Suddenly, as I read and heard (on the air) the prevailing stories centering on the persistent anti-vax movement in the news, I had two insights. I demur from calling them epiphanies, but they feel a little like that.
For one, it is clear that there is bipartisan approval of the proven and sometimes seemingly miraculous monoclonal antibody treatment as a desired clinical strategy for mitigating the severity of a Covid infection should it occur. Even people among the preponderant majority of non-vaccinated infected patients who still actively oppose even the idea of vaccination seek the treatment, if not demand it should it be medically warranted.
Combine this with the alternative lunatic list of preventative/cure therapies, going back to the former president’s endorsement of an array of treatments, including anti-malarial medication or common household bleach, and culminating recently in the current dangerous embrace of the equine version of a deworming medication. You have a clear pattern of behavior that suggests the basis of a hypothesis. Philosophically, clearly we are better disposed, those among us susceptible to the serious belief in the efficacy of clinical methodologies – after contracting the disease with sufficient virulence as to require active medical intervention – despite an equally serious, if not stronger, belief in the risk of equally well-proven scientifically valid preventatives in the form of vaccines.
Obviously, there are some among us (an alarming large number, actually) who are willing to swallow (literally) any strange, not to mention dangerous, shit, because we somehow have become disposed to believe in cures. But we persist (by “we,” I mean they) in having no faith whatsoever in the efficacy of prevention, and thereby circumventing the likelihood of ever requiring intervention, least of all medical.
It’s a strange qualified endorsement of science. The qualification is, it has definite limits.
The old adage is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Clearly, that has flipped, and in monetary terms, at least (not to mention efficacy as measured scientifically) the order of magnitude has multiplied, possibly astronomically. Have you looked recently at the cost of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine (to name just one) versus the cost of a single course of monoclonal antibodies? Let me help you refresh your recollection: As with the vaccine, the actual monoclonal antibody medication cost is absorbed by the government. Any cost associated with the antibodies as a treatment is for the services of the medical facility administering the infusion process. The uninsured cost can be in the tens of thousands of dollars, as much as $20,000. The vaccine is administered for free (just as a benchmark though, the agency that oversees Medicare expenditures allows $40 for each administration of the vaccine, that is, each time a shot is given, it’s 40 dollars paid by Medicare to the provider. The vaccine itself has a book value of one cent. The recipient pays nothing.
Proof (and mathematics) mean nothing. Philosophically, many of us are better disposed to believe in a cure than to believe in ensuring putting the odds in our favor of getting sick in the first place.
What might this mean? Even if I thought I knew or could figure it out, thinking out loud, I am sure there is not enough space here on this platform to explain it – my intuition tells me it would require a book, if not a series of peer reviewed studies. And then a book, to explain the studies.
So, that’s one insight. The other, related to the resistance to vaccination, raises questions about the nature of the philosophical foundation on which some of us build the rules of conduct of our lives…
Increasingly, it appears that any acceptable argument, legally, for refusing to comply with a vaccination mandate would be on the basis of religious belief.
What I learned today, from a news podcast focusing on the current status of this movement, is that, for one, for example, there is nothing, by preliminary general agreement, in Roman Catholic doctrine that constitutes an argument for the validity of such a justification for resistance and refusal. However – an argument, presumably a legal argument, is being formulated – it may be possible that, on an individual basis, an otherwise sincere believer in the Roman Catholic faith might, in an act of individual interpretation of some aspect of doctrine, refuse to be vaccinated. Indeed, to make things more complicated, and certainly to add to the complexity of sorting out any valid interpretation of behaviors that lead eventually – if they do – to legal confrontations, the Vatican has issued what quickly became a controversial endorsement of vaccination as a preventative measure. Catholics still have the right to make the case to their employers for opting out – that is, in the usual interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
If, in fact, as has been reported, there are no major religions that specifically interdict vaccination (though it’s in dispute, at least in the arena of internet debate, as to whether Islam should be included), I further learned, there are, in fact, bespoke religious solutions emerging, including new religions, like the one started by a 20-something self-styled “pop star cult leader from space” named, she says, Unicole Unicorn. According to the cult leader, “your personal reality is reality,” and that Unicult is a legitimate religion. Hence, if your personal reality within the context of this specific belief does not permit you to get vaccinated, you must be exempt.
The question comes up, even in the face of the stipulations of the civil rights of all citizens, because deliberately the Constitution, from the time it was first framed by the founders, avoids defining what constitutes a religion. Hence, the Constitution does not spell out what can be done about the “religious” claims of Unicult, because there is no definition of religion in the context of one’s freedom to believe as one chooses. Ms. Unicorn assures her listeners and adherents on TikTok that Unicult will provide the necessary documentation attesting to the religious exemption of any believer who refuses to be vaccinated.
The deliberate decision not to define religion stems from the prior decision to avoid any chance of any one religion becoming the sole defining authority on matters of belief, morality or religious practice. It also avoids setting up the courts as a platform for adjudicating what constitutes valid religious belief. In the legal realm framed by the Constitution, a religion cooked up yesterday by your neighbor has the same validity in law as some ancient established system of belief, like Judaism, or Islam, or Buddhism, etc.
Aside from the difficulty of getting the courts to adjudicate on a matter, “what is a religion officially?” that is, by definition, not defined by the foundation of our legal system, there is the problem of who to put in the position of making such judgments, especially in the case of laws that permit so-called religious exemptions to adherence. In many instances, as has happened already in the matter of vaccination, the decision is left up to the employer (which is why the mandate in President Biden’s order includes employers of more than 100 employees).
Now, what I am leading up to is the substance of my other insight – though it should really be expressed merely as the discovery of a conundrum regarding this matter. It’s a conundrum that has not only legal, but historical, ramifications.
While listening to the “On the Media” segment from its September 17 podcast, entitled “Why the Constitution Does Not Define Religion,”which is the basis of some of the foregoing commentary, I suddenly found myself thinking about another thorny issue, also a largely ethical problem and having to do with individual rights to act freely even in the face of unjust mandates – unjust on the basis of essential and fundamental questions of what does and what does not accrue harm to others as a result of an individual’s actions. I found myself thrust back in my mind to the 60s, when we were in the throes as a nation with conflicts among various segments of the population concerning a war, a literal war, in which our national defense forces were engaged overseas with armed forces defending their own countries and based on foreign soil. I am, of course, talking about the Vietnam War (or if you prefer, as they refer to it in Vietnam historically, as the American War).
The question in the 60s was about adherence to the mandates of one’s obligations as a male citizen over the age of 18 in submitting oneself to the requirements of Selective Service. That is, should one, if so ordered, enter the armed forces as a conscript and allow oneself to be trained for combat and then to serve actively as a combat participant in live action that could culminate in death or injury, including one’s own risk therein, to a human being.
The only out, save for legitimate medical exemptions that would constitute unfitness for active duty, was what was commonly known and referred to as conscientious objection.
For the sake of this particular discussion, let us consider what conscientious objection constitutes insofar as it may be understood as a religious basis for exemption. If one practiced, and could prove such practice as what is now understood as a condition of “sincerity” in one’s practice, a religion that interdicted doing harm to others (and, indeed, it is arguable that all Judeo-Christian doctrine has a basis in the rule that one should not do to others what one would prefer others did not do to oneself), one could claim a conscientious objection to participating in any combat role.
Now, the reason I bring all this up is because, as I recall, any adjudication as to not only the sincerity of one’s stated religious (or moral or ethical) belief and adherence, but also the application of such belief as being in conflict with the requirements of active service in a combat role, was performed by a local board of civilian volunteers. In the case of a conscript claiming a conscientious objection to serving in combat, or, in the extreme, to serving in the military in any capacity, he had to appear in person before the board and make his case convincingly that his moral, ethical, or religious beliefs were not only sincere, but strongly felt enough to constitute grounds for reclassification (if otherwise found fit for duty).
Let’s just say, it was devilish hard to “prove” a legitimate conscientious objection that was not on political grounds. There were not many. There may have been a greater number who ended up “migrating” to another country, usually Canada. Some ended up in prison, presumably for an insufficiency of sincerity.
Again, without getting into the vast and possibly limitless bounds of salient matters for discussion, whether the issue is getting vaccinated or getting issued a weapon and live ammunition and having the direction of the enemy pointed out, especially if one understands that all salient pathways inevitably lead to differences in political viewpoints, I have only something simple (or seemingly) to ask.
It seems obvious to me the difference in these matters. In the case of vaccination, compliance with the law, as defined by the mandate, represents a relatively small risk to oneself (measured by scientifically valid statistical methods) while ensuring increased safeguards to the entire populace; in the case of serving in combat, non-compliance with the laws of conscription represents a significant risk to oneself in terms of punishment and redress as meted out by agents of the state, while ensuring the individual will do no harm whatsoever to anyone else by not participating in acts of violence.
Yet, in the case of the latter, we were content through the course of most of the Vietnam War to leave decisions up to civilians not otherwise prepared, never mind trained or in the regular practice, to make the judgments required as to the applicability of profound and difficult ethical reservations, within the context of, at best, ambiguous and uncertain good deriving from forcing adherence despite those reservations.
In the case of the former, it is clear, even as the plague rages on, and people continue to be infected and to require hospitalization and to die from Covid at rates in some parts of the country almost as high as they have ever been in 18 months of pandemic, with no realistic end in sight, that we will leave the questions, finally, of the ethical obligations of the objectors to the courts, who might ultimately – and who knows when? – relinquish any claim to definition or jurisdiction. And we will be left, once again, with a judicially held point of view, obvious as so many other such observations on other aspects of the conduct of our lives in this country, that any hope of resolution is in the hands of the legislature. We should all live so long.
What I wonder is, have we progressed since the 1960s? Or should what has changed be called something else? Or, and this is a safe bet, has nothing changed really?