Utilitarianism is a concept possibly first articulated by Jeremy Bentham as requiring government policy to be directed at providing the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Such an idea is impractical at best and dangerous at worst.
Impractical because you can’t weigh up different types of happiness. The joy from being part of a religious sacrament cannot be weighed against the satisfaction of attending a football game. Spiritual satisfaction can’t be compared to the entertainment of watching football (although supporting Mayo has some element of the spiritual).
Utilitarianism is dangerous because it has no concept of indefeasible or inalienable rights, and pain would be a mere negation in the greater calculus. A government policy that may satisfy the majority greatly but hurt a small few very significantly could be better than one that satisfied everyone partially.
24,000 spectators are allowed in to watch the All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park. 40,000 will be allowed in to the final. These are increases from the 18,000 allowed for the Connacht final. We are repeatedly told that the Government is following the science.
It is unclear what science is being followed in increasing the numbers allowed.
This isn’t a criticism of the policy itself but of the refrain of following the science. The science has never been leading policy decisions. Panic. Fear. Control. Imitation. Following the herd. Intuition. Hope. All at different times. There was the ‘science’ arguing against mask use. Then the infallible science in favour of it. There was the science of the two-metre social distancing and the science of wearing a mask while walking around inside but taking it off while sitting.
There was the science that said only 6 people could go to funerals or that 25 could go to weddings. None of it was science. In some cases, it was intuition and in others it was calculated gambles on what would be accepted.
So, why 24,000 in to the semi-final? And why 40,000 in the final? The final is a more important game so it would make sense to have let more people attend. But not a scientific sense. It is a social one. The government is essentially ‘gifting’ a higher attendance. The utilitarian calculus is a function of the importance of the game and the amount of people in attendance. The bigger the game, the bigger the satisfaction in being a part of it. The more people at a game, the greater the satisfaction.
Let’s create a utilitarian credit system: one final is 10 points. So 40,000 attendees gives 400,000 points of satisfaction. A semi-final: let’s call it 7 points: so 24,000 people gives 168,000 satisfaction points. The final will give society more than double the satisfaction points.
But at what cost?
We were told last week by Simon Coveney that Priests and Bishops were putting lives at risk by calling for Communions and Confirmations to be held. It wasn’t clear how many lives were being put at risk – or how many would be lost if a Communion event was held with 50 attendees.
But certainly not as risky as 40,000 attending Croke Park.
So, why go ahead with Croke Park? Because of greater satisfaction points. But how many lives would Simon Coveney consider are being put at risk at this event? How many additional lives are put at risk by the increase in attendance from 24,000?
Nobody knows of course, as there is no way of knowing how the Brownian interaction of people walking around the stadiums, drinking in the pubs in advance, and all sorts of other activities linked to the event, will impact on the case incidence, the hospitalisations or fatalities, because the science doesn’t work like this, and the government does not have this type of information – nor ever tried to acquire such information.
But if lives are being put at risk in small Communion events, they are certainly being put at risk by allowing 40,000 people into Croke Park. It is not clear if the risk is big or small, but the government considers the risk of social mixing serious enough to object to Catholic children receiving their Sacraments, part of the practice of their religious freedom, and yet the government does not object to 40,000 people attending Croke Park.
So, why is this so? It is obvious that the government is playing a utilitarian calculus with what events it allows. Let’s assume, 2X deaths could end up being attributable to the All Ireland final, compared to X deaths for the semi-final. Then X deaths equate to the difference in satisfaction credits derived from the extra crowd allowed in: 232,000 satisfaction points
X deaths = 232,000 satisfaction points.
This is the government value on life (conceptually) – as this is the weighing up of risk to life against other life interests. Let’s take this as the threshold of acceptable loss of life. Thus, any events not allowed to happen must have less satisfaction/death than this 232,000/X.
The question now remains: if X deaths is 232,000 satisfaction points, what kind of satisfaction weighting does the government give to Communion and confirmation? All Communions across the country with 50 people in attendance must be outside the threshold of 232,000/X satisfaction/deaths.
Banning events across the 1000 or so parishes in Ireland, that may have had 50 children with say 4 family members accompanying, equates to 250,000 people that may have benefitted (Let’s give each child double the satisfaction of the other family members from attending their own communion so that means 300,000 in total. If the same overall loss of life is applied to these multiple smaller events (less likely to have a massive multiplier effect due to being separate entities), the X deaths equate to the satisfaction points for 300,000 people, assuming the government threshold of 232,000 satisfaction points, means that the Catholic events are weighted with less than 1/10th of the satisfaction to be derived from an All Ireland football final.
For a Catholic, to be told that one of their sacraments, in modern Ireland, is considered to be of ten times less value to society than a football match, with no transcendental meaning, indicates at what level of respect religion is being held by the Government.
There isn’t the science to back this up, but it should be clear that the government is considering some form of calculus in weighing up the risks to life against opening up society (after 18 months of anyone questioning lockdown/masks etc as being granny-killers, just as those who are sceptical of vaccines or vaccine passports now), and that the value placed on religious practice of the faithful, who are also citizens, by the government is negligible, and possibly less than that.
Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe the risk of deaths from 1,000 separate 50 person events is 10 times higher than one mega-40,000 person possible superspreader event – with many different variables (age, level of vaccination, indoor/outdoor, proximity, level of interaction, onward contacts, drunken sloberiness, celebratory hugs, etc etc) but my intuition tells me I am not.
Now, how would the calculus work in relation to the 50 person attendance at the Merrion Hotel for Katherine Zappone’s bash? Seems there are either a lot of satisfaction points to be gained by the attendees for being there, or maybe the satisfaction of those attending (the hoi polloi) is just valued more highly than your average citizen? Some are more equal than others.
As an aside, for the Dublin v Mayo All Ireland semi-final, if utilitarian calculus is being used, surely all the tickets should be given to Mayo? Given that a win for Mayo would be profoundly more satisfying for Mayo supporters in attendance, it would make sense. A win for Dublin would not produce the same level of joy as they are so used to winning, and a defeat for Mayo would have less negative satisfaction points. Another consideration are the odds of such a result? Dublin are favourites but not significantly so, so the likelihood of a particular outcome, ought not influence the satisfaction calculus?
Additionally, given the size of the population of Dublin, a small portion of these attending the game would not significantly influence the satisfaction outcome for the Dubs if they were to win, as the other 1.5m Dubs would still be happy whether they were at the game or not. However, given that the population of Mayo is less than 10% of Dublin, the satisfaction increase for up to 20% of the Mayo population being able to attend would be far more impactful. So, in line with the government’s utilitarian approach, it ought to be recommended to provide all 24,000 tickets to Mayo supporters.