Anti-vaxxers and the Social Contract

I currently live in the state of Texas where the Republican governor and the majority republican legislature have come down firmly that no government entity, including public schools, should issue a mandate that masks have to be worn in the current pandemic. They argue that people have the right to remain unvaccinated. They legally enjoin any government entity from even telling folks about those refusing to be vaccinated. They discourage private entities like hospitals requiring their personnel to be vaccinated. The basic argument is that the right of individual freedom supersedes the responsibility that any one has to their community and that no one should be forced to do otherwise. This of course flies in the face of the fact that governments do just the opposite all the time. Think of speed limits or taxes for example. However, this concern about individual rights has become part of the bedrock of Republicanism. It is the public rationale for opposing government spending, universal healthcare, business regulation, prevention of climate change and on and on. Under the surface it is about the winners of the capitalist game feeling that they shouldn’t have do things for anyone else. If they want to, they can engage in individual acts of philanthropy or even just kindness towards a few individuals. They just should not feel they have to be concerned with society as a whole.

Even if you believe in such individual freedom what happens when individual choices are a) Based on disinformation, b) Harm the community or c) Create chaos. To take these one at a time let’s start with disinformation. There has been a lot of disinformation about the Covid vaccines for example. People have heard that the disease isn’t so bad after all it has a relatively low fatality rate; that the vaccine itself has harmful side effects like infertility or ineffectiveness; and that the injections are part of a government conspiracy to place “trackers” in the population. Aside from its low fatalities the disease can easily become worse than the “flu” to which it has been compared, have long range respiratory, neurological and even physical effects. The vast lack of ill effects in the millions of people who have been vaccinated is evidence of the lack of extensive, severe side effects. Why people who carry a cell phone think the government needs to inject something into them to track them, speaks to the lack of understanding of how things are traced. If they think they are not being traced now, just have them click on an ad in Facebook. Granted the U.S. government has a long history of experimentation on unwilling subjects (I’m looking at you Tuskegee syphilis study), but the truth is these studies have been focused on the poor, indigent and people of color populations. The vaccine program hits the entire population including those movers and shakers who you know are taking care of themselves first. Those who believe it is part of some vast government conspiracy haven’t attended a committee meeting and seen how inept large groups of people are at getting anything done. Should people’s individual choice when they are based on such disinformation supersede the effect it has on the community at large?

This brings me to the second point. This respect for the individual choices will prolong the pandemic, endanger the immuno-compromised and the unvaccinated children, and slow economic recovery. It will thus have several harmful effects on the community beyond putting the unvaccinated at personal risk. What does it say about the social contract? The “social contract” is a term to describe what philosophers like Rousseau, Hobbes and Locke argue that “government” should do. In a nutshell they say that government is a subsuming of individual will for the benefit of society as a whole. It is the turning of the Republican view on its head; it says that the responsibility one has to the community should supersede the right of individual freedom and that rulers or governments are established to enact this social contract. Although what constitutes the social contract in a particular circumstance has changed since the 1700’s, the principle remains the same.

The result of ignoring the social contract can be chaos. I was reminded of this as I escorted my granddaughter to her first day of school this morning. We are lucky enough to live withing a ten-minute walk to school; we do not have to drive. However, many more people do have to drive. The parking lot at the school is clearly inadequate for the volume of vehicles when so many drive as on the first day. People were parked willy-nillly wherever they could find a place. They did not care that they were parked illegally, blocking paths that school buses would take, and preventing emergency vehicles for entering (God forbid that they needed to.) They were fulfilling their needs and the needs of others be damned. There was a police officer around, but she was so concentrated on making sure it was safe for children to cross the busy road on which the school is located, that enforcing parking regulations never entered her mind. I agree with her priorities here. The result was of course chaos. I could not help comparing this to the governor’s and state government’s stance on Covid 19 vaccinations. Both scientists and our experience so far tell us that the state government’s position on Covid, the support which Fox “News” and conservative politicians have given the anti-vaxxers, and the disinformation that has been spread about the vaccine, have created a “chaos” about this pandemic which is going to lead to more deaths, more infections, more strain on the medical system, and hopefully lessening support for those very politicians. As Levar Burton used to say on Reading Rainbow “you don’t have to take my word for it” just wait and see.

 

 

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