Professor Ben Twinomugisha (professor of law) has always been some kind of an intellectual hero to many, and not because many agreed with all his views. Rather, because many appreciated his radicalism, by which I mean his desire to get to the root of every issue and reveal its underlying moral and intellectual meaning.
In the days when right to health was despised, his analysis of Uganda’s medical policy shook several generations of intellectuals. Certainly I benefited enormously from his analytics and example.
Notable too is how he was never tempted by irrationalism or nihilism that wasted so many other good minds. He generally resisted the overt statism of many of his intellectual contemporaries in the academia, politics, private sector and government.
I’m among those who was stunned by his recent comments endorsing vaccine mandates and the forcible exclusion of refuseniks from society subjecting them to imprisonment and other harsh punishments.
He made no reference to natural immunity, the dangers of police power, the role of big tech, the vast demographic disparities in vaccine acceptance, much less warned of the grave dangers of any state-based policy of exclusion based on health.
His comments are tragic for his legacy on many levels. It means effective endorsement of police beatings, government oppression and medical tyranny of people who merely want to go shopping, access places of worship, schools, public transport and medical services among others. The champion of access to maternal health care, rights of HIV/AIDS patients and ground-breaking health research has back tracked in a split second.
The topic of public health in the presence of a pathogen has disoriented many intellectuals. Some are silent either out of fear or confusion, and others have faltered.
They have allowed panic to overcome rationality, been overly glued to the television screen, demonstrated overreliance on some “experts” while lacking curiosity to look further, and otherwise downplayed the carnage that has come from lockdowns and mandates.
Some of these people have found themselves thoroughly confused about what government should and should not do in times of pandemic, while completely ignoring the dangers of granting so many new powers to a ruling class. Too many are beset with an infallibility complex even on subjects about which they know very little.
So, yes, the virus has exposed weak links in even brilliant minds. Yes, this can be disappointing, even devastating. Suffice it to say that there have been many disappointments these two years.
Whether the failure to step up stems from a basic confusion over immunology, a naïve trust in government, or just the way some people do not want to risk well-earned reputations by taking unpopular positions, it is still an unhappy situation when our heroes stumble and falter when we need them the most.
Once people in charge of institutions adopt a confused or even evil position, their egos gain control and they have a hard time backing off much less admitting error.
We expect too much from our intellectual allegiances and heroes. At the same time, one might suppose it would be easier to say without equivocation that a virus is no excuse for violating human rights, that travel restrictions and house arrest are immoral, that mandatory closures of bars and churches constitute an appalling imposition on property rights, that prohibiting contracts between consenting adults is wrong, and that it is both immoral and unscientific to divide the population by medical compliance and push for social exclusion of minority populations.
A widespread and contagious virus cannot be suppressed by the police state; failing to understand that strikes me as the height of folly.
That said, there is a long tradition of intellectuals being 100% great on some issues, and flipping to contradict themselves under conditions that test their own consistency.
A good example might be, for example, Aristotle himself, who was a pillar of realism and rationality but seemed never to figure out basic economic concepts and then couldn’t find his way to figuring out that slavery was wrong. Or St. Thomas Aquinas, who said government should stick only to punishing theft and murder but then offhandedly defended the burning of heretics.
With the lockdown, the government has been able to recruit multitudes like Professor Ben into the ranks of the irrational. Fear has made people compliant. That compliance has turned many people into champions of their own plight and lustful for mass conformity with the new despotism. The unvaxxed have now become enemies to the public who deserve persecution, condemnation and the terror of medical tyranny.
Any regime that wants to stay in power has known this secret to hegemony: the desire to cleanse society of the enemy is what compels compliance. Every tyranny in history has depended on recruits to its own ranks from within the culture.
They believe the lie knowing full well that it is a lie. The lie allows them to participate in the purge. They become the willing executioners. It’s been true throughout history, regardless of the particular and shifting desiderata of the despotism of the moment.
The cultural impulse behind the demonization of the unvaccinated is essentially puritanical. We have to get rid of unclean things and people. This is why we hear of the unvaccinated being turned away from accessing public services and facilities like National Medical Stores among others ,being denied access to some parts of the country and why there is near-silence on the part of the media for the cruelty of their firings.
A classic example are the recent pronouncements by the RDC of Entebbe (the seat of the state house) making reckless statements of denying access to public services, markets, public transport, access to places of worship because they are unvaccinated.
RDCs and many political leaders have become the grass-roots medical tyrants. Historian Will Durant wrote: “There is always, in any society, a minority whose instincts rejoice in the permission to persecute; it is a release from civilization.”
He was right. Government benefits from this, and unleashes the lust for the imposition of pain. The sadistic impulse spreads and spreads, threatening civilization itself.
Just like making, vaccination has come to serve as a proxy for political loyalty, just like masking did last year. Holding the wrong political ideology makes you unclean. You should be purged.
The case against lockdowns and state medical mandates is the obverse of the case for freedom itself. It seems unconscionable for any liberal mind to be wrong on this point. That so many have gone silent or even shown sympathy for medical despotism reveals just how tremendously confusing these times have been.
The idea that governments need total power in the event of a pandemic discombobulated many otherwise impressive thinkers and writers who seemed never to have considered the idea.
At the same time, there is a new generation and these times have been a marvelous teacher about the ubiquity of policy failure. It is forging new intellectual minds by the day. The lessons will not be forgotten.
The writer is a lawyer.