The New Biosecurity State

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Former UN Top Official Ramesh Thakur on How Science Became Dogma

Transcript of Ramesh Thakur interview with Jan Jekielek, American Thought Leaders, Epoch TV, 14 December 2023, and on PodBean

The transcript was published on the Brownstone Institute website. The full interview is also available on PodBean.


Jan Jekielek: Ramesh Thakur, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.

Ramesh Thakur: It’s a pleasure to be here.

Mr. Jekielek: You wrote the book, Our Enemy, the Government, provocatively titled. You said if 10 percent of medical professionals rejected seemingly wrong directives coming from on high, that the whole structure of compliance would have collapsed. Please explain why you believe that.

Mr. Thakur: Sure. One of the features of current society is the rise of the professional associations and the regulatory colleges that regulate the people practicing in their professions; accountants, lawyers, and doctors. During the Covid era, these regulatory bodies were very useful for the state and were instrumentalized to ensure compliance. Any doctor who publicly questioned what was being demanded by the public health authorities and the colleges could be disciplined.

Now, in any profession, as a rough and ready calculation, a 10 percent threshold of dissent is very critical. Because once you get to that level, they cannot function if they cancel a full 10 percent, and they also cannot get away by saying, “This is a very tiny minority view.”

Think of the famous or infamous 97 percent consensus and the settled science on climate emergency. If you don’t get people speaking up, that illusion can be sustained almost indefinitely. But if 10 percent of the scientists start saying, “Wait a minute. We don’t actually agree with that. We have these questions.” Then the public attention shifts to, “What is it they are saying? They’re fully credentialed as well.”

If the doctors and specialists had been able to speak out, and if that many of them did, they couldn’t cancel them all and they couldn’t get away by insisting that only the cranks and the nutters and the tin foil hatters were the dissidents. That’s where I picked that up. Now, it may be not 10 percent, maybe it’s 15 percent, we won’t know. But 10 percent is a pretty significant number.

The reason they got away with that is the censorship and shadow-banning and suppression. That’s where the censorship industrial complex comes in, because the doctors who were dissenting didn’t know how many others were speaking out. Then it required much more courage for any individual doctor to put his or her head above the parapet. That’s the argument.

Mr. Jekielek: This speaks to how powerful the perception of perceived consensus really is. It is a consensus where most people believe in a certain correct view. The true power of the disinformation industrial complex is its ability to shape that perceived consensus both through censorship and propaganda.

Mr. Thakur: The reason for that is that throughout this period, they were promulgating and relying on the authority of following the science. Therefore, they needed that illusion of more or less clear consensus amongst the scientists. But if in fact, scientists and some of the leading credentialed scientists were dissenting, then that makes it different. Going back to the Great Barrington Declaration, these are senior, well-established epidemiologists from Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford, world-leading figures.

To describe them as fringe epidemiologists was important in order to destroy their credentials and to say, “These are nutters there on the fringe. They don’t count really. We’ve got everyone else agreeing with it.” The silence from everyone else was projected as consent in the profession, but they never actually surveyed that. That goes back to the same phenomenon.

Mr. Jekielek: With the Great Barrington Declaration, I don’t know if it hit the 10 percent threshold, but it was a significant group of people that signed on and said, “No.” But because of this censorship machine, those voices were not heard.

Mr. Thakur: Yes and no. They were not allowed to be heard, and the shadow-banning was very effective, including with Jay Bhattacharya himself. But it’s interesting how many people kept referencing that and saying, “You’ve got 60,000 health professionals and doctors who have signed onto that, as well as general citizens. They surely can’t all be wrong.” I was an early signatory, but obviously, I wasn’t in the medical health profession category. They did succeed in limiting their spread and disseminating their influence, but I think the number of signatories was actually important for validating a lot of criticism and dissent.

Mr. Jekielek: So, it wasn’t in vain.

Mr. Thakur: No, absolutely not. I would like to do a Google search month by month from when it came out and see just how many times it was actually referenced. Of course, you can only do that when they stop shadow-banning and stop suppressing the search engine.

Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk about your background because you said you were not a medical professional, but you were a very senior figure at the United Nations. You do have a very interesting past and a very interesting vantage point on all of this. Please tell us about that.

Mr. Thakur: That’s an interesting question. I was involved in this topic tangentially in a series of different contexts. First of all, as a shorthand, my major professional background is being a specialist on global governance. I co-wrote a book, the major book on global governance, with Tom Weiss from the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, called, Global Governance and the UN: An Unfinished Journey, which was about the role of the United Nations at the hub or center of global governance. One of the chapters was actually on health and pandemics, including a substantial section on the WHO. So, that’s one aspect.

At the United Nations University where I was the senior vice rector, we operated a globally-dispersed faculty system. Think of a regular university, but the faculties are located in different countries around the world in different continents. We established and created some new ones. One of those was an institute on global health, which we located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. As part of that effort, we looked into this topic and how the UN University could connect the need in terms of capacity building in many developing countries with the expertise that is available mostly in the advanced industrial economies, and which subjects do we look at. That’s the second aspect in which I was interested.

The third one was, when I was still in the UN system and more intensely after I left, I was involved in the effort led by a small group of people in Canada under the sponsorship and an encouragement of former Prime Minister Paul Martin, who with Larry Summers, the Treasury Secretary here in the States, had been responsible for creating the Finance Ministers G20 after the financial crisis in 1997. When he was Prime Minister, his experience indicated that the intimacy and personal relationship between the finance ministers was very important in getting agreement amongst them on what needed to be done. Once they agreed and had a vision and a strategy, they could then use their authority and office as minister to try and overcome bureaucratic and institutional resistance within their individual systems.

He asked, “What if we could do this at the leaders level? Would it be possible to get together the leaders of some of the most systemically important countries, put them together for a day or two in an intimate setting, just a small number of 14 or 15, and then get agreement amongst them on the most effective way to break the deadlocks and impasse within their own systems and get global agreements?”

These would then be the major topics that we need to look at, or that these leaders would need to look at. As part of that, what would be a crisis, in which area, that might trigger the need for such an elevation from the finance ministers to the heads of government and the heads of state?

The topics we looked at were nuclear weapons use, weapons of mass destruction [WMD] terrorism, and financial crisis, which is the one that actually triggered in 2008. Pandemics was another one. We actually looked at pandemics as a potential trigger to elevating that grouping today. From all these areas, I was familiar with pandemics as a global governance issue. Through that, I became familiar with the national pandemic preparedness plans.

Because one of the things we kept saying in the UN system, and they kept saying it even after I had left, was that, “It’s a matter of when, rather than whether. We will have a pandemic sooner or later. When it strikes, we will not be able to respond to it, unless we have prepared in advance how to identify, how to coordinate, and what we need to do.”

That was summarized quite succinctly in a report in September 2019, only shortly before we had a pandemic declared by the WHO. One of the striking conclusions in that report was what they called NPIs, non-pharmaceutical interventions; lockdowns, travel restrictions, social distancing, closing businesses, and making people stay at home.

NPIs are not recommended. It was very clear that they don’t work. They cause harm, and they’re disruptive to society and to the economy. People may resent it and resist it, and the resistance is fairly widespread. The authority of the government might collapse. At best, if you need to enhance your hospital capacity or your ICU capacity, you may consider these measures for a very short limited term like one week or two weeks-

Mr. Jekielek: To stop the spread.

Mr. Thakur: To stop the spread and ramp up your capacity. But the longer you leave an NPI in place, the more damage you cause through that process and the more you risk a return of the problem later on, so don’t do it. When the pandemic was declared in early 2020 and they went through these measures, I was puzzled. I wanted to look at why they had done it. Was there a new science?

Science doesn’t advance quite like that. It takes time to develop and get consensus on that.

Was there significant new data that contradicted the earlier advice? We had some data that was important in the way it was used by the medical authorities, but that had come from Wuhan in China. With all due respect, we needed to cross-check some of that data because where it was coming from was not the most reliable source.

Mr. Jekielek: To say it nicely.

Mr. Thakur: To say it nicely. With the UN training, I didn’t accept that we should have reacted in quite that panic mode with the drastic measures without first seeing, “Was it justified?”

I had retired from the university position by then, I had not accepted any other position. As part of the retirement, I had also refused to accept new assignments, whether it was writing or reviewing manuscripts. I had the time, and it also meant I had the freedom. They could not cancel me, and they could not sack me because I was already retired.

The third element that was important was because of my background, I had some platforms for disseminating my views and some research skills for matching data and theory to policy. I used my access to some publications to start asking questions and essentially saying, “Why are we doing this? Have we factored in the long-term harm that we can predict is going to be caused by these measures? Is this crisis really as bad as they’re claiming? Where is the evidence for that?”

In particular, people forget that we actually had as close to an actual experiment as you could get with the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Because when the pandemic broke out and it arrived from Hong Kong in Yokohama port in Japan, you had these ideal conditions for the spread of an infectious disease; elderly clientele existing in close quarters. One person gets infected and before you know it, you have a crisis. How many others have they interacted with? Yet, at the end of that, only a small proportion were infected and an even smaller proportion died from it.

Then later on, you also have the American warship, the Eisenhower, and the French warship, the Charles de Gaulle. Now, you have the opposite end of the spectrum. You have young, healthy, fit, active duty soldiers, and you can see that the disease was not all that serious for them. There were claims this was a once-in-a-century emergency, and that this was the worst thing we’ve had since the Spanish flu, and that it’s comparable to Spanish flu. Not many people may realize that about one-third of the total fatalities of Spanish flu were amongst Indians. This is something that I was familiar with, and it just didn’t make sense.

The third element that was very striking about Covid from the very start was the exceptionally steep age gradient. In the Western countries, typically the mortality with Covid is either at or even above the average life expectancy. You look at that and you go back to the Great Barrington Declaration where they made that point that you’re looking at a thousandfold difference between the elderly and the young. Then later on, we get confirmation that it’s not just about the age, but also the existence of comorbidities.

If you have underlying serious health conditions, then you’re more vulnerable. If you are a healthy person, even at age-70 with not a single underlying health condition, you are very unlikely to die even if infected. The gravity did not measure up. Why are these extreme measures and why not just factor in the consequences? Have you done your quality assessment, the quality-adjusted life years (QUALY) and the cost-benefit analysis?

Mr. Jekielek: And the intervention of blowing up the world economy.

Mr. Thakur: It was.

Mr. Jekielek: It’s a significant intervention for what you’re describing.

Mr. Thakur: Including the interruptions to the childhood immunization programs around the world. People just overlooked the damage this was going to cause in the developing world, which is the majority of the world community and that was my major interest. I found it very shocking the extent to which we just ignored the damage we were going to cause that could be predicted. It was predicted by key parts of the UN system like UNICEF, the World Food Program, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and even by the IMF and the World Bank.

They were saying, “This is going to cause immense damage.” Regarding the education losses, we have a 375 million pandemic generation of children who’ve had schooling interrupted for two or three years, and that’s just in India. This is not a global figure. The consequences were there and they were predicted by key parts of the UN system. It wasn’t just fringe bodies saying this, it was the main authorities.

Mr. Jekielek: You have some absolutely brilliant thoughts on the compliance, and why there wasn’t this 10 percent resistance in different fields. Let’s jump into that.

Mr. Thakur: Sure. In August of 2020, one of the two main national Argentinian papers did a long interview with me, a full-page Sunday feature with a 3,000-word article. One of the questions was, “What has surprised you most with the pandemic so far?” My answer was, “I’ve been surprised at how easily the advanced Western democracies with universal literacy ended up complying with the most serious assault on civil liberties and political freedoms and human rights in our history.”

Why is it that people comply so easily? One thing we covered earlier was the censorship and the unawareness of the extent to which the professionals were actually dissenting, but were not allowed to say it and could not share their dissent with each other.

But the other element is that we have seen two parallel developments. One is the transformation of the quintessential liberal democratic state into the national security state, then the administrative state, then the surveillance state, and now the biosecurity state. At each level of these developments, you have an expansion of state power and the spread of the state tentacles into increasingly intimate areas of public life and individual life. They’re able to subvert the will of the legislature as the body that makes laws by delegating more and more powers to the experts and to the bureaucrats.

In a sense, the expert class has combined that old American definition of tyranny and started exercising legislative, executive, and even judicial or semi-judicial tyranny. Think of some of the very recent court cases in the United States where the court has started to strike back at overreach and abuse by parts of the bureaucracy.

There is that element, but equally, there is a change in values, a shift in emphasis from individual rights to collective rights, and overemphasis, in my view, on safetyism and the demands by people on their governments to keep them safe, and to make it impossible for others to hurt your feelings, because feeling hurt forms microaggressions. Then you end up with a situation where there are demands to change your sex or gender by simply declaring that you feel like a woman and therefore you are a woman. Then you’re not just allowed, but you can demand that everyone else calls you by your new name and refers to you by the new pronoun. If they are misgendering you, laws will be passed and enforced and you can be punished either financially or even with jail.

There is this whole transformation of the very basis of society, the core values and shared ideological frameworks that constitute a community, and then the use of state power to enforce that. This has been done by a minority, but an active minority that worked through the classroom at school and university to change the nature of education from education to indoctrination, to reduce thought diversity, to enforce intellectual conformity, and to progressively punish and silence and delegitimize dissenting voices.

The very nature of universities has been subverted, not just changed, because this is where critical inquiry should flourish and questions should be asked and you should be able to have a healthy, vigorous debate among students, and between students and professors. Instead, we’ve gone the other way.

That creates an environment that is much more permissive to changing reality by law, whether it accords with the objective reality or not. It allows for enforcing through law the new normal with regard to beliefs and value systems and social practices, and elevating the collective over the individual, which is a fundamental basis for breaching human rights, which in the Western tradition, have been individual-centric.

They say, “We will put all of you under house arrest even though you have committed no crime and you are healthy, because we fear that what is happening in Wuhan has the potential to kill us all. To keep me safe, I will demand that you must be vaccinated.” Then you say, “Think it through. If the vaccines work, it’s protecting you. If you are vaccinated, it doesn’t matter whether I am or not.” They reply, “That idea itself, I find offensive. You’re being very selfish and you have no right to bodily integrity. To protect me and the rest of us, you must be vaccinated.”

It was a long gestation and spread through the institutions. Now, in the public sector, in Congress, in parliamentary systems, in the executive, in the corporate sector, in the sporting bodies, and in the cultural elite, the professional and managerial class is dominated by people with very similar views. The professional perspectives used to be different. Journalists would be critical of governments and work on the premise that all governments lie, that’s how they operate. Instead, you have a shared worldview and cooperation without any need for coercion and compulsion that promotes these values and these beliefs, and delegitimizing anyone who disagrees as a deplorable, and one of the great unwashed.

Without that, it would have been much more difficult to succeed with the coercion led by governments through the censorship industrial complex. That is my effort to solve this particular puzzle as to why people who should have been much more critical and professions that should have been much more critical, in fact, went along with the compliance. It was seen as the right thing to do and the moral thing to do. Therefore, if you resisted, you were a nutter, you were a fringe person, you were evil, you were immoral, and it was right to silence you and to punish you.

Mr. Jekielek: And reality be damned.

Mr. Thakur: Absolutely.

Mr. Jekielek: You’re talking about this ascendant woke. There’s different names like critical social justice and woke ideology. There’s this idea that reality is constructed through language.

Mr. Thakur: Absolutely.

Mr. Jekielek: Some of this minority actually believes this, and some are opportunistic, obviously.

Mr. Thakur: Again, they exploited the basic human instinct to be decent, to be tolerant, to accept people for who they are. That changed at some stage and through some processes that the behavioral scientists will have to look at. It changed into demands for compulsion and coercion. That’s where the danger came in and that’s also what happened in this regard too.

Mr. Jekielek: This is going to transform from a health question to a moral question.

Mr. Thakur: That was very important. The first major research along those lines was strangely enough from my old university in New Zealand, the University of Otago. They studied and they found that the strongest motivation was that they were seeing it not as a health issue, but as a moral issue. Some people said, “You are a part of society, you are part of this community. It is your moral duty to help the community survive.” It got translated in short form into, “Don’t be a granny killer.” It was this idea that we must put on a mask because otherwise, everyone else feels unsafe, and that’s not right. They said, “It’s just a small price to pay.” We saw that argument repeatedly, “It’s just a minor inconvenience, and only for a short time. What’s your problem? Don’t be so selfish.”

These elements were very important to that. I actually say in the book that at some stage in fact, the moralization was transformed into a deeper sacralization, which meant you couldn’t even question it. It was sacrilegious to question it, it was heresy to question it, and the new priesthood enforcing this heresy was the public health establishment.

Mr. Jekielek: It does have a religious quality to it.

Mr. Thakur: Absolutely. I am not religious myself, and I haven’t delved deeply into it, but I suspect the decline of faith and religious practice may be an important background factor also. As human beings, we need that core fundamental belief and value system that constitutes a community of shared beliefs and values. Religion has been the essential underpinning of society and community to get to that stage. If you start assaulting and dismantling religion, that need can only be satisfied by something equivalent.

Certainly, you can make the case that something like climate activism, in many respects, seems to behave like a cult. The same thing happened with this as well. It becomes a set of beliefs that are beyond question, and self-evidently true. If you question it, it’s not because you’re trying to find out genuinely, it’s because you’re evil, you are not worth listening to. In fact, we will silence you, and if necessary imprison you. It’s hard to explain that other than in terms of a religious fervor. Yes, that is a valid argument along those lines.

Mr. Jekielek: I recently signed on to the Westminster Declaration, which declares free speech to be a virtue. I noticed that Professor Richard Dawkins was also a signatory. I always imagined him to be a brilliant scientist, but I never liked his very anti-religion posture. Faith is very important in people’s lives. A Christian publication was saying, “Even Richard Dawkins is not as negative to Christianity anymore, because it could be replaced by something worse.” It made me wonder about precisely these sorts of questions that you were just describing.

Mr. Thakur: Religion has performed incredibly positive roles in binding peoples together, in regulating conduct in the human dimension through social mores, which have the origins in a lot of religious beliefs as well. But at the same time, some of our most destructive conflicts have been between different religions as well. This duality is part of human reality in so many different dimensions. But in our focus on the destructive aspects, we have overlooked the unifying positive sustaining values of religion through communities, and it forms an important social function.

I might not be religious myself, but I have never had any difficulty accepting people with strong religious beliefs and value systems and allowing them to practice that in the way they want to. In fact, pretty much all the rest of my family is deeply religious. I certainly would never knowingly or deliberately do anything to offend the religious sensibilities of any community. That’s fine, and I acknowledge its positive role.

Mr. Jekielek: An anecdotal observation that has been verified by people looking at this, is that people with deep faith seem to be more resilient to this facade of consensus and pressure to conform. Have you observed that?

Mr. Thakur: I think that’s true. But in addition, people with deep religious convictions tend to project a greater element of calmness and serenity. Think about it. Think of the Dalai Lama in terms of how he comes across with things, which is important. When we have times of trouble, we do look to authority figures. If we have a medical problem, we might look to the doctor and the family. One of the great losses is the loss of the family general practitioner doctor. This all has become commercialized, even the medical profession.

In terms of having a troubled soul or conscience, we do, as an instinct, want to be able to approach the priest or someone equivalent to wrestle through these difficult questions, all the way to the big questions of the meaning of life and death. If that is broken, what else can take its place? How do you prevent your young people, your own children, or the young people in society generally, how do you prevent them from being seduced by the darker elements as substitutes for religion as a positive element?

Mr. Jekielek: John McWhorter wrote his whole book explaining critical race theory as a religion. Wokeism seems to be one of these substitutes, exactly what you’re talking about.

Mr. Thakur: It seems like that, but I’m too much of a different generation. Even though I’ve lived in the West now for the two-thirds of my life, it’s still very hard for me to get obsessed over essentially first world problems. Being confronted by the literal violence of words in a classroom is a bit of a luxury belief when I’ve professionally studied mass atrocities in so many countries and visited places which are symbols and abiding by them.

Now, you’re from Poland. I went to the place where Willy Brandt spontaneously went down on his knees to apologize on behalf of Germany for the Holocaust and what was done to the Polish Jews. It’s a very simple, but very touching memorial. I happened to go shortly after that to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial, and I wrote an article for the Japan Times saying, “How much foreign policy and internal soul-cleansing benefit would Japan get if a Japanese prime minister were to do something similar? Go to Nanjing.”

The thing about the Willy Brandt gesture was the authenticity it communicated. You can see that in the images, you could pretty much see it on his face, the dawning realization of the enormity of what they had done. If a Japanese prime minister could do something similar, it would be important internally for the Japanese society, and it would be enormously beneficial in terms of making it possible to repair relations, not just with China, but also with South Korea in terms of what they had done.

Again, these are important elements that go back to the shared humanity. Obviously, that’s a very important underpinning principle for me. I want to be able to make it possible to improve lives and enable the realization of the full potential of every human being. You should not be denied that opportunity because of your race, because of your gender, because of your nationality, or because you are poor. One of the great things we have done in Western society is the democratization of access to the full potential of living as a human being.

Mr. Jekielek: Another episode we could do together is on how a whole lot of people seem to be hellbent on stopping that now.

Mr. Thakur: Yes.

Mr. Jekielek: Some people have argued this whole pandemic response could be a part of that.

Mr. Thakur: They take for granted something that is actually quite exceptional in human history, the present position they find themselves in. As a society, we have never been wealthier, better educated, more prosperous, or living longer. A lot of these benefits came through the scientific progress and invention of different aspects that freed us from being tied to the land, which then freed us from servitude to the landlord and the feudal lord. Education was a pathway to escape all sorts of problems. The bicycle and the car enabled women to be freed from servitude in the home.

There has been tremendous progress, and we tend to overlook the progress made. We obsess about having such an evil past and we must keep apologizing for the present. Therefore, the only future we can look to is one of managed decline, rather than continued expansion of stable, prosperous societies as free human beings.

Mr. Jekielek: And encouraging human flourishing, I love that term. We’re going to have to finish up fairly soon, but I want to catch a couple of things here. This theme has come up a few times, you like to use a term, Science TM. What’s the difference between Science TM and science?

Mr. Thakur: Science TM is that cult-like, semi-religious elevation of putting something on a pedestal and beyond question, turning it into the equivalent of an altar and you’re not allowed to question it. It has its own priesthood and its clerisy and its heretics, and heresy is punishable. Science without the capital S and without TM is what has made human progress possible. Obviously, again, with that duality, it comes with some risks and some dangers. No better example than nuclear energy.

If you’re worried about intermittency in your energy security and long-term stability, we have sufficient confidence in the safety features of nuclear reactors. Now, nuclear power is actually a very good long-term solution in terms of reliable assured energy. It is used in nuclear medicine. I’ve had that used in a life-saving situation in my own case, and many thousands if not millions of people have had that as well. But obviously, both on the accidental side and on the weapons side, there are risks.

Science is part of that science and technology that can be harnessed to make lives better. They have given us wonderful connectivity and communications, but there are dangers in that as well. But to elevate that beyond criticism destroys the essence of science. You must be able and free to question. Any scientific doctrine that cannot be questioned changes from science to dogma, so we are back to religion again. That’s what happens with the Science TM. When Dr. Anthony Fauci says, “By attacking me, they’re attacking science,” he’s falling into that trap of elevating science with lowercase s, into science with the title cap and TM. That’s where things started to go wrong as well. He did become too dogmatic.

Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned that as human beings, we look to authority, and one of those authorities, of course, is the doctor. Your doctor is supposed to help you with your health and chart your path. Through this pandemic, many of us asked, “Can we really trust our doctors? How are they making their decisions? Are they really upholding the Hippocratic Oath? Do they even understand what informed consent would be for these genetic vaccines?”

There’s a whole lot of people out there who are wondering to themselves, “Who do I trust for my health even?” There are groups of ethical doctors that have come out, and there are people relying on their own research. I’m remembering the demonization of do-your-own research.

Mr. Thakur: Absolutely, yes.

Mr. Jekielek: You said something very pointed about looking for a doctor. What should you do?

Mr. Thakur: On the demonization part, if I’m healthy and I have committed no crime, why would I agree to you putting me under house arrest, you being the government? I started with that, and then it went on to the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship and the sanctity of the Hippocratic Oath, “First, do no harm, or make sure you don’t do more harm than good by your intervention.” I will stick to Australia because I know this country much better than the US, but we have one of the best medical systems.

We train our doctors to a very high standard, which is a world standard. I have my GP as a family GP. That doctor has the skills and the training and the qualifications that are amongst the best in the world. That doctor knows my history, my family’s case history, and knows me individually. I have a certain level of confidence and trust in my doctor. No other person can substitute for that anywhere near the level of confidence required.

It is not the role of the government to insert itself between the doctor and the patient, but that is what we have seen through this. We have also seen, and we have now documented in several countries, a fairly substantial decline of public confidence and trust in pretty much all the major institutions, including the scientists, including doctors, including the media, and including government.

Part of that is because they stopped doctors from giving their best assessment and prescribing the best treatment for their patient. Part of that loss of trust then is if I have a problem, I go to the doctor, and if it’s a major emergency like Covid when they’re under instructions, I would want my first question to be, “Are you going to be able to give me your individual honest opinion based on your assessment of my symptoms, my case history, and your knowledge of the treatment options? Are you in a position where you can actually deal with me as an individual, free of interference from your college or the government? If not, I would prefer to go to another doctor.”

Because they were not allowed to say what they wanted to say. In some cases, because some of the patients actually dobbed them in and said, “My doctor said masks don’t work, or vaccines don’t work,” and the doctor gets into trouble. That contributed to the loss of trust and confidence in the system. In these conditions, it is wise to ask the doctor upfront, “Are you going to be able to give me an honest opinion or not?”

Just as if I go to a doctor with a symptom and the doctor reacts with panic, “My God, I’ve never seen something like this. You might be dead in the next hour.” It’s time to look for another doctor. It’s the job of the doctor to reassure you. He should be able to say, “It is serious. I don’t want to understate it, but these are the risks. These are the options. This is what I would recommend. If you have doubts or further questions, it might be good if you consult a second opinion or a third opinion.”

That has always been the norm. A second opinion has always been good. Yet, on some of the most important issues, and suddenly with Covid, you’re not even allowed to go and ask for a second opinion, and you’re not allowed to express a second opinion. Long-term, those have been very damaging to public confidence and trust. Without that element of trust in the public institutions, again, you cannot sustain a viable society. We need to start rebuilding. That’s why I like the theme of the conference this year, rebuilding freedoms. But we also need to rebuild trust and confidence in institutions that we now believe serve our interests and not the interests of the professional class or the people with power and money.

Mr. Jekielek: For someone who has written the book, Our Enemy, the Government, you’re a lot more pro-government than I expected.

Mr. Thakur: Back to the duality, Jan. A government is both the solution and the problem. Think of human rights. The biggest protector of human rights is the government machinery through the legislative framework, through setting up human rights bodies to monitor and check abuses wherever they might come from. But the institution with the greatest potential to threaten human rights is the government.

We’ve talked about China. What is the biggest threat to human rights in China? It’s the state and it’s the government. But in terms of other human rights like education and poverty and anti-discrimination, you still need the legislative framework. There are not that many absolutes in life. It becomes important to recognize the boundaries and promote the good parts and mute the bad parts.

Mr. Jekielek: The US Constitution was crafted in a very ingenious way to protect people from the government.

Mr. Thakur: It was.

Mr. Jekielek: Which was clearly necessary.

Mr. Thakur: The separation of powers has now been circumvented by different parts of the state.

Mr. Jekielek: Right.

Mr. Thakur: It’s things like law and order, tax as the price for civilization, infrastructure, and a health system. The United States is a country that spends disproportionately more per capita on health, but actually has worse health outcomes than many other comparable countries in the Western world. Clearly, there’s some problem there. From what I know, the most efficient health outcomes are at some sort of crossover between good, basic public health, supplemented by access to private health if need be.

That might differ from one context to another. I would have been much happier if we had not wasted so much money on our response to Covid which contributed so enormously to the problems of inflation and cost of living that has happened, and instead, had used that money to build up the health systems, rather than pay people to stay at home and do nothing.

Mr. Jekielek: You have a very different vantage point from anyone I’ve spoken with. Given the challenges and the resistance at all different levels to addressing this, and the doubling down that we’re seeing on these policies, what is the one step towards reform or renewal?

Mr. Thakur: I’m not sure there is a short answer to that. Let me go back to what I mentioned, my professional interest in mass atrocities. In some ways, you can think of what happened as an example of mass atrocity in terms of taking away people’s choices and freedoms and forcing them into things and throwing them out of the jobs if they refused to comply.

You have a breakdown into victims and perpetrators in atrocities, and you need to protect the victims. But you also need to apprehend and punish the perpetrators, and that is important for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the sense of justice is a very powerful instinct in human beings. You cannot have any functioning society that is viable if you don’t have mechanisms and procedures for identifying people who commit crimes and punishing them appropriately. It is important to identify people who did things that satisfy the threshold of criminality in behavior and then punish them, because otherwise, [the thirst for] justice is not appeased.

Second, it is important in order to bring emotional closure, if not to victims who may be dead, then to their families and loved ones. That closure cannot come until such time as people have admitted to having been wrong, committed acts that they shouldn’t have, committed acts that approach the threshold of criminality, and then you can have that closure. That can take different forms. Again, in atrocities, you have different forms of justice; restorative justice and transitional justice, and we’ve seen different examples of that. That’s the second, punishment, then emotional closure.

But the third, which I think is the most important to my mind, is the most effective way to avoid and prevent repetition. If they get away with it and nothing is done and we say, “Let’s move on. It’s in the past. They had the best of intentions. They were acting under conditions of imperfect information. It’s over. Let’s move on.”

The danger is that there will be no real bar to them repeating it next time. It’s only if you really punish them. With atrocities we have this notion of command responsibility. You don’t go after the foot soldiers, but you do charge the general or the dictator with atrocity crimes, with crimes against humanity, with ethnic cleansing, and put them in jail. That sends a message.

In a sense, it’s an application of the Sun Tzu principle, but in a more positive way. His argument was, “Kill one, terrify 1,000.” If you apprehend and jail one, you terrify 1,000 wannabe dictators in the future. They will think, “I better not do that because otherwise, I will risk imprisonment.” Simply saying, “It’s in the past, let’s move on,” doesn’t work. I don’t think it’s possible to move on with any confidence without an admission of guilt, an identification of the guilty, and appropriate punishment of the guilty at the top level, not necessarily at the foot soldier level.

Mr. Jekielek: Very powerful words, and it also feels like a tall order. Ramesh Thakur, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.

Mr. Thakur: It’s been wonderful having this conversation. As always, the questions help me to clarify my own thoughts and thinking on issues as well. Thank you very much.

Mr. Jekielek: My sincere pleasure. Thank you all for joining Dr. Ramesh Thakur and me on this episode of American Thought Leaders. I’m your host, Jan Jekielek.

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Author

  • Prof Ramesh Thakur

    Ramesh Thakur is emeritus professor in Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University. Educated in India and Canada, Ramesh has held full time academic positions at universities in Australia, Canada, Fiji and New Zealand. He is a former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, principal writer of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s 2002 UN reform report, a Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Commissioner and one of the three lead authors of its 2002 report on R2P. He served for five years as the Editor-in-Chief of Global Governance. His recent books include The Group of Twenty (G20) (Routledge, 2013), The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy (Oxford University Press, 2013), Nuclear Weapons: The State of Play 2015 (Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, 2015), Nuclear Weapons and International Security: Collected Essays (Routledge, 2015), The United Nations, Peace and Security: From Collective Security to the Responsibility to Protect (Cambridge University Press, 2006 and 2017), and The Nuclear Ban Treaty: A Transformational Reframing of the Global Nuclear Order (Routledge, 2022).

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