Thursday, 1 August 2013

Debtor to the human species

On July 17, 1762, His Majesty Peter III, by the grace of God, Emperor and Autocrat of Russia, was assassinated. The murder was probably abetted by his wife, Catherine (who was subsequently declared empress), in collusion with her lover, Count Alexei Orloff, a strapping Guards officer with a duelling scar and an inordinate fondness for chickens.*

Having your husband murdered for pleasure and profit is pretty bad but, as one contemporary pointed out, the slaughter resulting from more conventional approaches to the continuation of politics by other means was vastly greater:

...these monarchs and heroes would shudder, if they saw a bill drawn upon them thus : —

 Queen of Hungary, debtor to the human species.. Millions
 King of Prussia.................................................. ditto
King of France, by his stewards.......................... do.
King of Spain....................................................
Many thousands,
Prince Ferdinand, a private gentleman................. Some thousands
Only her own



Half Europe.
Horace Walpole Letters

As a loyal beneficiary of the Hanoverian establishment, Walpole wasn't likely to add George III's name to his butcher's bill of murderous monarchs and abominable aristocrats. Even if such a seditious thought about his sovereign had occurred to him, Horace would have been well advised to keep it to himself, or risk becoming as unpopular with the authorities of his day as Private Bradley Manning is with today's movers and shakers.

Speaking of whom, it's worth putting Manning's actions into the same sort of context as Catherine's. Putting lives at risk with an indiscriminate data dump is bad, but there are worse crimes.

No, I'm not just thinking of the impunity enjoyed by the notorious war criminal, Dick Cheney, or the leniency shown towards his muppet, Scooter, although if intention counts for anything, ordering torture, or maliciously leaking state secrets in order to damage someone who revealed a politically inconvenient truth** are more blameworthy than carelessly leaking secrets in a sincere, if reckless, attempt to expose officially-sanctioned wrongdoing. The nature of power has changed since the days of Catherine The Great, but not so much that the law punishes a wealthy, well-connected individual who betrays state secrets in the same way as a private soldier accused of the same crime. In theory, Justice is supposedly blind, but in practice, only selectively so.

I was thinking of people who work for a perfectly legal industry that kills far more people than could conceivably have been put in harm's way by Manning's leaks. One that's chalked up more premature, preventable deaths than Al Qaeda, or the Taliban, or all the wars and operations allegedly fought in order to contain them (including the one in that country where Al Qaeda didn't exist at the time):
 The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing nearly six million people a year. More than five million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while more than 600 000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. Approximately one person dies every six seconds due to tobacco, accounting for one in 10 adult deaths. Up to half of current users will eventually die of a tobacco-related disease. 
Six million dead.

Every year.

Leaking state secrets that might put lives at risk is bad. Being a lobbyist for an industry that knowingly kills half its customers victims - more deaths per year than any conflict since the Second World War - well, that's reckless disregard for human life on an unimaginably bigger scale.

If you leak, they lock you in jail and throw away the key.

As a successful lobbyist for Death, you become a rich and well-respected member of society, an adviser to governments. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you evil's banal face, Lynton Crosby, debtor to the human species.

Politics should be a battle of ideas, not personalities. But I'm prepared to make an exception when one of the personalities involved builds a career on such psychopathic disregard for human life.  If any politician wants to get all ad hominem and point-scory on this malignant tumour in human form, that's fine by me, so long it helps keep his damn dirty, nicotine-stained paws off a health service struggling to keep his victims alive.

*Orloff's love of chickens was more credibly attested and less lascivious in nature than Catherine's alleged love of horses. Mind you, you can see why this breed of chicken would appeal to the aristocracy. They've got quite a lot in common ("Rare, Will go broody, Good mothers, Some strains excellent layers, Hardy in all temperature ranges ... Hard to source good stock ... some strains are very inbred").

**corrected from 'political opponent', which doesn't quite cover it.