By Ann Cavoukian
The foundation of any tyrannical regime be it fascist, socialist or an authoritarian democracy is that a group of elites are said to have superior knowledge to that of the people, and thus believe they have the right to impose the consequences of such knowledge through State infrastructures. Or, to pose it as a question within the context of Western civilization: given that in a liberal society, individuals are free to exercise choice as long as it does not entail physical harm to another, is it moral to also limit those choices to be within the constraints of the establishment’s “superior knowledge?”
For example, over a year ago, vaccines for SarsCoV-2 started to be rolled out, and then Vaccine passports and mandates were introduced to limit people’s movement under the premise that the Public Health establishment knew better than the general population — they believed they had superior knowledge regarding the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, especially with regard to its ability to enhance immunity and stop the spread of the virus.
In hindsight, this has not been the case. Although it is still early days, since the data is still being collected and analyzed, it is now believed to be possible that the vaccine may have actually made things worse for the population as a whole when adverse effects, all-cause mortality, and its potential preventative effect on achieving herd-immunity, are brought into the picture. Initially, Public Health officials may very well have had better knowledge than the average lay person, but scientific knowledge is never infallible. When the current state of knowledge is positioned as sacrosanct and challenge is censored or curtailed, both science and society lose out. In hindsight, Public Health and government officials were posing a false counterfactual: that unless the majority became vaccinated, society would never achieve herd immunity against the virus without undergoing catastrophic casualty. Initially, the majority was 70%, then 80%, and now in some jurisdictions up to 90% are actually vaccinated — but still no herd-immunity!
Another example from the past: the US National Prohibition of Alcohol Act (1920–1933) was a “noble experiment undertaken to reduce crime and corruption, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses, and improve health and hygiene in America.” The elites at that time believed they were the vessels of superior knowledge on how to improve society. But this Prohibition turned out to be a cultural, social, and criminal disaster!
And so it has also been for the Wars on Drugs, on Terror, on Disease and even on Inequality. The unintended consequences of these efforts have become far more devastating than the intended benefits. Again, a false counterfactual has been planted in the psyche of society: that unless one has a government with the power to mandate, tax and then print the balance of the remaining needed funds, then existing government services would not be produced by people themselves, operating voluntarily. The unintended consequences of this false counterfactual has been mass digital, financial and location surveillance (War on Terror), greater criminality (War on Drugs), lockdowns, mandates and warrantless freezing of bank accounts (War on Disease), massive debt and inflation (War on Inequality).
Governing elites may have a monopoly on the use of force, but certainly not on omniscience. In the last two years, this false premise of superior knowledge as the rationale for governing institutions being able to extensively mandate in a variety of areas has been brought to light and challenged. It is what Nobel Laureate F.A. Hayek called The Pretence of Knowledge, (which I encourage you all to read).
The superior knowledge that elites profess to possess is only a pretence since the disciplines involved with society and culture, such as economics, herd-immunity, education, and wealth creation, in general, essentially deal with complex phenomena wherein the quantitative data are necessarily limited and may not include the crucial ones. As Hayek stated in his Nobel Laureate speech:
“While in the physical sciences it is generally assumed, probably with good reason, that any important factor which determines the observed events will itself be directly observable and measurable, in the study of such complex phenomena as the market, which depend on the actions of many individuals, all the circumstances which will determine the outcome of a process will hardly ever be fully known or measurable. The economists are at this moment called upon to say how to extricate the free world from the serious threat of accelerating inflation which, it must be admitted, has been brought about by policies which the majority of economists recommended and even urged governments to pursue.”
So we circle back to the question: should we give up some of our freedoms because a group of governing elites claim to know better, when historical evidence indicates that their track record is indeed no better than ours? But dire consequences arise when a governing bureaucrat makes a wrong decision — this can devastatingly affect an entire society, whereas when you or I make a wrong decision based on incomplete knowledge, it usually only affects a few people in our inner circle!
I will continue to repeat: in order to save our freedom with all of its positive benefits, we must transform our governments from being centralized and domineering to decentralized and actualizing.
Dr. Ann Cavoukian is a member of our Board of Directors for the Probe Foundation. Dr. Cavoukian is the Executive Director of the Privacy and Big Data Institute at Ryerson University. Recognized as one of the leading privacy experts in the world, Dr. Cavoukian is an avowed believer in the role that technology can play in protecting privacy. Her ground-breaking 1995 paper, Privacy-Enhancing Technologies: The Path to Anonymity, laid the foundation for her magnum opus, Privacy by Design (PbD) – which is now recognized as the world’s gold standard in privacy protection. Dr. Cavoukian is well known for her former role as Ontario’s longest serving Information and Privacy Commissioner.