The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, October 29, 2021

Technocracy Triumphant

Taking the attitude “who am I to judge” is, under many circumstances, appropriate and admirable.   There is one circumstance, however, when it is extremely inappropriate and reprehensible.   That is when you are a justice of Her Majesty’s bench before whom one person or group has brought another person or group, complaining that the latter has injured them in violation of the law and asking you for redress of their wrongs.   If you happen to be in that situation then your job – your only job – is to hear the case, weight the evidence, and issue a ruling, in short – to judge.   To plead humility as an excuse for not doing so is to abandon your duty.



Earlier this year, in the late spring, Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba heard evidence that lawyers representing the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms presented on behalf of the Gateway Bible Baptist Church in Thompson, along with six other congregations, two ministers and one other individual in two related but distinct constitutional challenges to the provincial bat flu public health orders. (1)   One of these challenged the sweeping powers with insufficient accountability that had been given to the Chief Public Health Officer.   The other challenged portions of the public health orders themselves on the grounds that they violated the fundamental freedoms named in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in such a way as could not be justified by the “reasonable limitations” clause of the Charter’s Section 1.    The evidence in these challenges was heard in May.   After taking the summer to deliberate or take a vacation or go for the world’s record in thumb twiddling or whatever, last week on the twenty-first of October Chief Justice Joyal finally ruled in these cases.   For the purposes of distinction the ruling with regards to the constitutionality of the powers of the Chief Public Health Officer will be called “the first ruling” and the ruling with regards to the constitutionality of portions of the orders will be called “the second ruling”.



The Chief Justice ruled against the applicants in both cases.    In one sense, however, the second ruling could be called a non-ruling.   In paragraph 292 we find the following:



I say that while recognizing and underscoring that fundamental freedoms do not and ought not to be seen to suddenly disappear in a pandemic and that courts have a specific responsibility to affirm that most obvious of propositions.



This is very good and right.   The problem is that the next sentence begins with a “but.”   Apart from the bad grammar involved – Chief Justice Joyal is old enough to have still had the rule never to begin a sentence with a conjunction like “but” drilled into him in grade school – buts have this nasty habit of leading into material that completely negates everything that precedes the “but”.   Here is what followed:  



But just as I recognize that special responsibility of the courts, given the evidence adduced by Manitoba (which I accept as credible and sound), so too must I recognize that the factual underpinnings for managing a pandemic are rooted in mostly scientific and medical matters. Those are matters that fall outside the expertise of courts. Although courts are frequently asked to adjudicate disputes involving aspects of medicine and science, humility and the reliance on credible experts are in such cases, usually required. In other words, where a sufficient evidentiary foundation has been provided in a case like the present, the determination of whether any limits on rights are constitutionally defensible is a determination that should be guided not only by the rigours of the existing legal tests, but as well, by a requisite judicial humility that comes from acknowledging that courts do not have the specialized expertise to casually second guess the decisions of public health officials, which decisions are otherwise supported in the evidence.



This constitutes an abdication of the very responsibility he had just acknowledged.   If fundamental freedoms still exist in a pandemic, and it is the court’s special responsibility to affirm this, this means that the court cannot defer to the public health authorities, the medical experts, on the question of whether their own measures are reasonable and justified.   If civil authority A is accused of trampling on the public’s fundamental freedoms, and the court defers to the expertise of civil authority A on the question of whether the latter’s actions are reasonable and justified, this translates into “civil authority A can do whatever he sees fit, there are no limits on his powers to which the court will hold him accountable”.    Indeed, saying that courts should be guided not just by the “rigours of the existing legal tests” but a “humility” that forbids them to “casually second guess” the decisions of public health officials is tantamount to saying that medical science is a higher authority than the law.  (2)



In the sections of the ruling that immediately follow the paragraph from which we have quoted, we see what this “judicial humility” looks like in practice.   In these pages Chief Justice Joyal considers the question of whether the public health orders meet the standards of the Oakes test.    The Oakes test was established by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1986 to determine whether legislation or other government action that infringes upon Charter rights and freedoms is nevertheless permitted under the “reasonable limitations” clause.     To pass, the infringement must first be shown to serve a “pressing and substantial objective”.   Second, the infringement must be show to be proportional, which means that it must a) be shown to be rationally connected to the objective, b) be shown to only minimally impair the right(s) and/or freedom(s) in question and c) be shown to provide a benefit to the public that is greater than the harm done by impairing the right(s) and/or freedom(s).  (3)  For each of the stages of this test, the Chief Justice essentially takes the position that because Brent Roussin decided, after weighing all the information available to him, that each public health order he issued was what was necessary at the time, therefore the orders meet the standards of the test.    Such a ruling in effect declares that Brent Roussin, as Chief Public Health Officer, is above the law insofar as he is acting in the capacity of his office.   If the court defers to him as to whether his actions in the capacity of his office meet the standards of constitutionality set in the Oakes test or not, then he is above the Oakes test and the Charter and cannot be held accountable to either.



The ramifications of this extend far beyond the issues pertaining to the public health orders and the pandemic.  What it means is that while we remain in form the country that we were, governed by a parliament under the reign of a constitutional monarch, in which Common Law and Charter nominally protect our rights and freedoms, in actual practice we have become a medical technocracy.



Anyone inclined to think that this is a good thing, or even a tolerable thing, is invited to consider the words of C. S. Lewis:



Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.  (God in the Dock, 1948)



This description fits the rule of medical technocrats to a tee.  



That a de facto medical technocracy is inimical to the freedom that permeates our parliamentary form of government, our constitutional monarchy, and the Common Law is the real issue at the heart of the other challenge.   This was the challenge to the constitutionality of the provincial legislature’s having named Brent Roussin dictator, with Jazz Atwal as his Master of Horse, for the duration of the pandemic, which had to be framed, of course, as a challenge to the sections of the Manitoba Public Health Act (2009) which provided for this situation.   These are sections 13 and 67.   Section 67 empowers the Chief Public Health Officer to take special measures if he “reasonably believes” that “a serious and immediate threat to public health exists because of an epidemic or threatened epidemic of a communicable disease” which “cannot be prevented, reduced or eliminated” without the special measures.   Section 13 allows him to delegate his own power under the Act to a deputy.  



Chief Justice Joyal ruled that this two-fold delegation of power, first from the legislature to the Chief Public Health Officer, second from the latter to his deputy was constitutional.   In the course of explaining his decision he made a number of statements that suggest a troubling sympathy with the technocratic impulse of the age.   He gave his approval to the province’s claim that with the “emergence of new threats such as SARS, West Nile, monkey pox and the avian flu” it was important that the government focus on the “modernization of the PHA”.   The modernization of the Public Health Act, that is to say, bringing it in line with contemporary trends around the world, means making it more technocratic.   In this context the Chief Justice asserted with regards to the centralization of the public health system in the person of the Chief Public Health Officer that:



the act sets out the powers afforded to public health officials to address communicable diseases and importantly, it also constrains those powers so as to ensure an appropriate balance between individual rights and the protection of public health  (first ruling, 12).



Does it ensure such an appropriate balance?   As this is the quod erat demonstrandum, this forthright assertion of it would seem to be a classic example of petitio principia, especially when we consider the weakness of everything that was then put forward in support of the assertion. After providing quotations from speeches in the legislative assembly at the time the new Public Health Act was being debated that show that the legislators acknowledged the need for such a balance, the Chief Justice finally specified the constraints this Act supposedly places on the powers it gives to the Chief Public Health Officer (first ruling, 17).   Not a single one of these is a real check that prevents the office of the Chief Public Health Officer from being corrupted into a medical technocratic tyranny by the excessive emergency power vested in it.



The first of these is that the official must believe there is a public health emergency that requires special measures to be taken.   The third is that the orders require the prior approval of the Minister of Health.   The fourth is the stipulation in section 3 of the Public Health Act that the restrictions on rights and freedoms of the special measures be as few as possible, the equivalent to the “minimal impairment” requirement of the Oakes test.  In practice, the attitude of deferral to the specialized medical expertise of the Chief Public Health Officer on the part of the Minister of Health ensures that none of these constitutes a real constraint.   The sixth, which is that the Chief Public Health Officer must be a physician, is a limit on who the Minister of Health can appoint to the office not a limit on use of the powers of that office by the officeholder.   The seventh and final “constraint” pertains only to the secondary matter of the sub delegation of the Chief Public Health Officer’s powers to his deputy.  This leaves the second and fifth, both of which warrant special comment and so have been reserved for last.


The second “constraint” is that under subsection 2 of section 67 “the types of orders that can be made are clearly delineated”.   This is true, but the types so delineated are so extensive that this is not much of a limitation even without taking into consideration how much further deferral to the expertise of the Chief Public Health Officer would stretch them.


The fifth is the stipulation in subsection 4 of section 67 that “an order requiring a person to be immunized cannot be enforced if the person objects.”    Although this looks like a real constraint on the Chief Public Health Officer’s powers, for several months now he has gotten away with making a total mockery of this stipulation by doing everything short of strapping objectors down and forcing the needle into them to compel them to be “immunized”.



Therefore, quite to the contrary of what Chief Justice Joyal claims (first ruling, 18) these constraints provide no real protection against the danger of the powers the Public Health Act confers upon the Chief Public Health Officer in a public health emergency being used to run roughshod over our rights and freedoms. Whatever the intention of the legislators in 2009, the Public Health Act fails to provide an appropriate balance between individual rights and the protection of public health.   Instead, it places all the weight on the side of the latter. 



It needs to be stated here that the need for an appropriate balance between individual rights and freedoms on the one hand and the public good on the other is a truism.   The art of statecraft – politics in the best sense of the word – could be said to reduce to finding just this balance.   The problem, at least in Canada, is that for decades now we have only ever seemed to have heard this truism trotted out whenever someone is insisting that individual rights and freedoms need to make cessions to the public good.   Balance requires that there also be cessions from the public good to individual rights and freedoms.   Indeed, since the vast majority of decisions that need to be made in any complex society have to do with the good of individuals and small groups, rather than the good of the society as a whole, and it is individual rights and freedoms that ensure that those making such decisions are the ones most competent to do so, which with only rare exceptions means the individuals and small groups directly concerned, balance arguably requires far more cessions to individual rights and freedoms from the public good, than the other way around.



The basic assumption of technocracy is contrary to all of this.   This is the assumption that technical knowledge – the kind of specialized knowledge in any field that qualifies one as an expert – renders one competent to make decisions for other people if the expert’s field at all touches upon those decisions.   This assumption is laughably false – technical expertise in one field does not translate into technical expertise in another field, much less all fields, and it is rare that a decision requires information from only one field.   The most technical knowledge ought to qualify an expert for is to advise people in the making of their own decisions, not to make those decisions for them.   Indeed, were we to assume that the greater an individual's expertise is in one specialized field, the greater his ignorance will be in all others, and the more utterly incompetent he will be at making decisions for himself, let alone other people, our assumption would be wrong, but a lot less wrong than the assumption inherent in technocracy.


Technocracy is odious enough when it takes the form of the army of civil servants, passing the endless regulations that boss people around and tell them what to do in their own homes and how to run their own businesses, by which Liberal Prime Ministers have so effectively circumvented the constraints of our Crown-in-Parliament constitution in order to impose their will upon Canadians.   A medical technocracy enacted in a public health emergency is far worse.   Throughout history, mankind has been much more often plagued by tyranny than by insufficient government power, by too many rules than by too few, and the exploitation of emergencies, real or manufactured, and the fear they engender in the public, is the normal means whereby a tyrant seizes unconstitutional power.   For this reason it is imperative than  in any emergency, those empowered to deal with the emergency be subjected to even greater scrutiny and held to even stricter accountability, than in ordinary circumstances.   This is the opposite of the attitude of deference that Chief Justice Joyal contended for in 281-283 of the second ruling, and which he reiterated in the first sentence of 292, “In the context of this deadly and unprecedented pandemic, I have determined that this is most certainly a case where a margin of appreciation can be afforded to those making decisions quickly and in real time for the benefit of the public good and safety.” (4)



This deference is fatal to the court’s role as the guardian of fundamental freedoms.    Chief Justice Joyal acknowledged (284), as, in fact, did the province, that these freedoms were violated, and that therefore the onus is upon the government to justify the violation.  (5)  When the court gives this “margin of appreciation” to “those making decisions quickly and in real time”, however, is it possible for the province to fail to meet this onus in the court’s eyes?



Consider the arguments that the province made that it met the “minimal impairment” requirement of the Oakes test.   Chief Justice Joyal reproduced (303) the reasons the province offered in support of this contention from paragraph 52 of their April 12, 2021 brief.  Reason c) begins with “Unlike some other jurisdictions, there was no curfew imposed or a ‘shelter in place’ order that would prevent people from leaving their home other than for limited reasons”.   That you cannot validly justify your own actions by pointing to the worse actions of someone else is something that anyone with even the most basic of training in logical reasoning should immediately recognize.   The same reason includes the sentences “It was still possible to gather with family and friends at indoor and outdoor public places, up to the gathering limit of 5 people” and “An exception was also made for people who live on their own to allow one person to visit.”   Offering these as “reasons” why the public health order forbidding people to meet with anyone other than members of their own household in their own homes for over three months only “minimally impaired” our freedoms of association and assembly is adding insult to injury.  That is called throwing people crumbs, not keeping your infringement on their freedoms to a minimum.   “Minimally impair” is not supposed to mean to impair the freedom to the point that it is minimal.



Reason e) which pertains to freedom of religion is no better.   The province declared that there was an “attempt to accommodate religious services”.   The first example of this that they gave is that “Religious services could still be delivered remotely indoors, or outdoors in vehicles”.   It seems rather rich of the province to offer the latter up as proof that they tried to only minimally impair freedom of religion when, in fact, the churches that offered such services had to fight to obtain that concession. 



Had Brent Roussin forgotten that he had initially banned drive-in services when he ordered churches to close in the so-called “circuit break” last fall?  



Or rather had he remembered that it was Chief Justice Joyal who on the fifth of December last year had ruled that drive-in services were in violation of the public health orders before he, that is Roussin, amended the orders to allow for these services?  



Either way it is rather disingenuous of him to make this allusion in this context.  



The next sentence is even worse.    “As well, individual prayer and reflection was permitted.”    So, because he didn’t ban people from praying by themselves in the privacy of their own homes, which even officially Communist countries never attempted, he is to be credited for only “minimally impairing” our freedom of religion by forbidding us to obey God’s commandment to forsake not the assembly of ourselves, forbidding us to sing God’s praises as a community of faith, and forbidding us from partaking of the Holy Sacrament?   Indeed, what this sentence tells us is that the person who wrote it thinks a) that individuals need the permission of government to pray and reflect in private, b) that it is within the powers of government to withhold such permission and forbid private prayer and reflection, and c) government's not having done so means that their violations of our freedom of religion and worship have been minimal and reasonable.      



Any sort of cognitive filter that allows a Chief Justice to look at this sort of nonsense and conclude from it that the province has met its onus of justifying its impairment of our fundamental freedoms as the minimum necessary under the circumstances is clearly a dysfunctional filter that ought to be immediately discarded.



Indeed, the province’s arguments illustrate the point made above about technocracy being inimical to freedom, constitutional government, and the balance between individual right and public good.   Technical knowledge or specialized knowledge in a field of expertise, as stated above, does not translate into expertise in another field, much less expertise in all fields.  Indeed, it tends towards a certain kind of deficiency in general reasoning that could be regarded as a sort of tunnel vision.   It is called déformation professionelle in French and is similar to what is called the Law of the Instrument, illustrated in Abraham Maslow’s proverb about how if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.   A physician’s technical expertise is in the field of medicine – treating sickness and injury and promoting health.   He will therefore be inclined to subordinate everything else to the goals of his profession.   In an epidemic or pandemic, this inclination will be all the more exaggerated.  To a medical expert in such a situation, the answer to the question of what public health orders constitute the minimal necessary restrictions on fundamental freedoms will look very different than it does to those who do not share this narrow focus.   



Consider the words that George Grant in his important discussion (Technology and Justice, 1986) of the implications of the increasing technologization of society identified as encapsulating spirit of technological thought, J. Robert Oppenheimer’s “when you see that something is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it.”  The significance of these words is that the technological mind is inclined to reject external limitations, such as those of ethics, that stand between it and the actual doing of whatever it finds itself capable.    Modern medical thinking is thoroughly technological and Oppenheimer’s thought, translated into that of a physician and epidemiologist overseeing a pandemic, would be "when you see that you can slow the spread of the disease by doing A, you go ahead and do A".   A might have a thousand other effects, all negative, but the mind that prioritizes slowing the spread of an epidemic over all other concerns can acknowledge this and still come to the conclusion that the benefit outweighs the harm, demonstrating that its ability to make calculations of this sort is seriously impaired.  (6)



It is absolutely essential that those charged with the duty of protecting our fundamental rights and freedoms and holding government to its constitutional limits, recognize how the very nature of medical expertise tends towards the skewing of the medical expert’s perspective in this way and that therefore he is the last person to whose opinion government ministers and judges should defer in determining whether public health orders infringing upon fundamental freedoms are constitutionally justified out of necessity.




For the courts to fail to recognize this is for the courts to shirk their duty and acquiesce as our country succumbs to the tyranny of technocracy. (7)



 (1)   The applicants were the churches: Gateway Bible Baptist Church (Thompson), Pembina Valley Baptist Church (Winkler), Redeeming Grace Bible Church (Morden), Grace Covenant Church (Altona), Slavic Baptist Church, Christian Church of Morden, Bible Baptist Church (Brandon); ministers: Tobias Tissen (pastor of Church of God, Restoration in Sarto, just south of Steinbach) and Thomas Rempel (deacon of Redeeming Grace Bible Church); and individual:  Ross MacKay.

(2)   Tom Brodbeck’s editorial commenting on these rulings for the local Liberal Party propaganda rag - or paper of record, depending upon your perspective – was given the headline “Case Closed, Science Wins”.

(3)   There is an unfortunate tautology here in that proportionality is the term used for both all three stages of the second step of the test taken together and the third stage of the same.

(4)   The pandemic is “unprecedented” only in the sense that the measures taken to combat it have been unprecedented in their extremity.   The Spanish Flu which ended about a century before the bat flu pandemic began killed between 25-50 million people.   The bat flu has killed about 5 million over the course of a similar span of time.   Not only is the total of the Spanish Flu much larger than that of the bat flu, it represents a much larger percentage of the world’s population which was considerably smaller at the time.   It took place at a time when health care and medical treatment options were far more limited than they are today, and yet public health orders never came close to what they are today, despite the earlier pandemic having started in a time of war when people were already accustomed to emergency restrictions.

(5)  Many of the news articles reporting on these rulings have been extremely misleading.   Several have reported that the Chief Justice ruled that no Charter rights were violated.   This is true only in the sense that there is a distinction between rights and freedoms and that the Chief Justice ruled against there having been a violation of Section 7 and Section 15 rights.   With regards to Section 2 fundamental freedoms, however, he ruled – and the province admitted – that these had been violated, and that therefore there was a burden of justification on the government to prove these violations to be constitutional in accordance with Section 1.  As the discussion of Section 2 was by far the most important part of the case, to summarize the entire ruling as if it were all about the Sections 7 and 15 challenges, is to utterly distort it.  

(6)   Suppose that a virus is spreading which, if unchecked, will cause 10 000 deaths.   The public health officer, if he takes Action B, can prevent the epidemic and all of those deaths.   However, Action B will itself cause 10 000 other deaths.   The number of deaths will be the same whether action is taken or not.   Should the public health officer take this action or do nothing?   It would be odious to attempt to resolve the dilemma by comparing the value of the 10 000 lives lost the one way, with the value of the 10 000 lives lost the other.   The person who makes the case for the public health officer’s taking Action B, therefore, would have to reason along the lines that since it is the public health officer’s duty to combat epidemics and save lives threatened by disease, and the intent behind Action B would be to save the 10 000 threatened by the epidemic not kill the other 10 000, Action B should be taken and the 10 000 lost to it considered collateral damage.   The person who would argue the other side would point out that the 10 000 lost to the epidemic would die of natural causes, that the 10 000 lost as a result of Action B would die as the direct consequence of human action, and that the human moral culpability for taking an action that directly results in a death is greater than the human moral culpability for not taking an action that would prevent a death by natural cause, ergo it is worse to take Action B than to not do so.   Which of these two arguments is the most persuasive.  I would suggest that for people who are both normal and capable of rational, human, moral thought, the second of the two arguments is likely to be the most persuasive, and that those persuaded by the first of the two arguments are most likely to be found among medical experts.

(7)   That technological science was leading us to a universal technocracy which would be the worst of all tyrannies was a warning sounded frequently throughout the Twentieth Century by such thinkers as Jacques Ellul (The Technological Society, 1954, Perspectives on Our Age, 1981), C. S. Lewis (The Abolition of Man, 1943, That Hideous Strength, 1945), and René Girard (I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning, 1999).   In Canada, George Grant played the role of Cassandra on this theme, which runs through his entire corpus of work from Philosophy in the Mass Age (1959) to Technology and Justice (1986).   It was central to the thesis of his 1965 jeremiad Lament for a Nation that by succumbing to the technologically driven capitalism of America, Canada was losing the pre-liberal traditions that informed her founding, and would be drawn like the rest of the world into the “universal homogenous state”, a technocracy that the ancients had predicted would be the ultimate tyranny.   Technological science, as he argued in the first essay of Technology and Justice, begins as man’s mastery of nature, but progresses into man’s master of himself, which translates into his mastery of other people.   He did not shrink from implicating modern medicine along with other more obvious culprits in this.




Friday, October 22, 2021

Lysenko's Spirit

Modern man frequently slanders his ancestors by accusing those who lived in the countless generations prior to Modernity of ignorance and superstition.    If called upon to give account for this defamation he will argue that the men of previous generations did not share his knowledge of and appreciation for science.    While it is certainly true that the men of the past did not place science in as high a rank on their hierarchy of epistemic value as Modern man does this does not necessarily justify the latter’s impiety towards his forbears.   It could alternately and just as easily be interpreted as meaning that Modern man has placed too much value on science, so much so that he has in fact fetishized it and rendered it the object of a new superstition.  


It is indeed this writer’s judgement that Modern man has fetishized science and created a new superstition around it.    While this can be said about Modern man in general it is not the general phenomenon that is of interest for the purposes of this essay but the more specific manifestation that occurs when the Modern attitude of wedding the exaltation of science as the path forward into a better future to the dismissal or even condemnation of traditional religion as holding man captive to the past, is taken to its extreme.    When this happens, those who put science in the place of highest honour and loudly proclaim their faith in and allegiance to science, inevitably speak of science in such a way as to attribute to it the qualities that are the opposite of those which make it valuable to more reasonable people.   Moreover, their “science” at best fails to achieve as impressive results as that of others and at worst produces results that are highly negative and undesirable.


The classic example of this can be found in the career of Trofim Denisovich Lysenko.     For the account that follows I have relied upon Valery N. Soyfer’s Lysenko and the Tragedy of Soviet Science, originally published in samizdat format in Russian, translated into English by Leo and Rebecca Gruliow and published by Rutgers University Press in 1994.  


Lysenko, the eldest son in a family of Ukrainian peasant farmers, was born in Karlovka in the province of Poltava in 1898.  In his youth he developed the ambition to make a name for himself as a scientist in the fields of horticulture and agronomy, an admirable goal as genuine achievement in these fields would have greatly benefited his family and the people of his village and province.   In 1917 his second application to the Uman School of Horticulture was accepted and he graduated from this school in 1921.   The following year he entered the Kiev Agricultural Institute as a correspondence student and graduated with a degree in agronomy in 1925.   He was then offered the position of junior specialist at an agricultural experimental station in Ganja, Azerbaijan.   


It was while working in this position that three things happened that would start him on his path to the top of the Soviet agricultural sciences.   The first of these was that Pravda, the Soviet propaganda rag, ran a puff piece on him.   He was barely out of school yet at the time and had not accomplished much but as a scientific researcher from a poor background he fit the image the Communist paper was looking for to a tee.  


The second was that right around the time the Pravda piece appeared he began the research that his legitimate scientific reputation, to the extent that he actually had one, was built upon.   There are some plant types that require winter to trigger the stage of maturation where they flower and produce fruit.   In the case of winter cereals such as winter wheat these have the potential to produce greater yields than their spring counterparts but also carry a greater risk of crop failure due to adverse weather conditions. In the nineteenth century horticulturalists began to discuss the possibility of using artificial cold temperatures to induce these plants to mature early.   With winter wheat, the hope was that if unplanted seed were treated in this way they could be planted in spring and yield a crop in a much shorter time than if they were planted in the fall as usual.   Lysenko’s experiments confirmed that this was possible although he grossly exaggerated his accomplishment, falsified evidence to support the exaggeration, and spun a vast web of pseudoscientific theory out of it.   He gave the procedure both the Russian name of яровизация (yarovizatsiya) and the English name vernalization.   The naming of the procedure was, perhaps, his truest accomplishment.


The third thing that happened was that Lysenko came to the attention of Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov, then Russia’s leading agronomist and the director of ВАСХНИЛ (VASKhNIL), the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences, which oversaw the experimental station for which Lysenko was working.   Vavilov was impressed by Lysenko and his work with vernalization and undertook to promote him and his career by arranging for him to be invited to and to address important scientific conferences.    This would be Vavilov’s own undoing as we shall see.


To understand what comes next in this story some historical context is necessary.    The same year that Lysenko had been accepted into the Uman School of Horticulture, a number of mutinous military units dissatisfied with the government’s handling of the First World War joined with seditious liberals within the Duma (the Russian Parliament) in forcing Tsar Nicholas II of the House of Romanov, the legitimate monarch of Russia, to abdicate.      They attempted to fill the vacuum they thus created with a weak, liberal, republic which was unable to prevent the return of the revolutionary terrorist V. I. Lenin from his exile in Switzerland.    Lenin resumed command of the Bolsheviks, the faction of the larger Marxist movement that had been spawned by his teachings fourteen years previously.   While the Bolsheviks expressed their goals in ideological terms drawn from Lenin's interpretation of Karl Marx's economic and social doctrines of Karl Marx, their actions were primarily motivated by their religious and in many cases racial hatred of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian people, and the Tsar who was protector of the former and father of the latter.   They seized control of Russia in a coup in October of 1917 and then fought a six and a half year Civil War against a coalition of various forces that opposed Russia's succumbing to Bolshevik tyranny.    Unfortunately for Russia, the Red Army eventually defeated the White Army, and the triumphant Bolsheviks reorganized the Russian Empire into the totalitarian terror-state the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  They set out to remake Russia, socially and economically, into the "workers' paradise" of Communist ideological fantasy.   Apart from the Potemkin villages shown to gullible and foolish Western liberal journalists and emissaries, however, the "workers' paradise" more closely resembled a "workers' inferno".   The rapid industrialization of an agricultural economy was carried out through brutal, police state, tactics, which left the Russian labour force in a condition that deserved the label slavery which Communists hurled against the condition of factory workers in capitalist countries far more than that latter condition did. The forced collectivization of the farms generated huge food shortages and millions died of starvation.   While the first steps towards this economic and social transformation of Russia were taken by Lenin, it was his successor Joseph Stalin who presided over it for the most part.   Stalin was a despicable despot who made Adolf Hitler look like a third-rate petty amateur by comparison, as even the Russian Communists admitted shortly after his death condemning his long dictatorship as the "cult of personality".   Faced with the fact that the collectivization of Russian agriculture had produced misery, famine, and starvation rather than the plenty for all it had promised, Stalin was confronted with a choice.   He could admit that Communism doesn't work and disavow the ideological foundation of his own dictatorship.   Or he could find a scapegoat.   The problem for him was that he had already used up Lenin's scapegoat, the kulak class of peasants, during his first Five Year Plan when he confiscated all their property and sent the ones he didn't murder into the GULAG forced labour camps or Siberia.   The Five Year Plan ended, Soviet agriculture was still a mess, and now he needed a new scapegoat.


Then Stalin and Lysenko found each other.


In February of 1935, an agricultural conference was held in the Kremlin with Stalin himself in attendance.   Lysenko, addressing the assembled scientists and government officials, discussed his work with vernalization, both what had been accomplished and what had yet to be done.   Part way through his speech, however, he began denouncing other scientists:


You see, comrades, saboteur-kulaks are found not only in your kolkhoz [collective farm] life…They are no less dangerous, no less accursed, in science.   A great deal of mortification has had to be endured in defending vernalization in all kids of battles with so-called scientists…Comrades, was there—and is there—really no class struggle on the vernalization front?... 

Indeed there was…Instead of helping the collective farmers, they sabotaged things.  Both within the scientific world and outside it, a class enemy is always an enemy, even if a scientist.

So, comrades, that is how we carried out this work.   The kolkhoz system pulled it through.   The kolkhozes have pulled through and are pulling it through on the basis of the sole scientific methodology, the one and only scientific guiding principles, which Comrade Stalin teaches us daily.


These words earned him a standing ovation from Stalin who leaped to his feet, clapped, and yelled “Bravo, Comrade Lysenko, bravo!” which, of course, meant that everyone else present had to begin applauding this disgusting display of stabbing one’s colleagues in the back.   It is no wonder Stalin was pleased.   Not only did Lysenko give him the scapegoat he was looking for in these supposed saboteur scientists, but he showed himself to be a man after Stalin’s own heart and cut from his own cloth.   His path to power had been strewn with the corpses of betrayed comrades and the year after this speech the Moscow Show Trials, in which Stalin would consolidate his power by levelling capital charges against his rivals and opponents within the Communist Party under the Soviet Union’s notorious Article 58 began.   He was also undoubtedly pleased to hear the nonsense about his teachings being the only true principles guiding scientific methodology.  


This speech ensured Lysenko’s rise to the top of his profession because Stalin became his patron and protector.   It also placed those among his colleagues who had started to notice that Lysenko’s claims for his work in vernalization were exaggerated and that his promises of exponential yield growth far exceeded his delivery and who were starting to question his methodology and the legitimacy of some of his results on notice to watch their step.   Geneticists in particular had cause to be afraid.   After his initial work on vernalization had earned him acclaim, Lysenko had made increasingly fanciful claims for the process.   Around the time that he gave the speech that brought him to Stalin’s notice he had begun claiming that wheat seeds from the plants grown from vernalized seed would retain the vernalization.   His geneticist critics noted that this was a reversion to the idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, widely associated with the name of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, which had gone out of favour among serious biologists in the early twentieth century with the rediscovery of the findings of Gregor Mendel, first published in 1866.    Lysenko went on the offensive against the geneticists.   He condemned them as “Mendelists” and “Weismannists” after August Weismann, the author of germ plasm theory a precursor to genetics.   His favourite epithet for them was “Morganists” after Thomas Hunt Morgan, the American Nobel-prize winner who was the most prominent geneticist in the world at the time and a particular object of Lysenko’s scorn and envy.   His use of these labels was entirely pejorative and had little to do with the actual ideas and accomplishments of these men.   He used the terms the way contemporary leftists use the words “reactionary”, “fascist”, “imperialist” and “racist” and, indeed, he used this latter set of epithets interchangeably with the former.   He portrayed the geneticists as the “class enemies” and “saboteurs” of which he had spoken in his address before Stalin.   See Evolution, Marxian Biology and the Social Scene (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1959) by Conway Zirkle, who had ten years previously published a monograph specifically on the Lysenkoist persecution of the Russian geneticists, for the case that Lysenko’s neo-Lamarckian biology can be traced back to roots in the writings of the founders of Communism.


The ultimate test of any practical science is its results.   While Lysenko constantly promised that his work would bring about greater, more abundant, harvests so that the USSR would be able to easily feed her people and, more importantly to his political masters, would pull ahead of the United States in food production, he not only constantly failed to deliver, but his techniques, which after 1935 would increasingly be imposed upon all of Soviet agriculture, produced crop failure after crop failure.   By contrast, in the non-Communist world, those engaged in the very research Lysenko demonized in Russia, were successfully providing their countries with results similar to what Lysenko was promising by applying the findings of genetics to hybridization.  Nevertheless, Lysenko had hit upon a formula that was successful in terms of appealing to the Communist minds that ruled Soviet Russia.   By declaring his pseudoscientific quackery to be “progressive” and “revolutionary” and the like and his opponents’ theories to be “fascist” and “reactionary” he was able to declare his theories and methods to be the one true science and the path to a golden future without any concrete and verifiable results and to blame all of his failures on his opponents.


Newly empowered by Stalin’s patronage, Lysenko committed the sin which in Dante’s Inferno damns one to the lowest circle of hell with Lucifer, Brutus, Judas, and Cassius, the sin of betraying one’s benefactor.   He turned on Nikolai Vavilov, and while the latter’s established reputation was not such as could be overturned in one night, eventually Lysenko’s accusations destroyed the man.   He was arrested in 1940 and sentenced to death in 1941.   While his friends were able to obtain a commutation of the sentence of twenty years in prison, he died in 1943 from conditions brought upon by his imprisonment.


After the Second World War ended but food shortages continued, several Soviet scientists, including Stalin’s son-in-law Yuri Zhdanov, felt emboldened to criticize Lysenko who had become the director of VASKhNIL and thus the top agricultural scientist in the Soviet Union in 1938.   Appealing directly to Stalin, Lysenko obtained the authority to crush his opponents completely.    In 1948, in the notorious “August Session”, a weeklong conference of VASKhNIL which Lysenko opened with an address the draft manuscript of which bears comments and corrections in Stalin’s own handwriting, the entire field of genetics was condemned as “bourgeois pseudoscience” and “Michurinism” (1) as Lysenko and his followers dubbed their own theories was declared to be the “only correct” view.   Yuri Zhdanov, seeing the handwriting on the wall, wrote a letter of recantation to his father-in-law which was published in Pravda on the last day of the session.   That day other defenders of genetics gave speeches renouncing their criticism of Lysenko.   The session concluded with genetics being formally banned in the Soviet Union by the Central Party Committee a mere five years before James Watson and Francis Crick published their double-helix model of the DNA structure of the chromosome in Nature.   Geneticists were forced to renounce their field.   Those who didn’t, and even some who did but were deemed to be insufficiently punished thereby, were expelled from the institutions of Soviet biology and in many cases handed over to GULAG or put to death.


Lysenko’s domination of Soviet biology survived the death of Stalin, but it collapsed after Nikita Khrushchev was removed from office in 1964.   Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov denounced Lysenko before the General Assembly of the Soviet Academy of Sciences that year, and after the coup against Khrushchev the Academy began a formal investigation into Lysenko’s work.   The results, when published, demolished Lysenko’s reputation and he was stripped of all authority outside of the Lenin Hills experimental farm that he had taken over upon becoming director of VASKhNIL in 1938 and which remained under his supervision until his death in 1976.


Trofim Lysenko as an ideological Communist held to the most extreme form possible of Modern man’s inflated view of science.   Science was everything to him, the way forward to a golden future from out of a past in which he could see nothing but darkness.   What he thought of as science however, was largely the opposite of the science that has produced the results for which Modern man holds it in such high estimation.    The science that “works” is a methodology in which hypotheses are put forward and tested through experimentation but if the tests support the hypothesis another hypothesis can always come along to replace it and the openness to this possibility is of the very essence of science.   Lysenko’s science consisted of rigid dogmas which amounted to an extreme version of the nurture side of the ongoing nature versus nurture debate that sought to end the debate by ending the discussing and eliminating the other side.   While he promised beneficial results, the harvest he reaped was famine and scarcity rather than plenty.


Only a few short years after Lysenko’s reputation and career collapsed in his own country, his spirit was found to be alive and well on academic campuses in the West.    New Left groups such as Science for the People started protesting lectures by scientists whose views they did not want heard, disrupting meetings of scientific associations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and demanding that a narrow party line be taken with all dissenting views condemned on a variety of politically charged subjects.   Not only was the attitude very similar to Lysenko’s, when the issues pertained to the biological sciences the New Left groups took a hard nurture stance against those whose research and theories supported the nature side.   See Ullica Segerstråle’s Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate (Oxford, 2000) and the chapter in Edward O. Wilson’s autobiography Naturalist (Shearwater, 1994) where he discusses his persecution by his Harvard colleagues Stephen Jay Gould and Richard C. Lewontin.   Even the epithets hurled by the New Left – “racist”, “fascist”, etc. are the same as in Lysenko’s day.   Today, the successors to these New Left groups, the “woke”, rule the academic world with an iron fist.


In British Columbia, a family physician who has served the rural community of Lytton for almost thirty years, Dr. Charles Hoffe earlier in the year reported the adverse effects that many of his patients had experienced after receiving the Moderna vaccine and circulated a letter questioning the ethics of continuing to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine after 12 countries in Europe suspended its use over blot clotting.   The BC College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Interior Health Authority ordered him to shut up about all of this because it would promote “vaccine hesitancy”.   Dr. Hoffe continued to see his patients suffer serious ill effects from the vaccines but received brush off responses from the public health authorities to the effect that the vaccines were “safe” and this was all a coincidence.   Taking such basic medical ethics principles as the “no harm” principle of the Hippocratic Oath and the right to informed consent seriously, he refused to obey the order to shut up.   He is now under investigation by the College and the IHA.   Furthermore the IHA has suspended his emergency room privileges on the grounds that he is spreading “misinformation” by which they mean entirely factual information, by any objective standard, about the low fatality rate of the bat flu, the dissemination of which conflicts with their agenda of achieving universal vaccination.   Countless other examples of physicians who have been disciplined for dissenting from the party line on the bat flu and the vaccines in various ways, from administering inexpensive, long-established-to-be-safe, treatments to opposing the unjust and draconian lockdowns, could be cited.   The public health authorities clamping down on these dissident physicians and demanding that everybody obey their every order without question claim that they are following “the science”.   Their totalitarianism tells us that the “science” they are following is closer in spirit to Lysenko’s than to anything deserving of the name.


(1)   Michurinist was derived from the name of Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin, who died in 1935 and thus was spared seeing his name so misappropriated.   Like Vavilov his contributions were in the direction of the development of hybrids based on genetics, and thus the sort of thing that Lysenko condemned as Weissmanist-Mendelist-Morganism.


Thursday, October 7, 2021

Vaccine Passports do Not Belong in Church


The Right Reverend Peter Carrell is the Bishop of the Anglican diocese of Christchurch in New Zealand.   On the fifth of October, he sent out a tweet that began with the following:


Vaccine certificates…work to be done on [e.g.] whether they will be required for church attendance…and will be from November


Then, finally remembering how to form a complete and coherent thought, he added the following question:


Is there any reason why churches shouldn’t generally go with the flow of this measure for the safety of our nation?


By “our nation”, obviously, he means New Zealand whose Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, seemingly an adherent of the Zero Covid cult, imposed a severe lockdown in August after the country had its first case of bat flu since February.    Sadly, sanity appears to be in short supply among the leaders of this, one of our sister Commonwealth Realms, and judging from the bishop’s tweet this applies to the ecclesiastical as well as the political leadership.   Not that an overabundance of it can be found among our leaders in the Dominion of Canada.   Quite the opposite, actually.


Note how the bishop’s question is worded.   By asking “is there any reason why churches shouldn’t” rather than “is there any reason why churches should” he makes the use of vaccine certificates to be able to go to church into the default position and places the onus of proof upon those who object to this.    That is the kind of crazy that in vulgar conversation is customarily associated with the feces of the winged mammal widely believed to have been the original host of the coronavirus.


The church is the institution established by Jesus Christ through His Apostles for the purpose of ministering His Gospel, the Good News about how He has brought the freely given, forgiving, redeeming, justifying, sanctifying, empowering, and transforming grace of God to us through His Incarnation, Atoning death and Resurrection to all people everywhere through the two-fold ministry of the preached Word and the administered Sacrament.   To turn people away from the ministry of the church, other than as the disciplinary act commanded by the Apostle Paul in cases of extreme, un-repented sin, is to turn people away from Jesus Christ.


The sixth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John is one of the most important theological chapters in the entire Bible.     The Discourse on the Bread of Life is foundational to the Sacramental theology of the Eucharist, perhaps even more so than the words of Institution in the Synoptic Gospels, for it is here that the concept of the body and blood of Jesus as the spiritual food that sustains eternal life is to be found.    Right in the middle of this Discourse is a passage vital to Calvinist theology – the most explicit statement in all of Scripture of how those who believe in Christ have been given to Him by the Father in accordance with His eternal purpose and how it is His, that is Christ’s, mission to lose none of them but to raise them up to eternal life on the Last Day (vv. 35 to 40, a passage which is also essential to distinguishing  the New Covenant concept of God’s “elect” from the Old Covenant concept of the same).    One could say that this entire passage, in which the most important themes of Catholicism and Calvinism are seamlessly interwoven as one, is the most Anglican passage in all of Scripture.   It is in this context, that Jesus makes the statement “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out” (v. 37).   I quote, as always, from the real English Bible, the English Vulgate, the Authorized Bible, which was good enough for King Charles I and is good enough for me, but it is worth noting the Common English, Good News and New International Versions’ renderings in which “I will in no wise cast out” becomes “I won’t send away”, “I will never turn away” and “I will never drive away” respectively.   However worded, the point is clear – Jesus doesn’t send those who come to Him away.    The church, which is supposed to follow His example, ought not to send them away either.


The churches have been doing an absolutely terrible job of following Jesus on this since the beginning of the irrational bat flu panic.    When government public health mandarins ordered them to shut their doors for months on end they did so.   When the same odious bureaucrats told them they could re-open but only at a limited capacity, requiring them to pre-register those who would attend and turn all over the capacity limit away, they did so.   When they told them that they could only allow people to attend on condition that they agreed to breathe their recycled carbon dioxide from behind a face diaper that covered their nose and mouth for the duration of the service they did so, thus turning away all who did not think they should have to give up breathing oxygen to hear the Word and receive the Sacrament.   


In defending all of this obeying man rather than God and rendering unto Caesar the things that are God’s, the ecclesiastical leadership have trotted out a number of arguments, each entirely specious.    The thirteenth chapter of the epistle to the Romans in which St. Paul enjoins civil obedience upon believers and teaches the divine right of kings (that civil government has authority from God to act as His ministers in the punishment of evil) has been constantly trotted out.   Those who bring up this passage fail to mention that in the examples of Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the Scripture provides us with clear exceptions to the rule of civil obedience, in Daniel’s case when government forbids the worship of the True God, in his friends’ case when government demands the worship of false gods.    Nor do they discuss how the passage in Romans limits legitimate government authority – if the civil government has been given a sword by God for punishing evil, then it must wield that sword in punishing what God says is evil, not whatever it sees fit to punish.   With these public health orders, governments have been punishing things that are not only not mala in se (literally bad in themselves, meaning intrinsically criminal apart from statutory law) but are indeed bona in se (good in themselves) and essential for healthy social and communal life, which is a clear abuse of the sword of the thirteenth of Romans, screaming out to heaven for vengeance.


Then there is the twisting of the Christian ethic with regards to loving others beyond all recognition.   Jesus, when asked which was the Greatest Commandment of the Law (the Old Covenant), said that it was to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and that the second, which was like unto it, was to love your neighbour as yourself.   At the Last Supper on the night in which He was betrayed and arrested, He told His disciples that He was leaving them with a New Commandment to love one another as He had loved them, which clearly has a self-sacrificial implication that was explicitly spelled out when He said that “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”.


What does this look like in a time of plague?


For two thousand years it has been commonly understood that in times of plague the highest form of living out this ethic was when the healthy, at the potential jeopardy of their own health and lives, attended upon the sick and ministered to their needs.   The way the Right Reverend John Strachan, first Bishop of Toronto, ministered to the sick and dying in that city during the choleric outbreaks of the nineteenth century is a classic example of this.


Contrast that with today when we are constantly being told that the loving thing to do is for healthy people to avoid all social contact with other healthy people until such time, if ever, that the government sees fit to allow them to socialize again.    What is being called “love” in this perverse inversion of the historical understanding of the Christian ethic is far closer to fear.   The words of St. John from his first epistle might be appropriate at this point “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment.   He that feareth is not made perfect in love”. (4:18).


As bad as churches closing their doors, limiting their numbers, requiring those Satanic masks, and the like has been, for churches to join the vaccine passport campaign would be a whole new level of apostasy.    Throughout the irrational bat flu panic governments have acted as if constitutional limits on their powers and protections of the rights and freedoms of the governed do not exist in a public health emergency and they are allowed to do whatever they want.   In terms of what the constitutional law of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Realms such as the Dominion of Canada and New Zealand actually says, they are completely wrong in thinking this, of course, but they might be right in a practical sense in that so long as people are more afraid of the object of the public health scare than of losing their freedoms to tyranny and courts are willing to give government a lot of leeway, they can pretty much get away with doing whatever they want.   This is a part of human nature every tyrannical and totalitarian regime has known and exploited.   


Initially, perhaps, our governments were acting in bona fide, or the closest thing to good faith that politicians are actually of, and panicking themselves and not knowing what else to do, tried whatever their public health “experts” suggested.   What we are now seeing is far more sinister than this.    Having exhausted the public’s patience with lockdowns after lockdowns and having mostly achieved their initial vaccination targets only to discover that new waves of the virus keep coming, they are blaming their failure to do what no government has ever been able to do in the past, i.e., stop a virus, on those who have not been vaccinated to the satisfaction of the government.  


That these people have not been vaccinated could, of course, be viewed as another failure of government – they failed to convince these people that the vaccines were safe enough and the virus dangerous enough for the risk associated with remaining unvaccinated to outweigh the risk of receiving the vaccines.    Perhaps it never occurred to them that all of their efforts to keep people from hearing any information about the vaccines that was not positive and to demonize anyone who communicated such information make their own position less convincing rather than more convincing to anyone whose ability to think rationally has not been paralyzed by mass fear.   Or that their bizarre attitude of “I’m vaccinated but you’re not being vaccinated puts me at risk” sends the message that they do not themselves really believe that these vaccines work.  


Whatever is the case, they are now trying to compel where they failed to convince.   The vaccine passport system punishes people for making what is a valid, legally protected, choice not to allow something to be injected into their bodies that they have not been properly persuaded is worth whatever risks might be associated with it.   This is a completely unacceptable form of state bullying that evokes the whole “show me your papers” imagery frequently found in dystopic literature and film inspired by such historical totalitarian regimes as the Third Reich and the Soviet Union.    Churches were wrong to turn people away from Jesus in compliance with the earlier public health measures.   For them to do so in compliance with the vaccine passport system would be to fully align themselves with Christianity’s opposite.


That brings me to a point that I raised at Dr. Adrian Hilton’s Archbishop Cramner blog in the comments section to a post entitled “Should you need a Covid vaccination certificate to attend church?   This post, Dr. Hilton’s response to the Right Reverend Carrell’s tweet, is well worth reading in its entirety.   He gives the right answer, the negative answer, to the question in his title, and closes with the appropriate sentiment “There is neither clean nor unclear, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”.


To his excellent arguments I added the following comment, which I will close this essay by reproducing here:


It does not matter how one interprets the Book of Revelation. One could be a dispensationalist, who thinks that the Beast is a specific individual who will be revealed after the elect have been raptured. One could be a preterist who thinks that the Beast was an individual/system of the first century and that all Biblical prophecy was fulfilled in the year 70. Or one could hold to any of the positions in between that are more in keeping with how the Book has traditionally understood. Either way, it is obvious the Beast is not a figure to be emulated. Requiring people to show a vaccine certificate to be able to conduct an economic transaction is eerily close to the Beast's requiring his mark to buy and sell, as even some Roman Catholics, like John Zmirak a month or so ago at The Stream, are starting to observe. Requiring it for church attendance would be even worse. We are to follow Christ not Antichrist. Jesus' example was clear. When He came across lepers, He did not avoid them, but touched and healed them. Go thou and do likewise.