The Consistent Inconsistencies Of The Vaccination Discussion

Last year you were a hero if you said, as did Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom, and Andrew Cuomo, that you didn’t necessarily trust what the government said about vaccines. Say that today and you are a troglodyte pariah.

Now, we all know that red state, red meat, red-blooded, red-faced, retrograde Republicans are the only reason we haven’t reached herd immunity. It seems, though, that no one mentioned that (false) narrative to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, the Republican leader of a state so red it’s literally Crimson, who chided her unvaccinated fellow citizens “for letting us all down.”

The questions surrounding taking any new drug can be daunting even in a neutral environment. In a landscape of shifting sands being blown hither and yon by very unscientific, purely political winds, it understandably becomes even more difficult. (Full disclosure: I personally have been vaccinated and would urge everyone to do so as well. I got the Johnson and Johnson shot and, except for a sudden and overwhelming urge to buy cases and cases of “No More Tears” baby shampoo and Band-Aids, it went fine).

It therefore should not come as a surprise that vaccine hesitancy exists. The consistent inconstancies of the pronouncements of the public health establishment over the past year could rightfully give anyone pause. It doesn’t make a person who was first in line at the CVS any better than the person who is still leery of the whole process – it’s just two people weighing information and coming to different conclusions. (Again, full disclosure: I think the quicker the pace to herd immunity the better for all of us, although the idea of localized herd immunity – that is, adding two unvaccinated people to the eight vaccinated people in a bar will mean that the bar has herd immunity, at least until the end of the football game – is something I hope will catch on.)

Even if Ivey’s stance on vaccinations is arguably correct, it should be noted that she still strongly supported the idea of personal choice, which is, sadly something that appears – God help us, yet again – not to be tolerated by the prudent and proper purveyors of panicked pandemicism.

From new indoor mask mandates (at least this time we are being honestly told that it’s not really about public health but societal comfort) to actions like those taken in Australia (a new nearly nationwide lockdown was ordered in response to the fact that the past couple of weeks saw a daily COVID-related death average of nobody), to the latest CDC “maskerade,” we are seeing the return of the obsessive-compulsive behavior of the empowered professional caring class.

And that behavior, that cosmically self-important, self-aggrandizing attitude of “we can make sure that no one will ever die of anything ever if you just do what we say,” will and already has set the standard for allowable discourse on the matter, shifting the sands yet again and making it even more difficult for the hesitant to make the decision to get vaccinated. It puts one in mind of the title of that old song – and really good charades clue – “How Could You Believe Me When I Told You That I Loved You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life? 

Before going further, it's worth noting that the open hostility towards and shaming of the unvaccinated does, it seems, have certain parameters. Quite often, as in the Los Angeles Times’ recent “Bring on the Crackdown” editorial, a carve-out from the brunt of the blame is made for “Black and Latino Americans” who are allowed to be “leery” of the government when it comes to their community’s health care. In the case of Black populations, the war crime that was the Tuskegee Experiment is usually cited as sowing permissible mistrust though there seems to be no equivalently awful specific occurrence in the Latino community. 

But the broader implication of this stance is not terribly removed from the patently racist paternalism of “Oh, it’s okay, we’ll give them a pass because they don’t get science,” while the existence of any unvaccinated white people who, conversely, are apparently capable of “getting science,” can only possibly be explained by selfish, antisocial politically-based hard-headed obstinance. Side note: vaccination rates track more closely to income and education status than to race but that seems to get lost in the shuffle.

An example of that new, new normal – of combining some truth with a great deal of societal pressure -- was published recently in The Atlantic magazine. The article, titled “Four Reasons Why I’m Wearing a Mask Again,” was standard playbook narcissism, couched in the language of caring for the community, at its most typical. But, in large part, it was not actually wrong.

The vaccinated author re-donned her mask because no vaccine is perfect (true); because the research into whether the vaccinated can somehow still spread the virus is in its infancy (rather over-cautious, but still technically true); and she doesn’t want to get COVID (pretty much a hundred verys to the power of unlikely but, again, theoretically possible). It should be noted that, unless COVID magically disappears from the face of the Earth, these arguments in favor of mask wearing will remain absolutely valid for an eternity, meaning that the author should be open to wearing a mask until the day she dies – almost certainly from something else.

But the fourth argument is where it all breaks down and moves from virtue signaling to virtue shrieking. That’s because, for her fourth argument, the author states that wearing a mask “doesn’t feel like a huge cost to me.”

While it may not be terribly burdensome for the author specifically, it is extremely problematic for society at large -- those others she claims to be concerned about. It is not a coincidence that the past year has seen such a spike in personal anti-social behavior, in the form of rising crime, educational regression, cancel culture run amok, and a level of public discourse so deep in the sewer that even the rats think it’s gone too far. While fear, isolation, financial uncertainty, and myriad other factors have played a role in that decline, wearing masks has also contributed a surprising amount.

The human brain is hard wired to look for facial clues; in fact, it is one of the keys to our evolutionary survival. From threat detection all the way to, well, going all the way, we as a species rely extremely heavily on what we can instantaneously deduce from what we see on other people’s faces.

By denying others access to that crucial – if primal – information, we create a deep sense of confusion, uncertainty, and dread when it comes to other people. Additionally, we also begin to see others not as individuals but as part of a blended, faceless (there’s a reason that word is so unsettling) mass. We unconsciously dehumanize others, leading us to consider others as less than human – hence the current predicament. 

Wearing masks in an actual emergency – last spring and summer, for example – does not, conversely, create such problems as the brain is able to internally justify the situation and, most importantly, knows that at some point the masks will come off and the normal visual cues and signals will resume.

Extending that situation may not feel like a “huge cost” to an individual, but its cost to society as a whole has been incalculable. People have died of COVID – too many. But, considering the far, far lesser risk now posed by the virus, the danger to society as a cohesive structure is now seriously beginning to more than outweigh the direct costs of the disease. The destruction that could be caused by continuing that behavior into the future is no longer worth it – it’s long past time to return to the old normal for good.

Thomas Buckley is the former Mayor of Lake Elsinore and a former newspaper reporter. He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at planbuckley@gmail.com. You can read more of his work at https://thomas699.substack.com.

IMAGE: Masked faces by rawpixel (added text by Andrea Widburg).

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