A Sideways Glance with Richard Bogartz: Dear vaccine and mask haters

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Dear vaccine and mask haters, my better self wants to say to you, “Know that although I disagree with you, I also oppose those who spew venom at you. You are not stupid or villainous. Our biggest difference is that we trust different information sources. I see your recalcitrance as endangering lives. You see COVID vaccination-for-all as perhaps endangering yours and certainly threatening your freedom.”

Alas, Imp, my humor muse, instead says “Let’s rumble.” It’s hard to accept the claim, made by an anti-masker, reading “If God wanted us to cover our nose and mouth, he would have made us that way,” when she is wearing eyeglasses. Imp replies, “If God wanted us to take horse medicine, He’d have made us horses instead of horse’s asses.” It’s harder still, as Jacky Fleming indicates, to be “told that I have an ‘irrational fear’ of a deadly virus by people who freak out over immigrants, LGBTQ people, Brown people, Black people, working women, windmills, cellphone antennas, vaccines, electric cars, voting by mail, universal healthcare, environmental protections, and face masks.” Imp adds, if you’re pro-life and anti-vaccine, you qualify for the oxymoron of the year award.

If falsity is so delightful, perhaps we can cooperate in spreading more balanced rumors. Instead of claiming Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, prohibited receiving the COVID vaccine, let’s assure people that the vaccine makes lottery winning more likely, cures herpes, prevents flat tires, and aids digestion. Let’s tell them there’s preliminary evidence it protects against windmill-caused erectile dysfunction and cures insomnia. Surely, seniors will be happy to hear their Shingrix shots neutralize the nanochips that Bill Gates inserted into their COVID vaccine.

I hope we can reach a detente. Let’s find common ground. Perhaps we could start with some facts: 700,000 COVID deaths; 6,000 deaths following vaccine but only three attributable to the vaccine. Those three J&J vaccine deaths were from blood clots that are now treatable.

Perhaps other areas exist where we can unite. The first that leaps to mind is technological abuse. For example, I wonder who imagines I’ll be grateful when they interrupt my online news browsing with their ad that I, without looking, eliminate as fast as reflexes allow. They must believe: I’m delighted to begin reading a news blurb and have an ad explode in my face; this fills me with such joy that I will resolve to buy 24 of whatever is being advertised even before I know what it is; and I will revere the genius who realized that a sudden, shocking distraction will endear the reader to the distracter.

Perhaps you join me in wondering what a credit score measures if you can instantly raise it by joining Experian.

Perhaps you too suspect that soon we will have to provide 27 passwords, sign a nondisclosure agreement, and go to a dead drop under a park bench or a public locker to get our email?

Surely our common ground includes the auditory violence done by “music” we must listen to while holding the phone for 15 or 30 minutes, waiting for an answer that informs us they are unable to help. Or the phone message that instructs us to go to a website that gives us a phone number that responds by sending us to that very same website.

The phone response I love the most is “Due to unexpectedly high call volume you will be unable to contact us ever again.” Certainly, we can unite in condemning such callous evasiveness.

Can we agree that something is fundamentally wrong when: 2.5 million children are homeless in the U.S.; over 100 people a day are shot to death; Jimmy Carter could indicate in 2019 that this country, over its then 242-year history, has enjoyed only 16 years of peace, making it “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.”?

Yes, we have our differences, and if there was a button to change your mind, I confess I would push it. Yes, I’ve written this mostly to amuse those who agree with me. But also, there is enough for us to unite about, even if none of my proposals are right, that we should be able to stand together even as we differ.

Confession time: conscience says the above has all been mockery; ego, defending, says but there was heartfelt attempt to relate; but the little voice within that is never, ever, wrong says, naah, just an attempt at humor whatever the cost.

Richard S. Bogartz is professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.