The other day in a Mullumbimby street I was wearing a mask. This was not on account of Halloween, or because I had finally succumbed to my friends’ entreaties not to frighten the passers-by, it was because I had just left one shop and was on my way to another, both of which required their customers to observe the (then) current anti-covid measures.
‘Hey you! Take that mask off, it will give you pneumonia, you idiot.’ The speaker, or rather shouter, was red in the face and clearly annoyed with me, though I had no idea who he was. I asked him why he was so angry, but all he did was repeat his medical conviction, several times: ‘Idiots who wear masks get pneumonia’, and lurch away.
The joke was on him, because being over 65 I have had the pneumonia shot (although I suspect that would just have made him angrier), but this random encounter made me wonder how many other people have irrational attitudes towards public health issues.
There have been big protests by anti-vaxxers in the news, but they represent a tiny minority of the population. Even in Byron Shire, I thought, although the national press delights in calling us the ‘anti-vax capital of the country’ the alternative-facts lobby is confined to the weirder corners of the community.
Therefore, as a public service and so you don’t have to, I have spent some time trawling through online comments on covid stories, reckoning that such comments form a ready-made vox populi resource.
I was also inspired by the delicious meme of a man in a stretcher asking a paramedic, ‘Are you taking me to hospital?’ and getting the reply, ‘No, mate. You need serious medical advice, so we’re taking you straight to the comments section.’
The anti-vax movement is a very broad church. The following summary reflects only the most common ideas, and not the utterly depraved ones appended to covid articles that might get their writers prosecuted under the government’s new, controversial and largely ineffective anti-trolling laws.
Some people quote the bible to justify opposition to vaccination. The Mark of the Beast is popular because it can mean anything, and the ‘fetal line’ issue (fetal cells used in testing, not production, of vaccines) is also one of the religious objections. There is nothing about abortion in the bible, but there are prohibitions on drinking blood, and these are pressed into service, much as old-school Jehovah’s Witnesses twist the references in Genesis and Leviticus to justify letting themselves die rather than have blood transfusions.
Others rely on the 5G conspiracy, ‘something something Bill Gates’, or that old chestnut ‘chemtrails’, which are one of the means used to spread covid;, so much more dramatic than having idiots breathe on you. Some people are ‘Sovereign Citizens’, who think of themselves as courageous freedom fighters in the jungle of the law. They don’t recognise any government, let alone allowing it to tell us what to do. On the other end of the scale there are those who get the vapours simply by reading a list of vaccine ingredients.
Political conspiracists think a capitalist/communist/lizard elite is softening us up for a global takeover, while others think covid is a plot by China and Anthony Fauci to destroy the economy. Some think it’s a hoax, others believe it’s just the flu, while others admit it’s real, but just don’t want to do anything about it because, well, reasons.
Some wouldn’t take the vaccine because it was ‘unapproved and experimental’, but now they won’t take it because they say the approval was rushed. There’s a crowd who think the vaccine is literally killing thousands of people in Australia, but the media won’t report it. This is a psychotic belief, and we know that because it is promoted by several members of the federal coalition.
Do your own research?
The phrase ‘do your own research’ appears less often than I expected, probably because it has been so widely ridiculed. Nevertheless, there are still some who reference the University of Facebook as their knowledge base, along with random anecdotes gleaned from the wellness industry and confidently presented as if they were extracts from scientific papers.
These folk say their immune systems don’t need the help of artificial vaccines because of all the (presumably natural) vitamins and supplements they take, including in some cases hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. It is a well-known fact that podcasters on this topic have to spend five years studying medicine before they are allowed to broadcast.
There’s also a big cohort of vaccine critics who are motivated by the fact that ‘Big Pharma’ overcharges (hard to disagree on that one), and a smaller group who actually claim that hospitals make big money from killing covid patients.
To be honest, I have only skimmed the surface of this turgid pool; the depths are beyond the point of nausea.
Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is poison when it’s pushed forward so aggressively that it displaces knowledge. Orwell saw the future as one of increasing repression, a boot stamping on your face forever. Let’s not allow a future of increasing ignorance, a voice forever screaming nonsense in your face.
How do we oppose the slide into darkness when, for example, the prime minister himself believes in an absurd cosmology and is constantly purveying lies. Can we trust the government? We emphatically cannot trust this government, which is the worst in living memory.
But the habit of mistrust is corrosive to our collective wellbeing. Social life is not just the collision of equally valid opinions. There are tools for sorting truth from falsehood, the scientific method for one. The truth is out there, and we can value it or surrender to chaos.