The COVID vaccine divide. “Facts” are folly
When we engage with someone whose ideals oppose our ideals, it’s often not an engagement at all. We conclude we cannot win, so disengage and retreat to our tribe: The tragic psychological defense of confirmation bias prevails. We learn nothing, and neither do our adversaries. Labeling them hopeless, we are no less hopeless than they are. Hypocrisy.
Very often, what our opponent wants is the same thing we want: To be heard, and for the embodiment of our own autonomy to be respected. It helps them emotionally abide uncertainty when no certainty can be had. We deny them that hearing most often by defending our formulation of facts as superior to their facts and formulations into opinions and beliefs and ideals.
When it comes to our adversaries, we might call their facts falsehoods, so dismiss their formulations of their facts. We call them wrong. We uphold our alleged truths and deny theirs. And we’re frequently hypocrites, because our sets of facts and our formulations of those facts are as tenuous as theirs.
Our egos favor the laziness of certainty. And the simpler certainties are more favorable. Fundamentalism extends to human belief systems found far outside religious domains. We long to call our opinions/beliefs “facts.” Or true. Just like religious zealots.
Our craving for certainty may be no more evident than when appealing to scientific “facts.” On earth, apples fall downward. Gravity is fact. I am a scientist. Fact. But I’m also a human being with unconscious biases and motives. Fact. Just like every other human being. Fact. People in my tribe are not excluded from unconscious bias. Fact.
It is the job of a scientist or scientific group to consider the data and formulate conclusions. Whoa. Formulations are not the data. Formulations are not the facts. But laypeople are ill-equipped to digest the raw data, so the public looks to scientists for what it means. And opinions flow. They are expert opinions. But opinions nevertheless. NOT facts. Science has priests and prophets too! What comes from the mouths of religious priests and prophets are not the fullness of the Truth they represent. And what comes from the mouths of scientists and experts is not the fullness their data compose.
Do you see where this is going? We extend the certainty of the existence of gravity to other scientific matters, and that’s illegitimate. The science around pandemics and vaccines are a different realm. About those matters, we receive information from multiple sources. I want to trust Doctor Anthony Fauci, now a celebrity biased by fame he never sought. I want to trust the CDC, each human member of which feels the pressure of being a savior to return us to social normalcy (they are a public health service). I want to trust companies like Pfizer, J & J, AstraZeneca, etc. I use their products every day; not just drugs, but toothpaste, soap,…
“Science” in the realms of pandemics and vaccines has no crystal balls to predict the future. No certainty like falling apples. What will be the long-term effects on YOU of an infection? What will be the long-term effects on YOU of getting a vaccine? Doctors and scientists do their best to inform YOU with risks and probabilities so that you can make your own choices. But the doctor/scientist you listen to has already filtered information and chosen what they pass on to you, shaped by multiple layers of motives including fame, fortune, the pursuit of facts and truth, AND goodwill. Always mixtures, never certainties. And goodwill is always part of any of those mixtures.
Collectively speaking, do you think any pharma company wants to make a profit today which will be eaten up by disaster tomorrow? It happens, and it is sometimes caused by a malicious few; but I still use their soap and drugs. Not because I have to, but because that is my choice based on convenience that, for me, outweighs minuscule — not zero — risk.
Your choices collide with the choices of your opponents. But you cannot call your opponent wrong based on facts. And that is why you should listen to them as respectfully as you wish they would listen to you. Dont be lazy about respect if you wish to be respected. When you throw up your hands because “they” are wrong, you surrender your wish to be respected. Internal hypocrisy. Disengagement from your own uncertainty; psychological defense of your bias, and dis-integration to protect YOUR internal vulnerability and fear. Dys-function awaits.
When you berate an anti-vaxer, you strengthen their irrational biases. Have you considered that you are also strengthening your own irrational biases? You wish for certainty, just as they do, where none can be had. You are both pretending, not acknowledging reality. Are you both too small and weak to live in mortal reality? Don’t every one of us want someone to walk with us on our uncertain journeys? Don’t we want EVERYONE to walk with us that way? Be the change you want to see.
I believe the pandemic is an evolutionary force, like global warming and other environmental matters, globalism, and the potency of social media, all which underscore our connectedness more than our personal independence. American democracy and capitalism are experiments about balancing individual autonomy with collective interests which touch on our individual autonomy.
Our species has evolved an intricate brain larger than any other species, from which has emerged self-consciousness. Consciousness is absolutely a trait on which natural selection has acted. Tool use, language, and artistic expression are manifestations of the centrality of consciousness to our species.
At the heart of evolution and natural selection are random and spontaneous mutations which become selective advantages for individuals who have them, and for lineages which propagate them. Such mutations do not confer selective advantages, however, until changes in environment favor them. In such a new environment, individuals who lack the advantageous novelties are ordained to extinction so that the species survives.
Consciousness of the self is established as a trait in our species. Self interest may have brought us to this new environment in which we are all inextricably connected. Individuals who persist in an abundance of self interest (egocentric) are ill-equipped in this emerging global environment.
Self-consciousness conferred fitness for survival on our ancestors in our past world environment, but the environment has changed. That once-upon-a-time advantage is now emerging as a disadvantage for individuals who hold it and propagate it to their offspring.
Consciousness is still at the heart of our species, but collective consciousness is emerging as the selective pressure on our species, replacing the smallness of self consciousness. But, lest you liberal-leaning zealots get too excited:), evolution happens over many, many generations, and thousands if not millions of years.
Zealotry and fundamentalism will not serve the evolution of collective consciousness, because it simultaneously hardens zealots at the opposite pole.
An intrinsic wisdom of the American experiment is tolerance for the freedom of ideas. It’s also the wisdom promulgated by a Nazarene prophet: Loving mercy toward one’s self, one’s neighbors, AND one’s enemies. Be conscious of connections. More connection, not less, is the trajectory of humankind and kind human beings.
Neil D. 2021-05-13