Bingo at the Styx

Andrew Bolt has made a career finding vulnerable people and devising new ways of punishing them. He doubts their skin, or accuses them of crimes. He invites calamity that he knows will destroy them. When you consider this, his views on the elderly are not surprising, just inhumane.

Bolt doesn’t want the old to die, but he believes we overstate the tragedy of their deaths. The game is numbers to him. By the time he makes his point, it is almost an aside. He suffers from the psychopath’s fallacy: that if one is honest enough about their cruelty, it somehow renders that cruelty inert.

“Note: 40 per cent of aged-care home residents die within nine months. The average stay is just under three years,” he writes.

“So Victoria’s bans are doing huge damage to – essentially – save aged-care residents from dying a few months earlier.”

Quixotically, the column is titled “How to save Victoria from the coronavirus”.

Bolt wants tougher quarantine: twice-daily checks, tracking devices, absconders locked up. He wants morning spit tests at workplaces and food deliveries to keep the elderly at home. But most of all he wants the state to reopen: “We don’t crash this economy just to stop the young getting a stuffy nose.”

Bolt is not alone. From his blog he links to The Australian’s economics editor, Adam Creighton, a former adviser to Tony Abbott. Creighton is among those who believe “the statistical value of a human life” has been overstated by health measures. He doubts the advice from departments and warns the virus is being used to remodel society with a greater role for government. Creighton writes that “it is our intelligence, rather than our health, that has been dealt a heavier blow by the coronavirus pandemic and the vested interests that benefit from it”.

Something curious is happening at the Murdoch press. More than usual the comment pieces feel like entries in a boys’ school essay prize. Creighton begins his with a quote from Nineteen Eighty-Four. Greg Sheridan begins with a quote from The Lord of the Rings. He manages to link the Victorian response, somehow, to Safe Schools and the prosecution of George Pell.

The desire for ideology to frame the world is extraordinary in this country. Even public health is political. The culture wars are fought in the imagination, and for the right there is no shortage of imaginary villains.

The outcome of this is an undermining of containment. It is the reason people walk around without masks or disobey health orders. It is the selfish mischief of contrarian discourse, but in this circumstance it is a direct threat to human life. Bolt’s numbers confess as much.

These people cannot accept that the solution to a problem may be collective and that it may require government to lead it. Instead of grappling with this, they take turns playing bingo at the Styx, yelling out how many old people they would be happy to let die. Here is a virus that could have unknown impacts on cognition and organ function, even for the young, and they would prefer to tell their readers it’s another stuffy nose.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 8, 2020 as "Bingo at the Styx".

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