Not many things have been able to break me from my from PhD-fueled writing hiatus, but I’ll admit people losing their minds isn’t a bad place to start.
This is based this on my observations of friends and coworkers as we all attempt to navigate the COVID situation (now that vaccines are available for over-18s in South Africa). It’s also heavily fueled by an excellent 94th episode of the Darkhorse Podcast, where Bret Weinstein articulates something I’ve believed for some time now. Right now, the world seems to be suffering from a kind of COVID psychosis, where the so-called “adults in the room” have seemingly lost touch with reality.
As I see it, there are two camps. The first camp is hard-line pro-vaccine. These are the people that are most visible (since it’s a viewpoint shared by the mainstream), and thus the camp you’re likely to already be familiar with. These are the kinds of people who not-so-subtly encourage everyone to take the COVID vaccine, and who chastise those who show the slightest hint of resistance to this idea. We call this camp the pro-vaccine camp.
The other large camp is vaccine-hesitant. People in this camp don’t want to take the vaccine, sometimes out of concern for government overreach, sometimes out of concern for the risk of long-term side-effects. Pay attention that I’m explicitly excluding those who refuse the vaccine due to a kooky conspiracy theory.So no – you don’t get to strawman everyone you don’t like as a conspiracy theorist. Besides, from my experience, these kinds of people also happen to be in the vanishingly-small minority, despite what you read online. We will call this camp the vaccine-hesitant camp.
The thing is, both sides (pro-vaccine and vaccine-hesitant) look at each other, and think the other is insane.
And they’re both right.
So what’s going on here?
The thing is, each camp sees particular parts of the COVID crisis with pristine clarity. The pro-vaccine camp’s fears and concerns about the health risks of COVID are justified. The argument gains additional credibility if we dare to look beyond the death rate statistics: there seems to be a significant “years of life” cost that individuals pay when they suffer from a serious case of COVID. And couple that with the fact that it can spread to other, vulnerable people. The vaccine-hesitant camp has equally legitimate concerns with regards to government overreach and long-term side-effects of new vaccine technology. It’s hardly a secret that national governments have carpe diem-ed themselves some terrifyingly-sweeping powers. Economic disaster has undeniably followed. As has gross violation of constitutional rights to freedom of movement and freedom of association, to name but a few. I also don’t expect these new powers to be easily-relinquished at some future point either.
So both camps are one-the-money with parts of the crisis. So what’s the problem? Well, despite the clarity, both of these camps have serious blind-spots. And, when you make an argument that falls within either camp’s blind-spot, things very quickly break down. And here’s the kicker – both these camps operate in the other’s blind-spot.
When a person belonging to either camp encounters an opinion that falls inside their blind spot, it is immediately and ruthlessly demonized it without further consideration. I’ve seen this in-person – people fully, vindictively dismiss the entire worldview of the opposing camp, declaring it to be outright meritless. Then, to make matters much worse, they assume that the other camp is so damn wrong that they can take the views of the other camp, invert it, and be left with an effective set of “morally just” beliefs.
If this is the level of quality of thinking you’re going to use, we’re never going to get out of this.
But what’s jolted me into write this post is the number of smart people, many of whom I thought wouldn’t fall victim for this line of ass-backwards thinking, who now do exactly this – all the while seemingly unaware of the line of reasoning they’re engaging in. I cannot iterate this enough. There. Are. Smart. People. Doing. This. That means, at the very least, I’m probably doing it, and it means you’re probably doing it too.
And yet I can promise you that, when you call this out, these same people respond with, “Ah yes. People who do that are fools, I would never do that!” Smart people, if this is what you think, you’re wrong. You’re deadwrong. That’s the problem with a blind spot – you’re blind.
What we need to realize, if we’d just stop and listen to each other, is that both camps want exactly the same things – safety and health for ourselves and our loved ones. We agree on almost everything. Let’s start by acknowledging this. We don’t even disagree on all that much! Maybe just on how we get there?
So how do we snap out of this psychosis?
For starters, recognize that that you have a blindspot, well do. And then recognize that, just because they see things differently, other people’s views are not without merit, by default.
Recognize that the pro-vaccine camp isn’t calling it correctly when they say that the authoritarian actions taken by our government is solely a matter of public health. If a government were treating COVID purely as a matter of public health, it would be reaching for every “low-hanging fruit” of available options to help protect the health of its population.
And yet there is no official campaign for a supplementary Vitamin D regime. It’s cheap to produce, extremely safe, and whose deficiency is associated with a innumerable number of health problems. Unsurprisingly, it seems to help a lot with mitigating the more serious effects.
And yet there is there no official campaign for regular exercise and weight-loss if you’re obese.I mean, obesity is by far one of the most established comorbidities, alongside diabetes. Even ignoring COVID, the number of deaths attributed to being overweight is shocking, but that’s besides the point.
The glaring omission of these two practical, easily-implementable and almost-free preventative measures strongly suggests that this undoubtedly is not solely about public health. Either that, or it demonstrates a level of incompetence so shocking and nauseating that it should hardly serve as a justifiable alternative.
This applies both ways, though. We also have to recognize that the vaccine-hesitant camp can’t frame this purely as an individual rights issue. COVID is, after all, contagious and also highly adaptable. That is, very responsive to selective pressure. This means that the more we wait, and the slower we are to take preventative action (such as take vaccines), the more opportunities the virus has to mutate a vaccine-resistant strain. If we don’t stamp out COVID quickly, we can expect breakthrough cases to increase and vaccine-resistant strains to evolve, given that the current vaccines do not inoculate us permanently. Something that we’re possibly seeing already
You must see where both camps are correct, and where they are wrong. You must start there. Until you do this (especially you, smart people), the grown-up conversation cannot begin. Then we’ll never be get away from here. You’ve had your fun, and we all got to play playground bully for a while. It’s long overdue that we cut it out get back to the real world where we round out our worldview with opinions we also disagree with.
Don’t forget – we agree on almost everything. It’s time we grow up and acted that way.