How do you react to something you find offensive? Does word choice matter? Would you dismiss ideas because you didn’t like the way they were phrased?
Many people do.
I remember a phrase I first heard in the early 1970s, though it wasn’t new then: “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts.” You can probably think of people you know that have that attitude.
I hope I’m not one of them.
This corner of the internet is designed to hold my reflections, so I don’t pretend that it is impartial. But I do usually try to be fair and objective. And I am always open to changing my mind on a topic, if you can present a convincing argument.
At least, I think I am. If you feel otherwise, please let me know. Which brings us to today’s (and yesterday’s) post.
My wife, who is my biggest fan, took exception to the language used in Saturday’s post about COVID-19 and civil rights. While generally in agreement with the sentiments, she felt using the term “concentration camp,” as I did to criticize giving police extra-legal powers to detain citizens, was overkill.
For her the idea of a concentration camp conjures up images of the Second World War Holocaust where millions were killed in concentration camps. No-one is suggesting Canadian authorities would do that. (Or at least I’m not – there probably are people who see that as a possible scenario, but I’m not going to go looking for them. )
I guess many people aren’t aware of the history of concentration camps, first introduced by the British during the Boer War. They were harsh, but not the same as the extermination camps the Nazis used in the Second World War.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, a concentration camps is an internment centre for political prisoners and members of national or minority groups who are confined for reasons of state security, exploitation, or punishment, usually by executive decree or military order. Persons are placed in such camps often on the basis of identification with a particular ethnic or political group rather than as individuals and without benefit either of indictment or fair trial. Concentration camps are to be distinguished from prisons interning persons lawfully convicted of civil crimes and from prisoner-of-war camps in which captured military personnel are held under the laws of war.
My wife suggested that I might want to reconsider using “concentration camp.” She felt the words detracted from the argument. And I understood her perspective, which is why you are reading this.
I chose the words deliberately, knowing they were harsh – but finding them appropriate for the situation. We don’t know yet what will happen to people who defy this executive decree. We may not be at the point yet where the government sets up such facilities, but I think it fair to ask if the time is coming.
(It should be mentioned that, in later news stories I read after publishing the post, police said they will not be randomly stopping citizens and quizzing them as to whether they are allowed to be outside their home.)
If you found the words shocking, that may be a good thing – if, in the process, you found yourself reflecting on civil rights and government limitations on individual freedoms.
We are living in a pandemic with no blueprint. Government has frequently trodden on the individual and collective rights of citizens. Have those actions been justified? You tell me. If you want my opinion, all too often it seems like politicians have taken the easy way out and clamped down on society without proving the need.
I’m open to be persuaded otherwise. Indeed, I think Canada would be in better shape in this pandemic if harsher measures had been introduced a year ago. Short term pain for public benefit could have been justified. Instead, even the latest round we have the swiss cheese approach – so many holes in the restrictions for the virus to squeeze through.
I believe Canadian politicians are generally well-meaning. I also believe Canada was woefully unprepared for this (or any) pandemic and many of the measures introduced have been more harmful than beneficial.
I believe we must do better, and if our current politicians and health officials aren’t up to the task, then we need to find people who are. Not for this pandemic, but for the next one that health officials say is inevitable.
Those too are harsh words, but I don’t think they are unreasonable. Do you agree or disagree? The comments box is open….