To boldly think what no one has thought before.
I see a lot of back and forth between sides on whether or not people should be compelled in some way to take a COVID vaccine, or should be able to choose to decline the vaccine for any number of personal reasons. Here is what I’m getting out of the conversation:
There is one side advocating the vaccines.
There is another side advocating more caution or delay to see what possible side effects or longer-term consequences may result from the vaccine. This sides is saying, “if you want the vaccine, fine, you can get the vaccine.”
At the same time, the side advocating vaccines is saying, “it’s not enough if I just get the vaccine for me. You must get it too. You are not a good person if you do not get it, because you are still putting people at risk. Their blood is on your hands.”
Both sides have a point. How do you go about determining which side’s philosophy to adopt in a society that values both freedom and pluralism in the public square? Let’s think this through a little further.
At this point, the side advocating caution thinks, “Hmm, under the pretense of concern for the public good, I’m being shamed for not taking the vaccine. I’m very uneasy about that. I can imagine what will come next: I will be not only be shamed, but the other side will step over the line and justify the use of force on me to comply, all in the name of the public good. I will be forced into taking the vaccine against my will, or I will have to suffer some unhappy consequences.”
And that’s where the sticking point lies. Will the vaccine advocates use the power of the State to assert the authority to force people to take the vaccine? The problem with that is a slippery-slope issue: maybe the State is forcing a vaccine on people now, but what will be forced upon them later? For those of us who know some history, we see what the State has forced upon its people in the past.
The challenge of living in a pluralistic society is to understand how to accommodate the moral sensibilities and concerns of all its citizens in good faith. Which usually means that there cannot be a “one-size-fits-all” solution when it comes to public policy, such as a mandate that all citizens take a vaccine. (It follows, then, that private citizens should pause before engaging in shaming.)
If there is no mandate that all citizens take a vaccine (i.e., it’s legal for a citizen to elect not to take a vaccine), then no citizen should attempt to shame another citizen into a particular action. Shame is the gateway behavior to coercion, and coercion is the platform upon which dictators rise.
To be clear, I have decided on a personal level to take the vaccine as soon as it is available to me. I work for a large health care system, and part of my decision is based on my personal confidence in our leadership’s guidance and care for the whole staff. I have a measure of faith there.
But also, and more importantly, I don’t feel that my right to gather in public is any more important than another person’s right to do so. So if I fear someone may expose me to COVID, I do not demand that they either vaccinate or stay away. I simply leave or stay away myself. I cannot morally justify imposing my will on someone else that way, and to me, that is the most important consideration for the “public health;” certainly for the public good.
Contrary to the belief of some people, Democracy does not guarantee safety. It promises freedom. There are fates worse than death, and the loss of freedom is at the top of that list.