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How Should We Think about Those Who Refuse the Vaccine?
J.V. Last asked a question and I answered.
Do you remember when the Jackal used to come on Monday’s? That was fun. Anyway, I wanted to send out this quick one to say two things:
I mixed up the dates in the last Jackal; there will be one this Friday, but there will not be one following the three-day weekend.
I read a piece by J.V. Last of the Bulwark last week and he asked an earnest question: What’s the best, most loving, healthiest way to think about the folks who refuse the vaccine. And even though he explicitly said, “No dunking,” people started dunking. The post is paywalled, but I have four free trials to the Bulwark that will get you access to it (also, the Bulwark is totally worth a subscribe). If you are interested, shoot me an email and I’ll add you to the free trial list. First come, first served. Anyway, here is how I answered Last’s question, which is hopefully the last thing I will have to write about COVID and vaccination:
Whenever I think about how to deal with COVID skeptics/anti-vaxxers, my mind keeps going back to Robert LaMay. He defied WA's vaccine mandate, was celebrated on the Right, got COVID, died, and Fox News hasn't mentioned him since. Many (even in this comment thread) say, "He made his choice," which is fair, even if it is heartbreaking. Others say variations of, "Let's go Darwin," which shows that anti-social instincts aren't limited to the MAGAverse. LaMay now has a widow and four children without a Dad. They are real people, and their pain is real, no matter what narrative about COVID they believe.
What has happened with social media is that we are more easily disconnected from each other even though we are more connected than ever before. It's a lot harder to roast someone by letter than it is to tweet at them, for instance. In light of that, we all need to reevaluate how compassionate we really are when we say things like, "He made his choice," or, "Let's go Darwin." Would anyone say that in the same room as LaMay's wife? Would you say it in front of his kids, who don't know anything about COVID, but do know that they don't have a Dad anymore?
The troubling fact about "misinformation" is that all of us believe something that is untrue right now. We all have a collective understanding on some scientific "fact" that more research or social "evolution" will eventually prove to be wrong. It could be something like microwaves actually do cause cancer in our eyeballs (I use mine every day and I still don't trust it), or it could be something really minor, like whether or not "The Penis Snake" is an appropriate name for an animal. A lot of our parents thought smoking was OK, or that it was fine to let your kid sleep stomach down in the crib. Something we think is 100% true right now is actually 100% wrong. Our kids will think some of our beliefs - even as adults - were batshit insane.
LaMay and others have the unfortunate luck of being wrong about a pandemic, whereas the rest of us might just be wrong about The Penis Snake. The point is, we are all sucked into some form of misinformation, whether we know it or not. I will never say LaMay deserved what happened to him, ever. What I will say is that we should do more to hold the actual people who are accountable, namely the vaccinated millionaires who fed LaMay misinformation about the vaccine and then discarded him the second his narrative wasn't useful to them. Save every ounce of ire you have for them, not the people they deceive.
My aunt was one of the early deaths of COVID in April 2020. I viscerally remember the pain I felt in that moment, because it wasn't just emotional pain, but it was mixed with uncertainty and unfairness and anger and confusion and despair. I will never wish that on anyone else, vaxxed or unvaxxed, anti-mask or pro-mask, Trump voter or Biden voter or Tulsi write-in. Others feel differently, but it is for these reasons that I *will* do things like wear a mask to protect those more vulnerable than I am, especially the unvaccinated. I will put them before myself and I will look out for their interests ahead of mine.
I admittedly don't know what "moving on" from COVID fully looks like. I want the economy to reopen, I want restaurants to be packed, I want going to the movies to feel like going to the movies again, and I don't think we should put all of that on hold to wait for the unvaccinated to change their minds. But that doesn't mean we can't be compassionate. Saying "Let's go Darwin" doesn't change a single mind, even if it might make you feel good.
What this pandemic has shown us is that social media is like a long gloaming on the human heart. We are tearing each other up while we try to rebuild society and too many people are failing to think about what that society will look like if you can't even sit in the same movie theater as someone wearing a MAGA hat, whether it is because you can't stand them or because they're a former friend you viciously insulted on Facebook.
So, the short answer to the question - which follows my long answer to the question - is that the best, most loving way to think about these folks is to actually be *human*. We might not ever be able to end COVID or stop people from falling into misinformation, but we can at least do that.
See you all on Friday.