Equating discrimination based on inherent characteristics with discrimination based on failure to behave in a way that makes you safe to others and others safe to you is, frankly, a travesty that debases the premise of discrimination.

I had a friend many years ago who launched the Campaign Against Ingrown Toenails. Your sign photo lives in the same camp.

Expand full comment

I was trying to put my finger on what is wrong with the sign. You nailed it.

Expand full comment

One of the more punny comments I have read recently.

Expand full comment

I didn't even see what I'd done!

Expand full comment

Is gender an inherent characteristic? How about creed?

Also, with widely available vaccinations and boosters, I’m not sure that the unvaccinated are harming anyone but themselves (given how great vaccines are at preventing illness, death, and vaccination)

Expand full comment

To your first point: if you have a more suitable expression, I’m all ears. I, for one, don’t think of gender as a matter of choice. Finding the physical and social associations of sexual nature assigned at birth are incorrect and correcting them is not “choice” in the same way as taking a vaccine or not. “Inherent” captures that for me, but I welcome a better expression as long as the discussion doesn’t devolve into semantic hair-splitting.

To your second point: I’m not sure where you’re going with this. if I possess cyanide in order to commit suicide, is it okay for me to have it — since I would be harming only myself, and not having it would be great at preventing me from death by cyanide.

Expand full comment

I also don’t see gender as a choice. Biological sex and “gender” align for such a large percentage of the population so as to make the distinction between the two moot. But, how we choose to correct the exceptions to this rule does seem to me to be a social choice. In that sense, the current way of dealing with that is not inherent. The bigger point is that we already grant a lot of leeway for many behaviors and social interactions that aren’t biologically inherent. Probably the most important example of this in America is freedom of conscience as operationalized in the First Amendment.

I know I’m probably a minority when it comes to this, but I’m actually fine with your cyanide example. Having cyanide at home for suicide should be strongly discouraged by our upbringing, social structures, religious institutions, etc. but state involvement directly in such matters strikes me as a tradeoff not worth making. The state should allow or encourage healthy societies to thrive wherein suicide is not appealing and discouraged.

Unless you are talking about externalities here (eg the cyanide falls into the wrong hands). In that case, (and actually in the strictly suicide case above) I think cyanide is far too deadly to be a useful analogy to COVID (especially with widely available vaccines).

A better example is seatbelts. My not wearing a seatbelt increases my risk of death and injury significantly with a very minuscule increase in physical externalities for others (eg I get ejected and I hit someone). Like COVID, and unlike cyanide, the risk increase to me as someone without a seatbelt (vaccine) is significant but not absolute, and the externalities, taking mortality as a measure, are exceedingly rare. In this case, the government is granted very limited detection and penalization measures. Certainly this is different from barring seatbelt-refusers from large parts of public life, as NYC has attempted to do. (And of course, you can probably deduce by the principles that I’m espousing, I find state involvement in such matters, when the stakes are what they are, to be a violation of the freedom of association guaranteed in the First Amendment. But I’m sure I’m a minority, and that’s probably why this has been getting eroded for decades before COVID).

Expand full comment

Thanks for contributing to this forum, Atanis. Yours is a very thought-provoking voice.

Expand full comment

Your comment on dealing with the non-alignment of sex and gender recalled to me the storyline in Dances With Wolves about the Native American community in the film having a role for 'househusbands." I don't know if this was true, but having a role for men who do not want to go to war and instead to keep house shows that there can be cultural ways to handle "non-alignment" (Thanks for the very neutral term). In my life I simply think of this as acceptance -- of other religions, variations in biological "alignment," "racial" characteristics, etc.

My nephew from Venezuela comes from a culture where he says "racial" characteristics are not an issue. I know in Brazil, Ecuador, and Mexico, they are not the issue they are here (except, often, against Native Americans,and, as we saw at the Rio Olympics, groups of Blacks who kept themselves culturally separate). Yet there seems to be a tendency to look up to Caucasians. All this is to say these social mores are too complex for me to express easily in a sentence.

Expand full comment

You argue that “how we choose to correct the exceptions to this rule does seem to me to be a social choice. In that sense, the current way of dealing with that is not inherent.” I would agree that how we correct exceptions is socially embedded.

But I’m not talking about correcting the exceptions, only that “we are who we are,” which is a question of inherent characteristics. From your name, I would guess you have family who come from / came from Bulgaria, and I would call that an inherent characteristic. Should you wish to “correct” that (i.e., make it less immediately obvious that you have a Bulgarian heritage) you could legally change your name to something that would not lead people to jump to that conclusion. (Of course, you could have been born John Smith and changed your name to Atanas Zahariev to give people the impression you had a Bulgarian heritage.) But, sticking with the guess that you do yourself come from Bulgaria or have family who did, that’s an inherent characteristic. A name change wouldn’t have any effect on that.

Vaccination status simply does not belong to that category in my world view. If we differ in that understanding, we differ.

Expand full comment

It's tiny, but I think Z would agree that the unvaccinated increase the threat to everyone at least a fractional amount. But regardless, even if the rules are punitive in nature I think they make sense. I dems are performative with the masks. (I live in NY. I'm tripple vaxed witht the booster. But I double mask in the subway while I almost never mask outside). So the polarization machine chews both ways. But the unvaccinated are in fact increasing the spread of the vaccine in the aggregate, right? For that, if we can't legally make you take it there's no reason we can't legally keep you out of polite society.

Expand full comment

If the standard for COVID threat reduction is absolute, then I don’t see why we ever stopped doing lockdowns. Now that we know that COVID zero is not an option, it’s all about tradeoffs, right? I think the tiny reduction in COVID risk - given vaccines available for all - gained by these measures does not outweigh 1. the precedent increasing state coercion in private and public life and 2. the polarization caused by the exclusion of fellow Americans from “polite society” (a telling phrase!), especially in such polarized times. Absolute safety is not an intelligible goal to me.

As far as the unvaccinated increasing the spread of COVID (I assume that’s what you meant, though your typo is appropriate for my next point), the same logic that calls for vaccinating those that have recovered from COVID can, and should, be used in reverse. The protection one receives from natural infection is not redundant to, but complemented by, vaccination. But this also works in reverse. The gold standard appears to be natural + vaccine immunity.

So we have to vaccinate the infected and, eventually, infect the vaccinated.

Getting everyone exposed to this virus (via vaccine and naturally), as safely as reason and the nature of living in a free society allows, is the fastest way that we are going to overcome this.

If all of that is at least plausible to you, how do you weigh the exclusion of the unvaccinated from “polite society” against the tiny gains of safety that these policies seem to be gunning for?

Expand full comment

Regarding mandates, I think pratically politicians won't try to reason things out (absolute safety vs anything else). They will be thinking of strategies that they can implement which won't explode in their face and for which any pain will be forgotten by the next election. Large numbers of voluntary vaccinations have reduced the threat considerably in much of the world (although not in Africa, where few vaccines have been available, and less so in places such as the US South and Eastern Europe/Russia where vaccines are readily available but less accepted).

Really, the likely reasonable options for a politician are: 1) let things be while asking people to voluntarily get vaccinated and possibly voluntarily mask or take other precautions in certain situations, while letting businesses and people who own private property set any rules or not as they see fit. 2) mandate restrictions. Some, such as mask mandates have no economic pain but may be differently accepted in different societies, others such as large-scale lockdowns inflict severe economic and psychological pain and could easily cause the politician a headache (and threat of being voted out of office) if they continue too long or (worse) prove insufficient. 3) mandate vaccines through various mechanisms which can be more or less coercive (e.g. the requiring the EU Green Pass to dine in a restaurant).

Voluntary uptake of vaccines seems to be good enough in some places to significantly damp down the Covid threat and not in others. Vaccine mandates, where they've been implemented, have generally polled well and also increased vaccine uptake considerably. There have been small to medium-scale protests in Canada, France and Italy that I'm aware of, some violent, but these have been generally people who would have voted against the existing government anyway. Even in Italy, where I think the government went too far, in that they made vaccination mandatory to draw a salary even in the private sector, when their biggest problem now is outbreaks among people too young to need a job, there has only been some grumbling, and it still polled well. Compared to imposing longer-term restrictions, the political cost is almost guaranteed to be short-term. People may grumble, but what we see is that they'll always roll up their sleeve and get vaccinated. And they're likely to forget about all this by the next election.

Whether additional measures might need to be taken against Covid four years from now won't be part of the calculation.

Expand full comment

An indictment of democracy, if I’ve ever read one.

Expand full comment

Any Western leader that wanted to send police-escorted nurses door-to-door to achieve a 100% vaccination rate would probably first not get it through their legislature, and then would be out of office. But the same politician would be a hero if millions were dying from Ebola instead. People do have common sense when faced with more extreme situations. Part of the dysfunction is due to Covid being at a level of badness such that it's harder to build a consensus about how to deal with it. This can be a disadvantage of democracy, but to indict democracy you really need to be able to rebut Churchill's statement that democracy is the worst form of government except for everything else.

Authoritarian governments should have an advantage specifically for epidemics, because here rigidly laid out centralized action can be quite effective (as seen in China), which makes me surprised that Russia is doing so poorly. Putin is clearly pro-vaccine, and Russia has an excellent vaccine. The Russian people are suspicious of it, and aren't taking it. Putin has mandated vaccination for some lines of work, but I'm very surprised he's been slow, relative to the EU democracies to enforce mandates.

Expand full comment

A comment on "So we have to vaccinate the infected and, eventually, infect the vaccinated." I agree that we now expect infections to continue. I expect vaccinations to somewhat increase in the U.S. (as they also lose effectiveness) and worldwide vaccinations to increase massively in 2022. I do not know who you intended as "we," but I would argue that the worldwide population is on track to do as you said.

There has also been a lot of talk about actually infecting the unvaccinated, either as policy or individual decision. Some of the preceded the existence of vaccines, when it made sense to investigate this. There are current government decisions that will increase the risk among the vaccinated, such as allowing indoor gatherings attended by the vaccinated (concerts, sporting events, indoor dining).

I've just found an only moderately flawed paper that presents and assesses some of the information on the present status of this topic, and I thought you and others might like to see it. I thought it was well-done, and particularly liked the conclusion which was, I think, just about as concise as it could be and and include all of the relevant arguments, but rather long to quote here.


Expand full comment

To me "mixed feelings" is the only reasonable reaction to the general question of mandates. I don't know how anyone could be comfortable with vaccination not being a condition of employment for some people; for example, patient-facing nursing home staff. On the other hand, I'm very unhappy with the blanket comfort level around compulsion that's been expressed by most of my friends, even before the vaxes were FDA-approved. I'm supportive of some mandates, but I find it hard to even say so in an environment where there's so little acknowledgment of the extent to which mandates are an admission of failure and a serious overriding of individual self-determination.

There's a lot being said right now to the effect that mandates are "working". Well yes, if you have the power to take away someone's livelihood, then it's quite likely they'll do as you command. Force "works". To the extent that gets more jabs in arms, I'm glad to see it. But I'd like to also see some attention to the thousands of lost jobs, the further erosion of trust, the lasting consequences for those against whom force has been levied, the obligation to use compulsion as sparingly as possible, and what we could have done to avoid needing it in the first place.

Expand full comment

Would it be different, do you think, if Covid were not an invisible disease who’s symptoms were not immediately apparent to an observer, but rather presented like smallpox? Is part of the argument here about some equivalent of “out of sight, out of mind”? (I’m sure there is a more apropos expression, but it eludes me at the moment.)

Expand full comment

I agree with your last bit, that it is a shame and a sort of failure to have to force people. However, I strongly disagree about the notion that the mandates are am admission of vaccine policy failure. People have remained unvaccinated,by now, largely through their own free will. I the nation's vaccine policy has "failed," it is because they who have yet to be vaccinated have willfully worked, avoided, recruited, stonewalled, lied, propagandized and sued to make sure it would fail.

Expand full comment

In principle I'm willing to concede that by the time the pandemic came along, it could be that the environment of trust was already so damaged that no actions on the part of authorities could have worked out materially better that what we've seen. I don't know if I believe that, but it's a logical possibility. However, that wouldn't change my position that the widespread use of force is an admission of societal failure. It would simply assign the failure to a different span of time...

Expand full comment

Yes, societal failure. And note that, as I described above, the societal failure long preceded the policy of mandating vaccination of various sectors through regulatory agencies (a force of a kind, but certainly not a brute one). I consider it somewhat of a 'Kobayashi Maru' scenario, and as such was neither offended nor pleased when the mandates came down, not that anyone was asking. I don't want people to lose their jobs, but I'm damn tired of the number one job-adder being SARS CoV2.

Expand full comment

Picking up on David Zager's point about discrimination:

I think it would help the discourse a lot if we were to remember that "discrimination" is not per se a bad word.

Some kinds of discrimination are good! Litmus paper discriminates between acids and bases; our tongues discriminate between salty and sour flavors; airbags discriminate between gradual decelerations and violent crashes. We don't want airbags that go off indiscriminately!

What deserves our condemnation is unfair, unjust and irrelevant discrimination, discrimination on grounds unrelated to the question at hand, or motivated by racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression.

Women make just as good fighter pilots as men do, so to discriminate on the basis of sex in the selection of fighter pilots is wrong. However, people with poor vision do not make good pilots, so to discriminate against the blind in the selection of fighter pilots is not wrong. We *want* the air force to discriminate on the basis of vision tests; we don't want them putting people into pilot seats indiscriminately!

So too: there is nothing wrong with discriminating against active disease carriers, or people who may be active disease carriers, in situations in which their presence poses a danger to others. Hiring Typhoid Mary to cook in your hospital is a fatal mistake.

Shorter: we need to discriminate between permissible and impermissible discrimination, or otherwise we'll wind up with indiscriminate nonsense like that sign.

Expand full comment

Replies the linguist: if we were unable to discriminate among sounds, spoken language wouldn’t exist.

Expand full comment

I think most people do not even know what that Latin word means. But it shares root with "crime" and "criminal", plus decades-long campaigns have called for an end of discrimination (often without particular qualifiers, because you can stuff only so many words on a poster or into a headline), so the overall feeling is that "discrimination" is a bad, scary thing, and not a kind of (hopefully) informed choice.

Expand full comment

only those with discriminating taste would be aware of such a thing!

etymologically, “discriminating” is a derived noun from Latin “discernere,” still seen in English as “discern.”

interestingly, the meaning “make invidious distinctions prejudicial to a class of persons” dates (in American English) from 1866.

Expand full comment

On the other hand, "indiscriminate(ly)" is not that rare a word, and is itself usually taken as bad.

Expand full comment

The key phrase in the piece is “the polarisation machine.”

News media has nearly always been polarising to such a degree that’s it’s a business model - The Times for you, The Guardian for me, The Sun for them, all carving out an identity-based market niche over decades. These brands often offer different takes on the same facts having learned what their readers respond to. It’s how they stay in business.

This model predates the internet by at least decades and was the extant structure to be supercharged by social media when it arrived. And how. Real-time observation of what we like (enervation: shock, anger, divisiveness, etc) and algorithms feeding it back to us near-instantly combined with the difficult-to-grasp, sheer scale of it all - billions of people, most of the world now, reading a newspaper with the same name but feeding each reader personalised story selections, all different except for one common factor: the likelihood that it will make that person mad at someone else.

We’re living through a profound transformation of the machine that feeds us information about the outside world, aka News. It has become free to access, has a readership of basically everyone and is financially incentivised to divide. Divisive issues - race, gender, political teams - get the most response, therefore the most coverage, the most response and so on, and we get a seemingly endless cycle of this versus that, them versus us, me versus you.

Of COURSE we’re divided: it’s a fucking polarisation machine!

Thanks Zeynep, you rock in general.

Expand full comment

Societies went though a polarization machine from the time of the printing press and pamphlets through the early newspapers until the advent of mass-interest magazines (Life, Saturday Evening Post, etc., radio, and then TV networks. With the decline of the sanitized and controlled networks (ABC,CBS, NBC, in which time PBS was considered radical) we are just back in a polarization machine.

Expand full comment

You're right, of course, that news media has always been polarising. I think I tried to make that point in my post, apologies if it wasn't clear.

What has happened in the last 15 years or so is that the existing polarisation machine has been transmogrified along with the news industry itself. The reason things are all so different now is because of what I refer to as "the three S's" - speed, scale and social. By that I mean we can now share information instantaneously to a hitherto undreamt of number of people who are all connected to other people.

This is a huuuuge change from the news as it was, even at the turn of the century. If you accept that description, and then factor in how some of the biggest networks we use - Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc - incentivise divisive content, then I believe you have an idea why the world is suffering from polarisation in a way that is historically unprecedented.

Expand full comment

I’m a Vietnam-era veteran and I got the Moderna vaccinations from the VA when they came out last spring.

I was skeptical at the time about the speed with which these shots were introduced, but I talked to my son who is a medical school professor in Sweden, and he said the tests looked okay and just go ahead and do it.

On the other hand, his mother (my estranged wife), who lives in Japan, got the Pfizer shots a little while ago and got a reaction that landed her in the hospital for ten days of intravenous steroids. A one in ten million reaction.

So there are no guarantees in life.

When our son was in high school he was treated for cancer, and one thing I came to believe through that experience is that we each have "a physician within” who tends to know what is best in our own case if we really listen.

In any event, it’s a free country, and everyone should have a right to privacy especially where it pertains to the health of their own bodies. We make a mistake when we try to shame people into doing things, and we make mistakes when we judge ourselves superior to others. Deep down it’s a matter of trust.

Expand full comment

"everyone should have a right to privacy especially where it pertains to the health of their own bodies."

That might be true when *only* your own body is involved, and no other people are affected.

But nothing in a pandemic works that way. Your failure to wear a mask affects everyone else. Your failure to get vaccinated makes everyone else less safe.

You have no right to privacy that overrides other people's expectation of safety. The next time you're pulled over for speeding and the cop asks you how fast you were going, try telling him you have a right to privacy and see how far it gets you.

Not wearing a mask is speeding on a crowded highway. Not getting vaccinated is blowing through red lights during rush hour. You do not have a right to do things that endanger other people.

George Washington wanted this to be a free country, and that's why he mandated vaccines for his troops. Freedom and public health mandates have never been in conflict until Republicans decided to politicize the pandemic.

"Right to privacy" as an excuse for endangering others -- utter nonsense.

Expand full comment

"Freedom and public health mandates have never been in conflict until Republicans decided to politicize the pandemic."

That is absolutely not true. Anti-vax movements against smallpox inoculation were significant in both UK and USA some 100-150 years ago. Doctor Jenner (who developed vaccination) was a constant target of smear campaigns even decades after his death.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacobson_v._Massachusetts is a Supreme Court decision from 1905 which addresses the question of individual liberty vs. vaccination mandates.



Expand full comment

"That is absolutely not true."

Thanks, your links provide useful info.

How about, "opposition to public health mandates was a fringe position with no mainstream support until Republicans decided to politicize the pandemic"?

A glance at the Society and the League do remind us that there have always been lunatics. But 10,000 members in 1871 is about 0.1% of the UK population at that time. They did not control either the Conservative or the Liberal party of that era. The institutionalization of anti-vaxxerism, associating it so closely with party identification, is something new.

Expand full comment

One of the corollaries of Charles Darwin's theory was (is) that a natural system will test a great many variations of a trait. It is this writer's belief that the Society and the League and the Terrain Model (https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/08/deep-dive-into-stupid-meet-the-growing-group-that-rejects-germ-theory/) represent some of the variations that the forces of evolution are "trying out" in the present environment. It is probably not a good idea to say, "Oh, that'll never work," as evidenced by traits that have, after all, worked out and which we carry today.

Expand full comment

About masks, you won’t get any argument from me. I wear mine wherever I go out.

In fact, as far as I can tell, mask mandates are more effective than vaccination in preventing spikes in contagion, though vaccinations do appear to lessen the severity of infections.

George Washington was commanding his employees. Quite a different matter. Employees can always quit and work elsewhere. But I’d like to hear more of your thoughts about commanding citizens.

Expand full comment

You say you served in Vietnam. Most people who did so were drafted. Conscripts cannot "quit and work elsewhere." Their country compels them to serve, in order to protect the country's vital interests.

About 60,000 US citizens, mostly conscripts, died in Vietnam. Well over 600,000 US citizens have died of COVID.

The nation has a vital interest in combatting this pandemic. Compared to conscription in the armed services, vaccine mandates pose a trivial disruption to a person's life. Hardly worse than being required to fill out and mail in our taxes, another obligation that our country imposes on us. Hell, I'd take a shot over doing my taxes any day.

The national interest is vital. The inconvenience is trivial. The case for commanding citizens is much more straightforward than with the draft or taxes.

Expand full comment

Here in Texas, the anti-discrimination language is out in full force. My partner was brought in by the Dean to send an apology e-mail to his class (Intro to Chemistry for Engineers) because he had his students watch a video about the physics of N95 masks (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAdanPfQdCA ) - the parent of some student was very upset that it might mean he was discriminating against some students on the basis of whether or not they wear a mask, and also that the first five seconds of the video might be creating a hostile environment for students who don't support Black Lives Matter.

Expand full comment

The dean's action here is deeply messed up.

I mean, I also think the BLM pitch at the start of the video is a distraction from the discussion of Van der Waals forces. I am not convinced that every video, reading, and lesson in every course needs to mention BLM, any more than it should mention the climate crisis, the oppression of women, the plight of Tibet, or any other worthy cause. If anything, I suspect that the repetition will cause students to tune it out.

But, it's 5 seconds and its presence is a trivial issue. It is not grounds for disciplining a teacher.

I hope your partner said, " I'd like to make a personal apology to this student, after they explain to the class why they believe that black lives do not matter."

Expand full comment

From talking to my partner, it sounds like the dean handled it overall pretty reasonably, being caught between the rock of Texas public opinion, and the hard place of academic freedom and reasonableness. They worked out an appropriate text for an apology, and there was no other action taken. I think they avoided phrasing the e-mail in quite that obviously patronizing a way.

Expand full comment

One reason that I'll never be a dean: I find it hard to be subtly patronizing.

But, yeah, I'm glad it was resolved with a minimum of imposition on your partner.

Expand full comment

Interestingly, he's the only professor I know that managed to get the vast majority of the students in his class to wear a mask in class - I don't know if it being a bunch of first-semester engineering students makes that easier or harder here. They were apparently very excited last week when he announced that local case counts were low enough that he was personally no longer going to wear a mask indoors, and then they were shocked to see the size of the beard he had been hiding under that gaiter/mask combo. Then again, they were also extremely excited when he spent a few minutes of his lecture on hydrogen bonding explaining why water is, in fact, wet (usually), so maybe they're just easily excitable.

Expand full comment

Simplest explanation here is that he is a good teacher.

It's good to hear that case counts are low enough to get back to mask-free interaction.

Expand full comment

There are people for whom black people not getting vaccinated or even dying of Covid is called "inequity", but white people not getting vaccinated or dying of Covid is called "stupidity". It is not surprising that people sometimes object to race being made part of absolutely everything.

Expand full comment

This is so crazy I'm genuinely unsure of what else to say.

Expand full comment

I've been thinking about the vaccine refusal--as opposed to hesitancy, or straight-on anti-vaxery--for months now, getting mad at people, getting dissappointed, and finally, with the advent of mandates, getting concerned, because now those people have backed themselves into a corner. I have tried to find a way to empathize, see it their way, and the closest I can get is:

"You can't make me eat my broccoli."

Which, as far as I am concerned, is a pretty solid position. Was when I was six, at least. I avoided a lot broccoli just by holding out. Good thing my parents liked broccoli, helped make the situation go away.

But our government is not our parents, nor vice-versa. And I don't think that it is helpful for either the citizenry to assume the role of defiant child or the government to adopt the role of stern parent. I don't dissaggree with the mandates, I just don't know how it will end.

Expand full comment

This called to mind George Lakoff’s work on framing, and the principal differences between conservative and liberal dispositions in American politics. Conservatives’ (generally, theoretically speaking) model of the nation is the nuclear, patriarchal family, specifically what he calls a “strict father” morality. That paradigm aligns quite well with the responses of people who conceive of the federal government as the head of a national “family,” when they do indeed act like petulant children.

I do want to add, the nation as “family” here should be thought of not in a collectivist, caring “we’re all in this together” sense but in the tribalist sense: very clear, strict delineation of who belongs and who doesn’t, hierarchal moral authority, guarding and hoarding of resources, and exclusion of and protection from outsiders.

Expand full comment

That's interesting about the tribalism a la Lakoff, because originally we saw how it works the other way: conservatives (or whatever you want to call this attitude) rally around the "good" strict father even when this is ultimately destructive and based on a lie (e.g. George W.'s playing strict father for his whole post-9/11 tenure). But as you just pointed out, it can function in either direction to suit the narrative of choice; here, framing the Biden administration as the "bad" oppressive tyrannical parent forcing woke policies and identity politics down everyone's throat. So what better pretext to faux-heroically don the mantle of identity politics with a big wink, by putting up that sign outside the restaurant?

But maybe in certain cases it's not even ironic and faux-heroic, and people really *do* believe they're channeling the Declaration of Independence when they put up a sign like that. Which would go along with your tribalism, in the sense of being on a moral mission to defend the true meaning of [whatever].

Expand full comment

While I agree with the sentiment strongly, I’m overwhelmed with examples in which the meaning of the normal English words “hierarchical moral authority” and the behavior they purport to describe cannot possibly be true at the same time.

Expand full comment

Yeah, the tribalism thing. What I call "one of us" versus "NOT one of us" thinking. It has been very difficult for me, since I moved from an urban to a rural community (I am a farmer, It's better to live near where you work), to come to grips with the fact that the primary ethos out here is tribalism.

As for Covid, Erie County (my urban neighbor, I am in Niagara) has had 3 straight months of >50% more deaths from Covid than in 2020, and that is a very bad sign.

Still, I dream of a quiet Covid winter for the nation, with no new variants, a rescinding of the vaccination requirements in April, and a maskless 2022 school year...

Expand full comment

I like your distinction between a rigid, stubborn "I won't eat my broccoli" refusal and more hesitant or ideological stances: it speaks to that more narrowly behavioral/habitual component - the "just because" that sometimes drives our supposedly reasoned positions. But I think in fact there's tons of overlap between these guys and the two other classic groups you mention, and perhaps they are better conceptualized not as a separate bucket or population to be teased out sociologically, but along a developmental axis: the hardening of such attitudes over time (regardless of which bucket people identify with). In other words, the broccoli phenomenon is more of a process and a tendency (toward doubling down, just because) than a particular position or rationale or agenda.

Beyond this, it is a particular way of communicating. It can even function as a rhetorical move, essentially saying, "If you impose a vaccine mandate that goes against my beliefs and values, you aren't just disagreeing with me - you're *coercing* and *oppressing* me. But the Declaration of Independence said....etc. etc.!"

So the self-destructive, backed-into-a-corner aspect is not just blindly self-destructive; often it is performative.

Expand full comment

Has anyone looked at this problem from the psychological standpoint of a narcissist-codependent relationship? It seems that these days MOST of our relationships have become a form of this (crazily enough created by the "it's all about you" marketing inculcation of the last 50 years.)

I see the classic, "I'm a hero in my own mind by debasing myself to follow an abuser" model everywhere, from politics to working for predatory corporations.

Confounding this is how we increasingly live in a mostly performative culture, where the presentation of self is more important than the actual value of self. Does an analysis of a celebrity's opinion and influence on mask-wearing versus vaccine side effects tell us anything about rational social behavior? Or does that itself lose the plot and make understanding further away.

Gotta think there's a lot more "crazy" out there than in any time of recent memory. And so I'd think that the best place to start is psychology not sociology, specifically how falible human perceptions and emotions are, and what forces set them off in individuals.

Certainly a lot of your excelent work does this, but I think we should start with taking out the social frame and look at how individuals are made crazy, then apply the narcissist-codependent frame and see how the soup is brewed. I think that would show a lot more helpless (unwitting) codependents than is recognized, like 80% of the population.

Expand full comment

I would like to note at the start that I am so strongly pro-vaccine that I flew to the US from Switzerland, where I live, to receive the J & J vaccine (Switzerland didn’t order enough doses, so the initial roll-out was slow for healthy adults under age 70).

That being said, I think that Switzerland has found a middle way for entry to public spaces that has led to less conflict and more cooperation. In order to enter restaurants, bars, sporting events, concerts, museums, etc., people living here must present a Covid Zertifikat—a QR code you carry on your phone in a special app. Workers check not only the code but also your ID, and they are very careful. Once we’re inside the venue, we can take off our masks.

People are much more accepting of this certificate here than in the US for a few reasons:

First, because there is a standard procedure for granting the certificates, and because workers check them carefully, we can be sure that people aren’t cheating; the certificates feel “fair.”

Second, the certificate grants privileges like being unmasked indoors safely, which we all appreciate.

Finally, and most important, you can get the certificate even without being vaccinated. People who have recovered from Covid can be certified through a doctor’s note, and people who neither have a doctor’s note nor want to be vaccinated can obtain a temporary certificate for a specific event by showing a negative Covid test.

I think the Swiss have struck a good balance. We shouldn’t base policy on issues of purity and good behavior. We should care about whether people can hurt other people or not. The addition of rapid testing and proof of recovery to the Covid certificate switches the focus from whether someone is following orders to whether they are safe to be around others, however that safety has been achieved.

Presciently, Dr. Tufecki has advocated for rapid testing from the beginning of the pandemic. Some people, for whatever reason, however frustrating or misguided, continue to refuse the vaccines. For them, rapid testing can be a good compromise.

Expand full comment

Do you see in Switzerlands the Covid certificate check equally enforced in establishment of different sizes? Like the small restaurants vs the big/chain ones? In Netherlands (where I am now), this varies.

Expand full comment

I don’t go to a lot of restaurants here (they’re VERY expensive), but every place I’ve been since they rolled out the Zertifikat—chain restaurants, a small family pizza place, a couple of concerts, and a museum—the workers ha d been super-meticulous. But that may just be because of the Swiss character. I suspect it’s similar in Germany!

Expand full comment

We've known for a while now that somewhere around 20% of the population isn't going to get vaccinated. It's a diverse group (including homeopathic medicine types, conspiracy theorists, faith healing religious groups), but it's also mainly working class people who did not attend college. At a certain point, it's probably going to be healthier for society to let the unvaccinated get their immunity from infection. It's certainly not ideal, but it can be managed, albeit painfully, as shown by the surge over the summer. The polarization isn't going anywhere, there is already a huge shortage of workers without vaccine mandates, and it would seem to be less un-healthy for society to just let the rest of the pandemic naturally run its course.

Expand full comment

First time I felt a knee jerk reaction to post a comment. Here goes!

My “first” family, i.e. my mom, one younger and one older sibling are all three vaccination-hesitant. My mom, soon turning 70, is more hesitant than opposed and is deeply influenced by external information and does little to translate it to find nuance. I am scared for her, I am afraid of both her being in pain and of losing her. I am scared for my older sister who actually laughed and me when I said I took my shots to help make everybody (including myself) more safe. You know the one your talking to feel like they need to protect their views with every means necessary (because they know they are probably wrong but won’t admit that to even themselves) when they yell and laugh at you when you simply don’t see eye to eye and you are very calm about it.

My little brother is a flat earth:er. At least he was, hasn’t come up for a few years now. I hope he thinks it’s a ball again. I haven’t even tried talking to him about anything serious for years. I just get so sad.

So my flesh and blood doesn’t see this pandemic the way I do. They don’t feel like they need to (or can) help protect everyone, they want to protect themselves first.. at least I think that’s what’s going on. As we never can have an actual conversation about it.

The polarized world is scary.

Even more so when you feel you might lose your family to the literal other side.

And at the same time I feel “I have the information I need” I also feel doubt about everything I read and hear. For surely I am in an information bubble too..

I know that fear is not going to help us reach each other. But what will?

Love, acceptance and kindness? They already feel they are using that themselves when they talk to me.. they feel I am at risk of going to the other side for taking the covid vaccines.

Like all conflicts that seldom or never resolve I’ve come to the conclusion to just drop it. I don’t want to argue anymore. I will handle my feelings of fear and frustration and meet them the only way we know how: without any real conversation about the state of the world we live in. I save that for people who can listen and respect me, no matter what their opinion is.

And what does this have to do with the sign?

Just take it down. Your family will never get you. Find your own and be friendly with everyone, vaccinated or not.

Expand full comment

Yes, I think you have it figured out with your family. Sorry about that, I have had troubles too, just not political ones.

And even at your mom's age, the odds are still strongly on the side of her surviving Covid, (no worse than around 100-1?) and decent on her not getting seriously sick. Of course, that is no consolation to those who have lost someone.

Expand full comment

Thank you, Marc. Statistics are so much harder to lean on when it’s personal, so this served as a really great reminder.

Expand full comment

There is a big difference between driving without a seatbelt and driving while intoxicated. The former an kill you.The later can make you a murderer.

Expand full comment

Wow, do I feel THIS. I feel really strongly about people getting vaccinated to protect one another. At the same time, I feel that we aren't addressing the other true, true need (in the U.S.) about where and how we are actually taking care of one another through actual health insurance (that's accessible and affordable) and health care, provision. Then I think about the ethics of it all and how we are really 'sharing the wealth' or not - in our own country and around the world -- in terms of vaccines, but also in terms of healthcare overall (including mental healthcare and mental health supports). I have mixed feelings about mandates -- I really see the need for them. I also really hear the fear from those that are unsure or against vaccination that this is some kind of 'slippery slope' -- that this is a form of discrimination (and what discrimination is next). I don't see it that way, but it makes me wonder about how people feel so distrustful of healthcare and that they feel that if something happens to them they won't be taken care of...or, they see this only in individual terms (they believe they'll be ok, so why worry about anyone else). On other hand, is it dangerous to ostracize people?

Expand full comment

Though at same time, I don't see how we get out of the pandemic without strong uptake of the vaccine.

Expand full comment

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote and published, in 1835, some observations of the American system of holding politicians to account:

“If American lawmakers had wanted to invest society itself with the power to ward off great crimes as judges do, by sowing fear of punishment, they would have allowed political tribunals to avail themselves of all the resources of the penal code; instead they equipped those tribunals with a less than adequate weapon, one ill-suited to dealing with the most dangerous of criminals. For what does banishment from politics signify to a person bent on overthrowing the law itself?

The primary purpose of political judgment in the Unites States is therefore to withdraw power form a person who has made poor use of it and to prevent power from being granted to that same citizen in the future.” (p. 122, Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, tr. A. Goldhammer, Literary Classics of the United States, New York, N.Y., 2004)

Tocqueville was enthusiastic about this new relationship between government and the governed and he was careful to examine both the potential and the pitfalls of the government that had been in existence for approximately 60 years. His understanding of history and human nature gave him a prescience that is playing out even as we type and read. Tocqueville concludes about the American way of holding politicians to account, compared to that in France and England, “It is less fearsome as well as less effective.” (p. 123, op. cit.)

Expand full comment

*from* not *form*, dang, I hate when that happens . . .

Expand full comment

The pandemic didn’t “turn it on.” It’s been brewing for years. Trump’s presidency brought it to a head. We’ve never actually settled or recovered from the Civil War and its legacy of ‘no-nothingness.’ The lull after WWII was actually just storm clouds gathering.

Expand full comment

American culture sites agency in the individual first, then the family, then larger-scale institutions. We drove off the road when we tried to supplant that by placing extraordinary power in political leaders, ceding to them a vast new realm of decisions. I see no way that could not have led to trouble.

Comity was further undermined by the extraordinary cascade of policy, scientific, and operational fiascoes that have characterized the response. We even provided a delightful series of symbolic moments as leader after leader was caught exempting themselves from the strictures they demanded of the public.

To start the repair, fix these things. Return agency to individuals (stop the mandates), trusting them to make appropriate decisions. Then start holding leaders and institutions to account for their failings. That will start them on the road to repairing their broken bits.

Expand full comment