Part One: They Shoot, They Score
“You’re far too trusting.”
– Wilhuff Tarkin, Star Wars
If you hoped that the COVID-19 vaccines would have made the virus—or public policies relating to it—significantly less problematic by now, you were mistaken. One needn’t declare the vaccines garbage or poison to be disappointed in them. Meanwhile the legacy media, public health officials and the medical establishment across Canada strive more than ever to maintain a unified front through a manufactured consensus regarding the nature of the continuing crisis and what is to be done.
The enforcement of this artificial agreement is at odds with many citizens’ experiences, observations, and conversations, not to mention some heterodox professionals’ positions. Dr. Byram Bridle, for instance, from the University of Guelph—one of Canada’s most maligned and sidelined voices—has recently said, “there is an entire portion of our scientific and medical community that is being very aggressively censored right now. I think Canadians should be concerned about this. When in our history was it wrong for scientists and physicians, who are public servants—our job is to inform the public—since when do we shut down one arm of any debate, historically? That’s not healthy for Canadians.”
The authorities’ escalating recourse to duress perpetuates an ongoing crisis of trust. It implies that citizens’ questions are inherently immaterial, their concerns are irrelevant, and there’s no place for debating evidence. None of the faculties of mind that are distinctively human matter; people may be treated as mere bodies to be pushed around.
Some of our governments’ measures target the untrusting who can’t help but wonder what their leadership is feigning, hiding, or preparing; others ensure that even those who have been most trusting endure prolonged suffering while giving them someone to blame. It is reasonable to wonder how long these coercive measures will continue, or how far they may go as they continue to fail to reach their objective of ending COVID times.
Remember when we were told that we’d probably reach herd immunity around the time 70% of the adult population or so had rolled up their sleeves? I remain unsure how they expected to reach herd immunity using a treatment that does not provide immunity.
We all remember being told that the vaccines would grant us immunity, don’t we? Plenty of simplified pictorials and condescending cartoons told us so. “And now you’re immune!” People proudly declared that they took the shot to protect other people, adopting Facebook badges that smugly boasted “You’re Welcome!”
Now we know the vaccines do not confer anything like what most of us understand by immunity, nor were they ever designed to. They do not stop us from spreading the virus should we become infected, even to other vaccinated people. Furthermore, we are now informed we were never promised that they would prevent infection or transmission, leaving us to decide whether to trust our memories or the people whose claims assail them. Remember when we were told that we’d probably reach herd immunity around the time 70% of the adult population or so had rolled up their sleeves? I remain unsure how they expected to reach herd immunity using a treatment that does not provide immunity.
Were the experts mistaken or dishonest about their projections from the get-go? Apologists for the experts’ inconsistencies keep reminding us that the science is “evolving.” That fact doesn’t stop the authorities from championing absolute imperatives and strict exclusions based on knowledge that’s so much in flux.
Mainly, we’re now informed, the shot could reduce the risk of the worst outcomes if one becomes infected. It’s like a radically novel relatively untested synthetic gene-tech Theraflu that everybody is told to take in advance of illness. What protection it offers us collectively has apparently been compromised by its confrontation with variants. What protection it offers us individually wanes relatively quickly, too—as the prime minister knew it would before the rest of us did by pre-ordering so many boosters on our behalf. What foresight!
My favourite headline regarding boosters still comes from the Daily Mail on September 5, announcing, “Israel is planning to administer FOURTH Covid shot… as country battles wave of infections despite hugely successful vaccine rollout.” Oy, again with the shots already. If only the vaccines were as successful as the rollout.
Effectiveness-related issues are only the half of it. Not everything is rosy on the safety side of the equation, either. I don’t know what is worse—that these treatments have so many and so varied a list of adverse reactions, or that there seems to be no honest accounting of or for them, no transparent acknowledgement of or reckoning with them, and an awful lot of denial regarding them. All of this in combination with the lack of proper patient follow-up has among other things compromised the possibility of anyone giving informed consent to these treatments. “Hey, relax, guy” seems to be the main message we hear in response to any concerns regarding safety. The Ontario FAQ about giving the shots to teenagers distributed just before school started this fall is two pages of “Hey, relax, guy.”
One possible way to deal will all the discomfiting unofficial and anecdotal evidence calling safety into question is to cover one’s ears. “Na na na na na na, misinformation!” There are, however, so many anecdotes—I mean, there’s so much misinformation! Stories keep resurfacing no matter how hard social media platforms and message boards try to snuff them out for violating “community guidelines.” Meanwhile, we still have no knowledge of long-term risks, and could not have any, making it impossible to conduct satisfactory risk-benefit analyses. There are other hypotheses about broader safety concerns that I admit I cannot fully assess here. I do know that we’re pressing on anyway—full steam ahead, powered by hope and trust.
Someone’s decision to forego the injection is construed as deliberate malice or contempt for the well-being of others—pure selfishness—as if demanding that other people do something to themselves for one’s own safety is selfless.
We typically see people’s reasons for why they don’t trust, don’t want, or don’t need the shot reduced to a most uncharitable caricature. The government and media continue to imply that apart from simple yokel-bumpkinism, moral turpitude explains the preponderance of what they call hesitancy. Someone’s decision to forego the injection is construed as deliberate malice or contempt for the well-being of others—pure selfishness—as if demanding that other people do something to themselves for one’s own safety is selfless.
Apart from the people who were first in line, a significant proportion of people who took the shot did so unenthusiastically, and misery loves company. Having been maneuvered into doing something of uncertain benefit and unknown risk, they’re indignant that everyone else hasn’t followed suit. What, do you think you’re better than me? Among those who took the shot only because mandates compelled them will be some who will be glad to see others likewise compelled. Because fairness.
The reasons people have for being resistant are often familiar and mundane, not outlandish nor superstitious. Have you never had reason to distrust the media or mindbogglingly wealthy corporations? Have you never had reason to regret heeding a medical professional’s advice, suffered bad side-effects from a drug approved in the proper way within the regular timeframe, or known someone who suffered grave complications from their prescriptions?
That’s all in general, without raising the specific issue of those individuals whose personal circles include people whose health has taken a bad turn after trying these new vaccines, often with little recognition or subsequent assistance. Whenever someone says, “but I took the shot and I feel fine” as if that settles the issue, I’m reminded of all the people who have gone for an annual physical feeling well but left with an appointment for a biopsy, scan, or scope. We must hope that murmurings nowadays about reactivated viruses, surges in cancers, and other warning signs still in their infancy are all errors and lies circulated by charlatans.
Meanwhile, the Canadian legacy media seems dedicated to only telling Canadians which provinces are faring worst at what moment, and which premiers and public health authorities are to blame for that on account of not being authoritarian enough. These media outlets seem determined to refuse reporting on emerging information about the ways things are going in other countries should that information prove inconvenient or unsettling for the policies preferred here. They won’t report on those countries now ending their COVID times emergency measures while our provinces are ramping theirs up—although I’m sure that will change if Sweden suddenly gets hit by some novel variant. And they definitely do not want to draw attention to the violence being exercised by police powers elsewhere.
The origins of the virus remain obscure. It remains possible that it was designed as a bioweapon—whether by the People’s Republic of China or whomever, whether it was released deliberately or accidentally. Too many powerful parties are determined to ensure we’ll never know the truth.
As Canadians, we have been privileged not to have been the target of war during our lifetimes. If the virus were a weapon, however, it’s hardly inconceivable that its manufacturers could have designed it so that the remedy for it would be dangerous, too. That doesn’t involve supposing any malfeasance on the part of pharmaceutical manufacturers or the policy makers who signed sweetheart deals with them, only haste. A plan like that would involve thinking but one move ahead. That’s beginner’s-level chess.
So long as we don’t know the origins of the virus, that alone remains one perfectly valid reason to be wary of anything related to it. Choosing not to care about the unknown origins of the virus reminds me of how stupid the Jedi were for never really figuring out where all those Clone Troopers conveniently came from just when it became necessary to fight a war they weren’t expecting. That said, irrespective of whether the Chinese Communist Party was responsible for the virus, it looks like much of the world, Canada included, is progressively adopting something approximating their form of rule anyway without any shots needing to be fired.
Travis D. Smith is Associate Professor of Political Science at Concordia University in Montreal. He holds a PhD from Harvard University. His prize-winning dissertation, On the Generation of New Natures, 2005, examined the political meaning and significance of modern medicine. His publications in political theory include several contributions to the study of the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. In addition to his interest in issues at the intersection of politics, technology, and religion, he also teaches and writes on topics exploring the relationship between storytelling and education. In 2018, he published Superhero Ethics.
This is Part 1 of 3. Part Two will be published on Monday, October 18 here.