Let me begin by saying that I am triply-vaccinated, I don’t regret it for a second, and I believe that vaccination is the right choice for most people.
In addition, I am part of two communities–my workplace and my church–where I have been part of the decision to impose COVID restrictions. As a partner in my law firm, I argued for and supported the decision to exclude unvaccinated employees and partners from the office. Likewise, as a member of the Board of Trustees of my Unitarian Universalist congregation, I argued for and supported the decision to exclude unvaccinated members and visitors from the physical church. I still support the ability of communities, like my church, or small to medium-sized businesses, like my firm, to exclude unvaccinated persons or require masks, as a way of protecting its members, employees, etc.
All of that being said, I have started to have some reservations. I am concerned about how the vaccination debate has deepened the divide created by the culture wars, especially how vaccination status has become a tribal pseudo-identity, where being vaccinated or not has become a kind of shorthand or code for political commitments and values. I am concerned about the ability of large corporations to not only require disclosure of private health care information, but also to mandate medical procedures, as a condition of employment. I am concerned about the dampening of debate about the balance between civil liberties and public health, how even legitimate questions about the efficacy and safety of the vaccines have been silenced in many forums, and how much power search engines and social media platforms have to circumscribe public discussion. I am concerned about the power we are putting in the hands of profit-making pharmaceutical companies in the name of science.
And I am concerned about the drift toward authoritarian, even totalitarian (through the use of technology), control implied by all of this. Not the overt kind of control of Orwell’s 1984, mind you. Rather, more of the subliminal kind of control of Huxley’s Brave New World, a world in which we choose to surrender our freedom, in exchange for safety and pleasure.
In short, now, as we may be coming to the end of the pandemic, and the fog of fear is lifting, I am beginning to remember that I am an anarchist. In the last couple of years, I have been guilty myself of complicity with and even advocacy for all of the above. But I have started to question this recently, as have others.
Recently, Paul Kingsnorth published an article about how he “changed sides” in the vaccine war, entitled “How Fear Fuels the Vaccine Wars”. Kingsnorth is the author of Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist , a critique of the mainstream environmental movement, and One No, Many Yeses, about the anti-globalization movement. Reading Kingsnorth’s article, and listening to his subsequent interview on Unherd, though, it seems less like he has “changed sides” and more like he has come to recognize problems with both sides. The establishment position, he says, “if left unchecked, leads straight to tyranny … But the danger of cleaving entirely to the [anti-establishment position] is a potential descent into paranoia.”
Some places have taken COVID restrictions farther than where I live in Indiana. Kingsnorth seems most disturbed by the mandatory lockdown of unvaccinated people in other countries and by COVID passports being required to enter public accommodations. Both of these are a far cry from “internment camps” and Gestapo-style demands for one’s “papers”, but I think Kingsnorth is right to wonder if we might be heading in that direction.
Almost a million deaths in the US alone (more than in all the wars the the 20th century combined) is not something to be dismissed. But I think Kingsnorth is right to question what has come to be a new kind of dogma of vaccination, where it’s considered antisocial to even ask rational questions. For example, considering that practically everyone who died of COVID was unvaccinated, and most of them chose to be unvaccinated, and that the unvaccinated posed little threat of mortality to the vaccinated, why the draconian measures and why so much fear among the vaccinated? And even assuming it was all justified and effective, shouldn’t we still be asking questions about who gained from all of this and what power we gave up and to whom?
I’ve excerpted part of Kingsnorth’s article below, but I urge you to read the whole article, as well as his subsequent interview. And I invite your thoughts in the comments below. As someone coming from an establishment perspective, it is tempting to hear Kingsnorth as just another anti-vax conspiracy theorist. (Indeed, his writing is sometimes coopted by conservatives.) But knowing that he comes from the same place I do–a progressive-turned-anarchist–his essay causes me to question my own commitment to a position which requires an unprecedented expansion of corporate-government control over our lives.
“[Covid] has revealed the compliance of the mainstream media, and the power of Silicon Valley to curate and control the public conversation. It has confirmed the sly dishonesty of political leaders, and their ultimate obeisance to corporate power. It has shown how ideology, on all sides, can mask itself with the pretend neutrality of ‘science’.
“Most of all, it has revealed the authoritarian streak that lies beneath so many people, and which always emerges in fearful times. In the last month alone, I have watched media commentators calling for censorship of their political opponents, philosophy professors justifying mass internment, and human rights lobby groups remaining silent about ‘vaccine passports’. I have watched much of the political Left [progressivism] transition openly into the authoritarian movement it probably always was, and countless ‘liberals’ campaigning against liberty.”
“Across the world we are seeing an unprecedented claim to control staked by the forces of the state, in alliance with the forces of corporate capital, over your life and mine. All of it converges on the revealed symbol of our age: the smartphone-enabled QR code that has, with frightening speed and in near-silence, become the new passport to a full human life. As ever, our tools have turned on us. …
“We are being herded into a future in which scanning a code to prove you are a safe and obedient member of society may become a permanent feature of life, as unquestioned as credit cards and driver’s licences.”
“In a short but momentous two years, we in the West, who have spent decades, if not centuries, lecturing the rest of the world about ‘freedom’, and sometimes trying to bomb them into accepting it, have abandoned ours without so much as a murmur, and begun enthusiastically scapegoating those who question this path. We who invented this thing called ‘liberalism’ are now burying it, and building on the bare soil some technocratic state-corporate hybrid; a China-style social credit society, centralised, monitored, powered by algorithms, emphatically unnatural and unfree.
“We are in a revolutionary moment. Societies are being transformed, with no public discussion and no consent, into a version of a Silicon Valley nerd’s wet dreams. Unless we can reach some form of synthesis soon — unless the sheeple can address the fears of the covidiots, and vice versa — then we risk being blinded to where the real power lies, and what is being constructed around us as we bicker and insult and pontificate.”