I’ve long slagged on libertarians for not having a good drainage plan. My attitude toward “personal choice” rhetoric in a pandemic is an offshoot of that. A neighbor’s bad decisions about drainage can hurt my property because water doesn’t respect property lines. Similarly, your bad decisions about spreading plague affect those whose air you breathe. There’s a tension between liberty and community.
Locally, we’ve got people talking about “family choice” and whether their kids should be required to wear masks at school. Presumably we’ll get the same kind of rhetoric about “choice” once the COVID vaccine is approved for kids. In these conversations, one of the disingenuous talking points they like to raise is “have your kid wear a mask.” They deeply want individual decisions about risk to impact only the individual making the decision. But, that’s not how things work in a community. Your mask isn’t to protect you from the community. You should wear a mask so that the community is protected from you (you filthy anti-vaxxed plague vector.) The vaccine does have more direct benefits in protecting you from the rest of the community. However, it also helps protect the community from you — you are less likely to pick up viruses and spread them and, importantly, you are less likely to be an incubator for mutation. Another disingenuous talking point is that none of us who are vaccinated should be concerned about their disease status if we “trust” the vaccine. Of course, the vaccine isn’t 100% effective, there are those too young to be vaccinated, and there are those who are immuno-compromised for whom the vaccine is not as effective and/or not recommended.
I’m not breaking any new ground with these thoughts. These counterarguments have been advanced ad nauseum. Anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers mostly ignore them or pretend not to understand them. I suppose it’s related to Upton Sinclair’s quip that “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” For the most part, (a few grifters and political strivers notwithstanding) there is no financial incentive to the anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers. I think there’s a lot of tribal identity at play. They certainly don’t see themselves as vectors of disease, harming their neighbors. They don’t see themselves as the asshole unvaccinated who will be the reason our community events have to be shut down. Rather they fancy themselves bold defenders of freedom. Independent thinkers who see more clearly than the rest of us sheep. But, at the end of the day, it’s tough to take seriously the big talk about how they’d take a bullet for their country when they won’t take a needle for their neighbors.
My buddy who is a doctor in southern Indiana and has been living with the harsh realities of treating COVID patients has, from time to time, been chastised about his severe language in relation to people who don’t take the pandemic seriously, who refuse to get vaccinated, and who stand in the way of public health measures to mitigate the spread of the disease. He appreciated my observation that William Lloyd Garrison had a relevant quote:
“I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.”