtracking in the exact some footsteps, you will have walked more than 0 footsteps, but the net change in your position will be 0.

    (Here, the “bunch” is the set of all footsteps you have trod, which is not 0.)

  • View from the Solent

    Julie n C
    re your footsteps. You are confusing vector with scalar calculating. Naughty.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “In the minds of those who don’a spika so good Inglees,…”

    To the English, the proper punctuation would be “Me?! Yield?!!!”, from which you would fill in the implicit bits “[You’re referring to] me?! [You expect me to] yield?!!!” A lot of language comprehension involves filling in the blanks.

    But I did enjoy your exposition on zero, the construction of the Integers from the Natural numbers, and the difference between Cardinal and Ordinal numbers! It’s not a distinction most people notice.

    But just for fun, is zero apples the same thing as zero oranges? If I point to a bowl of apples and ask “How many oranges?” and you say “Zero”, is this thing that is an example of “Zero oranges” nothing? Or are there lots of things that are “zero oranges”? What is “zero”, on its own, with nothing to count or measure?

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul:

    After all there was a long tradition in the Common Law, upheld by such people as Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke and Chief Justice Sir Thomas Holt (the classic “Old Whig”) that held that the power of Parliament was LIMITED not absolute.

    But that is the issue: this statement of yours can be interpreted in 2 very different ways. And mind you, one can accept as true BOTH interpretations, or neither, but one can also accept only one of them.

    The first interpretation is Lockean: Parliament (or: the Sovereign) might have absolute power in practice, but also has a moral obligation to limit its use of that power.

    The second interpretation is more properly republican: Parliament should not have absolute power, because if it does, it will eventually use it. This is the interpretation that led to the principle of checks+balances, the mixed constitution, separation of powers, etc.

    I believe both principles above to be true. Or, to put it another way, i hold both principles to be self-evident.
    And, contrary to what you assert, Hume was a classical republican in the above sense.
    As to whether Hume was also a Lockean in the above sense, i do not know, and be advised that i would not trust your opinion on the subject, unless backed up by a reference to chapter and verse in Hume’s canon.

  • Snorri Godhi

    The analogy between the status of zero and the proper pronoun in “ME?! YIELD?!” goes above my head, if there is one beyond the fact that both are worthy of pedantry.

  • In graduate school, I decided to take a certain math course. When they spent the first two weeks proving that 1+1=2, I dropped it. I knew they would scorn math physicists used all the time, such as the delta function. Don’t even think of the cornpopper function. And I’m not too fond of sets. The zero set is a big fat nothing.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “The analogy between the status of zero and the proper pronoun in “ME?! YIELD?!” goes above my head, if there is one beyond the fact that both are worthy of pedantry.”

    I presumed the idea was that many people think it’s OK to be sloppy about the precise picky pedantic details, so long as it is close enough for other people to figure out roughly what you meant. A lot of the time being sloppy about maths and grammar works fine, sometimes it doesn’t and gets you into trouble. It depends what you’re using it for.

    Although I have to admit, it’s not the first analogy for it that would spring even to my mathematical mind! Well done to Julie for coming up with it.

    “I knew they would scorn math physicists used all the time, such as the delta function.”

    🙂 I know what you mean!

  • Julie near Chicago

    Ellen:

    “The zero set is a big fat nothing.”

    Indeed. 😆

    .

    [Although — confession — I myself often still say “the empty set” (the usual confusion between the container and the thing contained, or not contained, heh) *blush*. But it seems to be a misnomer close enough for government work. :>( ]

    .

    Nullius,

    “A lot of language comprehension involves filling in the blanks.”

    How true. Unfortunately, a lot of misunderstandings arise because of this. But I guess that, as you say, it goes with the linguistic territory in general.

    Also, thanks for the kind words. :>)

  • (Remarks on various comments above.)

    1) The speed of pronunciation of “Me yield!!!??” in the film does not permit the two-sentence solution “Me?? Yield!!!” which could save the grammar. (Nullius, I appreciate you may not have seen, or not recall, that scene early on in the film. If those words had been spoken with a pause between them instead of furiously at high speed, the missing parts could have been conjectured as you suggest.)

    2) Ferox, there will be a good deal of necessity-driven discarding of “more than my job’s worth to waive it” regulations. While that is welcome – and may reveal some that are peculiarly easy to justify never bringing back – I was also making the specific point that, while speeches like Steve Baker’s, and evidence Boris doesn’t actually like this, is welcome, a government that really wanted its people to think it is wholly opposed to normalising the loss of these liberties could do so by handing some others back.

    Even Niall ever-hopeful Kilmartin is too realistic to expect a loud public announcement at this tense time that hate speech law is off for the emergency (how the SW1/PC creeps would squeal), but it will be interesting to see (both down south and in Scotland) what actual directives on police utilisation priorities are put in force. Unless in a vulnerable category, we are not to call any health line until we have difficulty breathing; don’t call if you are merely coughing, aching and weak, because nobody at the far end cares. So is there anything else people should not call to complain about because nobody at the far cares at this time?

    3) Paul, you may well already have read Edmund Burke’s “An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs”. If not, it might interest you. It has some analysis of what parliament can and cannot do (and of how far it can go before there is anything we can or cannot do).

  • Snorri Godhi

    “I YIELD?!” might well be grammatically correct, but if i asked Uther what he is willing to yield (in return for my yielding to the Sword of Power or whatever) and he answered “I yield?!”, then i’d think that he has not understood what i am talking about and i’d try to rephrase my question.

    Vice versa, if i told somebody, let’s call him Uther, that he is too ready to yield, and he answered “Me yield?!” i’d likewise think that he has misunderstood my criticism.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “The speed of pronunciation of “Me yield” in the film does not permit the two-sentence solution”

    Agreed. But that might be the actor’s fault rather than the script’s! 🙂

    http://www.thependragon.co.uk/excalibur_script.htm

    “Unless in a vulnerable category, we are not to call any health line until we have difficulty breathing; don’t call if you are merely coughing, aching and weak , because nobody at the far end cares.”

    Nobody at the far end can do anything to help anyway, and they don’t have time. And yes, if you call them up just to say you’ve got a cough and feel miserable when lots of other people are queueing on the phone to get treatment because they can’t breath, then no, you probably won’t earn a lot of sympathy. I mean, if *they* called *you* up and told you a lot of people were dying, would *you* care?

    It’s not a negotiation between us and the state in which they get what they want in exchange for something we want. The state don’t want this. They can’t possibly enforce it except around the fringes, and so rely entirely on public cooperation and consent. In no other circumstances would they be able to hold on to it. They’re doing it because the public want protecting, and 93% support the measures. It’s not the state you need to fear here if you resist, but the mob.

    Now, you can certainly argue about whether the public is wise to do so, but this is not a case of the public giving up something they want to keep, any more than it is something that any wise politician wants attaching to their name and reputation in the history books. The lock-down, protecting the elderly and not ramping up the mortality rate by overloading the NHS, is what the public wants and expects. So if you really want to treat it as a negotiation, the question would be what is the public willing to yield in exchange? 🙂

  • Chris in texas

    Me yield?

    I have seen such phrases as shorthand for
    You want me to yield?
    Or, more often, me quit? Me stop? (Like hell I will)

    In most of the cases I’ve heard, the phrase has the intonation of a question

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