We find that the rationale for so much in the modern age is expressed in the popular discourse as “harm reduction.” It is used by pro-abortion lobbies, by climate action NGOs, by the racial grievance industry, by Lockdown advocates, etc. But it is used too by every party in Leinster House, it is used by Big Tech oligarchs and it is used by the institutions of International Finance. In this respect it exemplifies the moral semantics of our age, which are – when they exhibit any consistency at all – utilitarian. “The greatest good for the greatest number of people” so called. It also appeals to the sappiness of contemporary Irish public morality; the sentimentality, the shortsightedness, the slave-mindedness, the aversion to risk, the dependence on committees and bureaucracies. It is a sensibility that in the end would rather see a world of drugged-up dependents than one of courage in overcoming struggle. It is a tendency that would burn down the village of humanity in order to save it.
That is its root in common usage but beyond that, the term “harm reduction” is pretty vapid. One would struggle to arrive at a moral justification for anything that could not be argued as “harm reduction.” In some sense, that is the weakness of utilitarianism. Set up the scales in a certain way and you can pretty well justify any perversion or atrocity. The invasion of Iraq by the United States was sold on a premise of “harm reduction”. So were probably most wars that were ever fought. So were many projects of overreach and utopia. “Harm reduction” is always on the side of those who define harm and those who monopolise the ends. If the end is genocide then genocide is “harm reduction.”
What do you do when the powers who speak about alleviating “harm” categorise you as “harmful”? What do you do when the people who say they “know what is best for you” demonstrably hate you? We live in an age of remote bureaucrats determined to impose ambitious visions on billions of human beings. On what grounds? Well, you guessed it. The grounds of “harm reduction”. It is not unreasonable to suppose that residing in their ranks is a Charles Travelyan or a Lazar Kaganovich (two of histories great “harm reducers”), impatient with their progress and eager to put theory to action.
To the remote bureaucrat and overseer, the great enemy is always the aspect of human nature that resists his immaculate vision. The nature of the vision is less important than the absoluteness of the visionary. The manner in which Travelyan justified An Gorta Mór is much the same way communist ideologues, and even contemporary Irish socialists, justify the Holodomor in the Ukraine. Too often in political science these are treated as totally different events stemming from totally different ideologies but it is not so. Both terms of course evoke hunger and both terms attempt to evoke the man-made nature of the cataclysm. The key aspects, they hold in common and in both cases “harm” is identified and “reduced.”
You will still hear Irish socialists and even so called republicans justify the genocide of 1932-33 on the grounds that it was the local landowners resisting collectivisation who were entirely to blame. You will hear them deflect responsibility from the Soviet regime as absolutely and puritanically as Travelyan rationalised the genocide of 1845 to 1850 as an act of divine providence. In the case of the latter it was laissez-faire capitalism that framed his rigid dogmatic actions and attitudes. In the Soviet Union it was collectivisation and centralisation. In both cases the event could not have occurred but for the presence of an imperial occupation, an economic agenda imposed from the centre of that empire, the export of food abroad creating an artificial shortage, and above all the hatred of a foreign management clique for a native subject people. In both instances, the perpetrators of the genocide justified it on moral grounds (sanctified by God or by the Market or by History or by the Party) and they continue to do so to this day. In neither case was justice ever enacted upon the perpetrators.
“The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.” So said Travelyan of the Irish. There is the “harm” identified. There is it reduced; a population reduced by half, through starvation and expulsion. People who make analogies between modern times and historical events, need look no further than our own history, but those who look beyond it would better look to the atrocities which our establishment lackeys continue to defend. Our political, media and NGO sectors are full to the brim with people for whom butchers like Kaganovich were well meaning bureaucrats.
Means, motive and opportunity are not lacking. In the name of whatever god or good or claim to authority, the blow will fall and fall soon. And whatever form it takes, whatever slavery or oppression that result, nobody should be in the least surprised. For the West has harboured these evils as ships from a storm. Never putting them on trial, never holding them to account. The disciples of Travelyan and Kaganovich exist today and it is not always as easy to tell them apart as one might expect. Whether in the champions of neoliberalism or the advocates for technocratic centralisation, you will find one or the other and frequently both. Both smiling, both reassuring, both with “your best interests at heart”. The question one should ask oneself, is the following: ‘At what point do these arguments for “harm reduction” take the bread from out of the mouths of my children?’
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