I’ve given up trying to understand the anti-vaccine crazies. The arguments they pose are nonsensical: “I don’t know what’s in them!” (They don’t know what’s in the hot dogs they eat, among a million other things.) “There’s a chip inserted by Bill Gates!” (Yes, it’s in the cell phone you cheerfully carry!) “My friend’s brother got diabetes after getting his shot!” (“After this, therefore because of this” is one of the oldest logical fallacies…). And don’t even get me started on the claims that requiring sensible public health measures violates the Constitution– people who insist government can require a woman to carry a pregnancy to term while arguing that government lacks authority to require people to get vaccinated, are beyond the reach of reason.)
Logic and reason, clearly, have nothing to do with it.
I was recently sharing my frustration with the young woman who cuts my hair, who told me that her sister– a nurse in a local hospital –is equally frustrated. And angry. According to her sister, the hospital is coping with overflow conditions caused almost entirely by unvaccinated people, and they are not just sick, but unpleasant and irrational. A large number of them refuse to believe they have Covid, insisting that it must be something else, because Covid is a hoax.
In fact, she said, her sister has characterized these patients as “big babies,” who are making the job of tending to them considerably more difficult than it needs to be.
Evidently, those “big babies” are convinced that vaccines are the monsters hiding under their beds…
What is interesting–if maddening–is that this irrational behavior is largely occurring on the political right (although left-wingers who see conspiracies where the rest of us see human complexity also subscribe.) A recent article from The Week suggests a reason for those statistics showing that Republicans are dying at far greater rates than Democrats.
The article recounted several recent speeches by rightwing ideologues, and summarized the worldview common to them:
The right believes that the progressive left hates America; that it is an evil totalitarian cult which has infiltrated every institution; and that it is using a mix of business, bullying, and technological surveillance to deconstruct both masculinity and the United States as a whole in order to create a world without belonging.
In other words, the cult that has replaced the once-respectable GOP believes that “the progressive left” (i.e., everyone to the left of lunacy) is the monster under the bed. They actually believe that Democrats and moderate (i.e. sane) Republicans are capable of constructing and executing a co-ordinated, well-planned and utterly nefarious effort to destroy the America that exists in their fevered imaginations.
The sheer number of people who have imbibed this Kool-Aid is scary enough, but the threat they pose to the rest of us is monstrous. As RFK Jr’s family has written, “his and others’ work against vaccines is having heartbreaking consequences.” We probably wouldn’t be facing the Omicron upsurge in Covid if vaccination rates had been higher, but the dangers posed by widespread acceptance of these conspiracy theories goes well beyond a deadly pandemic. We wouldn’t be teetering on the brink of something like Civil War if more people were intellectually or emotionally able to resist the lure of simple answers (It’s the bad guys! They’re the monster under the bed!) to complicated realities.
What was that famous quote by H.L. Mencken? “For every complex problem, there’s a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”
Evidently, America is home to a depressingly large number of people willing to believe that all their problems can be solved just by destroying the imaginary monster under the bed…and if destroying the monster means eliminating democracy, well…so be it.