Saturday, July 17, 2021

COVID and the New Segregation


It should be cut and dried. We have COVID, we have anti-COVID vaccine in copious amounts, it's just a question of time (short!) until virtually everyone is vaccinated and the contagion is gone, over, out. You have to handle the hard-to-access populations, and you have to have controls on incoming, but we have good testing, we are rich enough to afford the materials and the personnel. It should be cut and dried.

But, amazingly, it isn't. You would think that all the American carnage, the sickness and the deaths and the horrible pictures of hospitals filled with COVID patients and respirators and loved ones saying goodbye on cell phone while nurses cried listening and some nurses and doctors even killed themselves, you would think that there would be no one and all who doesn't recognize a gift from God when it is delivered, and it's name is Pfizer or Moderna or Johnson and Johnson. You would think the gift would be obvious. And it's free. And the government and others are breaking their backs to make it easily available. You would think it was obvious. Hell, it is obvious, what could be more obvious? It's sure as hell more obvious than thinking you are drinking the blood of Christ and eating his body when you are kneeling in the church, just to grasp randomly at things that people believe.

But, there are the ignorant, there are the charlatans, there are the greedy, there are Fox and Republicans and Rupert Murdoch and you would think they would feel guilty at the very least but maybe they don't. People are calling them cynical. I think cynical is letting them off pretty easy. It's evil, is what it is, is what they are. If lying about a gift from God that will save your life and the lives of others you come into contact with, if lying about that isn't evil, then what is? There is evil in the world, that shouldn't be a controversial statement, Dr. Pangloss is not generally held up as an admirable figure, this is not the best of all possible worlds, and if you look what they are doing with the COVID vaccine you really have to wonder how the world has made any progress at all, and maybe that's debatable, but I think we have, and not just because we got to the moon, but because as confounding as it is to see gobs of people refusing gifts from God, there are more who aren't and their lives are being saved and science is the hero and I think we have made lots of progress, but it's also astonishing that we have, because stupid and evil exist in such numbers that I never realized, but I guess I should have.

I don't want to let the non-vaxxers off the hook by saying they are misled and victims, and that they have not been educated enough to know who and what to trust, and to say that everyone can't be smart, and to say that our health care and education systems have let them down. And I don't want to treat them with respect for their choices, although I do think everyone deserves respect as a person with some exceptions, because we should not respect the evil-doers like Carlson and Murdoch and Trump et al. as coequal persons – just fuck them, I figure, let them go straight to hell – but in the end it doesn't matter. What we have to decide on now is a very practical matter – what do we do with the anti-vaxxers now that COVID has not been eradicated and the virus is upping the threat? What do we do?

Here's what I think we should do. We should treat this as a problem of competing rights. There are those who have the right to be safe, like you and me. And there are those who want to claim the right to remain unvaccinated, for whatever reason they want to, but they defend their right to choose as an element of personal freedom. OK, I say, I think it's ignorant, but knock yourself out. You want to make yourself vulnerable? I guess that's your right. You want to make others vulnerable because of what you are choosing to do? No, that's not your right. I have a competing right, to be safe. How are we going to adjudicate our competing rights?

Well, one thing we know how to do in this country is to segregate. Let's use that knowledge to adjudicate the competing rights. Let's divide all public areas – commercial, governmental, what have you – into those which guarantee that all staff and customers are vaccinated, and into those where there is no such guarantee. We can call the first Safe Areas, with a sign: We Are Threat Free! We can call the second Freedom Areas, with a sign: Do You Feel Lucky?

Some facilities can be all one or all the other – a restaurant, for instance, could be all Free or all Safe. Some facilities are less easy to be one or the other – think DMV – and would need separate entrances and exits and hermetically-sealed areas to conduct business.

Some facilities could be very safe, and require everyone to present or to have on file the vaccination documentation. They would be Completely Safe. Others would go on the honor system. They would be We Think It's Safe. The deniers would just declare how daring they are and say, Take Your Chances.

We always need to balance competing rights, and safety vs. freedom is a frequent competition. When it comes to COVID, we have run into a buzzsaw of negligent and evil ignorance that requires us to recognize a claim of freedom where it wasn't clear we would have had to, but there it is. We can't do for COVID what we did for polio, and measles, and smallpox, because evil has gotten its toehold too far into society. So the next best is to keep safe those who want to be kept safe, and let the others make do with whatever they want to do with their freedom. We can't treat everyone the same, but at least with this kind of segregation, you can choose which group you want to be part of.

I guess being walled off from the stupid shouldn't be so hard to take.

Budd Shenkin

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