Christopher Hitchens, the late and, at least in my house, much-missed public scold, had this to say about American libertarianism: “I have always found it quaint, and rather touching, that there is a movement in the U.S. that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough.”
In this time of global pandemic, the question might not be are people selfish enough, but do they know how to do selfishness well? Do they, in their sometimes loud and obstructive anti-social behavior, actually do anything that truly benefits themselves? Even if they really don’t care about what happens to anyone else? Or to anyone else’s children?
The numbers seem to make it clear. It’s the unvaccinated who suffer the most. They spend the most time in the hospital. They die. The variety of selfishness that is on exhibit in the third decade of the 21st century might be better described as self-destruction.
We can look askance at someone who rushes to get themselves and perhaps their children into the lifeboat ahead of everyone else. But we can see the purpose behind someone casting off that lifeboat, maybe less than half full, out of an extreme desire for self-preservation, a fear that, if you wait even a few moments for others to join you, you’ll delay your launch until it is too late, or swamp the boat with more people that it can safely keep afloat.
That’s being selfish.
None of that is happening when people refuse to accept safe, effective and free vaccines against COVID-19 and its many variants. Despite the bushwa spread by Fox News, Spotify and John Stockton, anti-vaxxers aren’t doing a single thing to preserve their own lives or those of their children. They aren’t dodging a bullet or avoiding an unreasonably onerous or painful ritual.
If those who refused the vaccine actually gained something by so doing, we might manage some sympathy for people whose behavior may cause others to get sick and die. Who are more likely to clog hospitals so that others can’t get emergency treatment, even as they work doctors to a frazzle and insult and threaten nurses. Who push other people’s businesses to close for want of staff. Who turn other families’ offspring into “Blade Runner”-style replicants, emotionally hobbled by being deprived of full childhoods.
Vaccines have been a normal and crucial part of human life for generations. They work. They’ve not only kept people alive, they’ve kept society and economies rolling ahead. They are arguably the single greatest scientific, social and humanitarian accomplishment in human history.
Those who not only won’t get vaccinated, but who also object to the kind of normal process to mandate vaccines as a minimal standard for all social interactions, protect neither themselves nor their neighbors. They take no stand for liberty or self-determination. They undermine the whole concept of civilization.
Utah, sadly, has more than its share of anti-civilization crusaders. U.S. Sen. Mike Lee and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes are among the most vocal opponents of federal vaccine mandates, not only for businesses but also for two places where vaccinations have long been routine, health care facilities and the military.
The Utah Legislature is moving to pass a bill that would deny private business owners the right to require vaccines of their staff or customers, in defiance of both our lawmakers’ usual deference to private business interests and common sense. The bill is about as reasonable as a law that would ban “Employees must wash hands before returning to work” signs. As smart as a law that would tell a boss he had to tolerate a worker’s embezzlement habit.
Vaccinations — against COVID, measles, flu and just about anything else we might come up with — are a happy occasion where the needs of the one, the few and the many all perfectly coincide.
Vaccination centers that were set up, and later taken down, at convention centers and football stadiums, were created in anticipation of surges of people doing both the selfish and the selfless thing, crashing ahead just as quickly as they could to be next in line for the jab.
That’s what our leaders reasonably expected to happen when the vaccines rolled out. Instead, we sit in a rut where only 28% of eligible Americans have received their third dose, and a state where only 63% of eligible people are double-dosed.
That’s appalling. And benefits no one.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, can sometimes prattle on so much that, in the words of Groucho Marx, he must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle.