Thank you for engaging me in this poignant discussion about the COVID-19 crisis the world is facing. In addition, thank you for engaging in a private email discussion concerning the dark tone of your post. That was a highly meaningful exchange.
I don’t intend to change your mind about the harms committed in reaction to COVID-19, but I will challenge you on some of your specific terminology. I do so to better inform my understanding about your position and to ask you to clarify where I see contradictions in your position. I think we share a common horror that reaction to COVID-19 has done as much damage as the virus itself but would differ about what where our interventions should lie.
Now on to parts of your letter:
> Every expectation has now been upended by this monomaniacal fear of an infection that is certainly serious enough to warrant action, yet nowhere near dangerous enough to warrant abandoning democracy.
Are you concerned that democracy itself is eroded by COVID-19? I see no evidence of deterioration to the main instrument of democracy, the election. There has been successful elections in Canada at the national and sub-national levels during 2020 and 2021.
What is fascinating is that in the USA and Canada (both being federations of sub-nation units) we see governments take different political stands on COVID-19. Some on the Right have outright claimed that virus is a fake crisis and then died as a result of their actions. The right-wing has pretty uniformly made COVID-19 a political issue centred around freedom in contrast to the left-wing conviction that government needs to have a larger role in protecting its citizens.
This contrast proves to me that democracy is working because diverse political viewpoints have approached the virus differently and the proof is in the outcomes (deaths, illnesses, etc). This reinforces my conviction that politics and elections do matter. Democracy is not being abandoned.
If the anti-vaccination supporters that you ally with wish to contest elections to change vaccine mandates, they are allowed to do so. The chance of them successfully winning any elections and changing any laws are remote but they are legally and wholly free to attempt and make the effort. Democracy is still working here.
Perhaps when you mention ‘democracy’ your mean Human Rights and the Rule of Law? I can only speak about the Canadian legal system, but challenges against governments imposing mask mandates and restrictions of spaces to curb COVID-19 have all been upheld by Human Right commissions in multiple provinces and different provincial law courts. By no means should governments be uncontested in these decisions. I invite people to challenge laws through the proper channels for that is how systems become more responsive and better.
> …If you had told me two years ago that black and Hispanic citizens of the United States would be denied public service jobs or turned away from restaurants in New York as unclean and unwelcome I would have thought you drunk on conspiracy wine. Yet here we are!
I believe you are being intentionally selective in your example as vaccination-refusal has nothing to do with one’s ethnicity. People of all ethnicity are being discriminated against because of their vaccination status. This demonstrates the Rule of Law being applied (one of the pillars of Western society) regardless of one’s status in society. The vaccination requirement to participate in public life is a common practice in Canada and and I find it ironic and deplorable that people will get vaccinations to travel recreationally but won’t get a vaccination to work and protect their colleagues and themselves.
> Advocates of ‘vaccine passports’ (and I fear you are one) verge upon being utterly disconnected from scientific process as they attempt to justify them. While the vaccines are not ‘poison’, as opponents of all kinds of vaccination decry, they’re not miraculous either: they must be subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation just like any other medical intervention.
I’ve supported ‘vaccine passports’ as an instrument to protect and coerce people to do the right thing, especially when the vaccine roll-out met resistance. There is an analogy between anti-vaccine practitioners and those who are cigarette smokers. Both are actively discriminated against and not allowed to do their activity in public. Why? Because their action is known to create unfortunate health consequences for others and themselves. Smoking is not illegal and neither is being unvaccinated, yet doing either leads to negative outcomes. Discrimination against these people is a valid response and the courts have supported such discrimination.
The fundamental problem is that mainstream media, social media, and conspiracy theories have created a cult-like community who refuse to get vaccinated and are unified in simply being oppositional. The paranoid are celebrated and are given absurd attention as they encourage people to consume bleach, urine, or take horse de-wormer. These behaviours demonstrates an oppositional mindset plus an alarming degree of disassociation from reality. I know you don’t support these twisted individuals, but I’d caution about who to invite alliance with.
Vaccine passports are a crude and alienating tool and would not be needed if more people simply got the vaccine. I can respect that such action was necessary in the beginning given that deaths are under-reported and that we are just getting to know the long term consequences of the virus. The sad truth is that we were damned either way and it becomes an easy decision to direct frustration and blame to a minority who has demonstrated nothing but contempt to larger society concerns.
> 71% of hospital patients for this disease were already vaccinated (up from 60% in August). That’s not evidence the vaccines don’t work – the age group was 80% vaccinated, which skews the ratios. But it is evidence that demonizing the unvaccinated is little more than hateful scapegoating.
Ratios are are why we see anti-vaccinated being over-represented in hospitals and ICUs. They make up a small percentage of the population overall but a larger percentage of the hospital users. Do they deserve to be scapegoated? I believe it is a valid reaction and there are two reasons behind why they are subjected to scapegoating: One of them ‘sad and hard to fix’ and the other is ‘deplorable but is too easy to use’.
The ‘sad and hard to fix’ reason is that western medicine and health care systems trade primarily in sickness and chronic disease. The aging population across Western society has been taxing health care resources for decades. The political and medical elites are not interested in transparency about where health care resources are actually being used. When health care system usage is always between 90-100% capacity, then a small to moderate bump of 5-10+ points will lead to a crisis.
I believe the problem is that chronic disease management for the elderly and the disabled have left us vulnerable to respond to a crisis. But are these two groups not worthy of care and support? The elderly have worked, paid taxes, and contributed to society and are now taking back some of what they put in. The disabled have had their lives altered in such a way that they are dependent on the graciousness of a wealthy society to take care of them. Yet the unvaccinated in a spat of selfish delusion believe they can ignore public health recommendations and don’t care what the impact is on their fellow citizen. Get enough unvaccinated people getting sick around the same time and you have a severely strained system that is exceedingly reluctant to practice medical triage. The politicians and health care elites do not want have the uncomfortable conversations that Western society requires. They have failed us as has the anti-vaccinated.
The ‘deplorable but so easy to use’ reason is that governments have a highly visible scapegoat to pin their problems on. The anti-vaccinated are a small portion of the population yet they make up an exceedingly high number of hospital & ICU users. Coupled with their deplorable behaviours such as storming testing centres and blocking hospitals politicians cannot help but pin the blame on them. Scapegoating can be unfair but its an ancient practice that works. Governments have done many things wrong in their COVID-19 response and if they can transfer the blame, they will do so. The anti-vaccinated did very little to help their cause.
The anti-vaccinated can quietly, freely change their vaccination status at any point but chose not to. This is a group that made itself a scapegoat because they relish the victim status. It astounds me that they refuse a free, safe vaccination based on a delusional belief in their own righteousness that ends up creating harm for their fellow citizen. This is not a group that can be convinced with rationale discussion and will need a combination of coercion and consequences for their actions.
> For most people I talk to, that phrase means “Christian”, and most Buddhists I know shy away from using the term ‘religious’ for that very reason. Wouldn’t want to associate with Christians, would we… they, after all, are the most likely US citizens to decline the opportunity to vaccinate against SARS-CoV2.
Indeed, while there are millions of Christians that have accepted the vaccine and respected the imposition of lock-downs which has curtailed their worship services, there remains a small group of fringe Christians who beg to differ. These fringe groups do not trust secular/worldly society for its medicines, material advances, and hedonism.
While these groups have adopted “Christian” imagery, they really are not much more advanced than a cult that creates tragic outcomes for its followers. Shame on these cults to demand that its followers accept unquestioningly the doctrine they are given. These people are not spiritual seekers but are cultists that ignores what they see with their own eyes, and thus dispossessed from any potential glimpse into reality.
“If you cling to an idea as the unalterable truth, then when the truth comes and knocks on your door, you will not be able to open the door and accept it.” —Udana Sutta
>> Businesses that exclude the unvaccinated are, in effect, discriminating against the working class and the poor who have already suffered through the disease.” Have we not inflicted enough harm on those who live on the edge of poverty without this further indignity?
I’m not understanding your point here. The working class and the poor have free access to the vaccine and the only thing holding them back is their fear or resistance to take it. If there is a poverty, it is a poverty of trust in what government and dominant society is offering.
Yet trust cuts both ways. What about those who have lied about their vaccination status? The anti-vaccinated have no qualms about breaking rules because they have rationalized a sense of entitlement and believe the laws are unfair. This is not the behaviour of empathetic thinkers and noble victims. You appear to lionize them to counter demonizing them, but I don’t subscribe to either view. The objective behaviour of the anti-vaccinated has not been honourable and is worthy of condemnation.
>> I have had to resign my position at LCAD in California since they have decided to segregate and I simply cannot support an organisation that has chosen to do so, not under these circumstances. How could I look anyone in the eye knowing that I had endorsed segregation? And how can I see this as anything but segregation when I look at the data for this disease and for these vaccines…?
You obviously feel strongly enough about the issue to take that step. Can you explain how your self-sacrificial resignation over COVID-19 warrants such action when LCAD and other universities required standard vaccines for attendance previously?
>> You tell me that it is wrong to call it segregation, because it is justified on medical grounds. But if that is so, then doesn’t it follow that if those medical grounds are shown to rest upon mistaken assumptions (as they do), we should indeed call it segregation? You also tell me that we’ve done this before – but when? When have we forced vaccines that were still untested long-term onto anyone, much less upon everyone – even children for whom the risk-benefit calculus for these vaccines is so far from reasonable expectations that it would ordinarily constitute a scandal?
I take issue with your use of segregation in this context because you’re forgetting that each person who is not vaccinated can change that status at any time. A restaurant will not continue to ban someone who once was not vaccinated, for prior to December 2020 everyone shared that status. I feel that your usage of that term obscures segregation’s grievous history as a political weapon against people who had unchangeable personal traits like skin colour and gender.
In the 1950s Canada and the United States had an viral outbreak of Polio. At that time, children were not allowed to play together and attend to playgrounds because it was understood the virus was spread by children. Polio devastated thousands of lives and the steps governments took combat the virus were pretty extreme. Children are the future and must be protected. Could not the same be said about a virus that harms and kills the working population? COVID-19 virus is serious illness that that has killed at least 5.5 million dead and counting and an expanding number of stricken working-age people whose productivity has been seriously harmed.
Hindsight may say we over-reacted but it may also say we did the right thing. I am sympathetic to the fallible human beings that run governments whose decisions create unintended harms. What they’ve done is out of noble ignorance and fear, a fear that nation states have been established to protect against.
Every nation state the world over will invoke a form of fascism when the situation warrants it. While a government may fall due to an election or coup, a nation state must fight to maintain its integrity. We have seen nation states cultivating the imagery of going to war against the virus to rally compliance and sacrifice, a practice as old as there has been kingdoms and nation states. The nation state has called on us all to sacrifice against the virus.
Is this not the crux of the COVID-19 conflict? One side believes that basic integrity of the nation state is being threatened while the other side believes that individual freedom is being threatened. Both are valid, but the anti-vaccinated forgets that one cannot protect or practice freedom without basic integrity of the nation state being secured first.
I cringe at the collateral damage that lock-downs and demonizing the unvaccinated has done, but I am not surprised. History has shown humanity throwing away balance and judgment when fear abounds. Some people like yourself demand that our societies and leaders be better, but I’m afraid that behavioral change will require much, much more than you and I telling them to be more rational.
>> Help me to understand why it is acceptable for white people in wealthy nations to enforce their inadequately-researched doctrines of public health onto the world in such a way as it excludes large numbers of black and Hispanic citizens from participating in their own society, forces loyal public servants with natural immunity to lose their jobs for no good reason, and destroys democracy in African nations that had previously shown such beauty and hope.
Senegal along with most other African nations do not have the geographic blessings and technological head-start that the West has (see Guns, Germs, and Steel). Senegal and other growing nations have been harmed because of supply chain disruptions caused mostly by China when it locked down its society, begin strategically alienating its trading partners, and overtly challenge the USA’s hegemony over the world economy. Senegal had little chance of remaining unaffected as they are at the bottom of the supply chain and do not have the social, economic, and political capital to withstand such shocks. Its truly unfortunate, but it is one of many sad and terrible things that have been visited upon the world community.
What COVID-19 has taught us all is that absolute freedom is an illusion. We are all bound by a massive supply chain that markets to us constantly so we stay dependent on it. The anti-vaccination movement are at least 50 years too late in identifying loss of freedom. The only way for a person or nation to become truly free is to become wholly self-sufficient, something that likely is impossible.
So I laugh as the anti-vaccinated protest for freedom while they eat food they don’t grow, live in housing they don’t build, wear clothing they don’t make, and work in jobs they did not create. Freedom is far more subtle and spiritual than the crass, immature notion that the anti-vaccinated champion.
> You talk about ‘karma’ in your letter… As you know, I like to identify as a Zen Sufi Hindu Christian Discordian, and the concept of ‘karma’ I follow comes not from my Buddhist tradition (Zen) but from the Hindu traditions.
This concept of sin, not as transgressions against a cosmic law but as suffering and as self-inflicted suffering aligns with the understanding of karma I get from Hindu scripture, because of course the despair we inflict upon ourselves all too often becomes a despair we inflict upon others, most evidently with suicide.
Your comment prompted me to do research about Hindu concepts of karma. I had not really pondered the differences between Buddhist and Hindu concepts of karma and found a website that helped illuminate this for me. I find it a curious thing that you’d attach yourself to Hinduism given its unmovable social castes and grievous treatment of the untouchables. You are grieved about the anti-vaccinated becoming the equivalent to the untouchables but is this not how Hindu karma and society operates? Could it not be argued that the anti-vaccinated deserve their pariah status because of their collective action/karma?
>> I must oppose it with the only weapon I can permit myself to draw: my compassion. It is my fervent wish that you and others will come to stand in solidarity with me as we form a line to resist the darkness that engulfs our world.
I do not think of compassion as a weapon. Compassion is a state of mind that allows us to reach out to those who suffer and at its more profound levels, reach out to those who inflict suffering on others. Compassion should be towards the people fearful of the vaccine as well as those fearful towards the virus. Are you not being dour seeing sickness being inflicted on others when the vast majority of people see hopefulness in what the vaccine offers?
We engage in this discussion through our friendship via the Republic of Bloggers so we can debate and listen to each other. Yet I cannot stand with a position I do not understand, so I ask you to clarify some of your statements. I do not share your sense of darkness and despair for I believe that the future is full of possibilities. Many of these possibilities are outside of my control and are not worth wasting precious energy worrying about. Instead I work with the things I have influence over and invite you to consider adopting a similar practice. Maybe it could lighten the darkness demonstrated in your letter.
In friendly opposition,