I like to think of myself as a reasonable guy. There’s a deadly pandemic and a bunch of elderly people last winter started dying from a new virus, or so we’re told. The scientists come up with a vaccine that’s about 90% effective in stopping elderly people from dying from this virus. Around 95% of Dutch elderly take this vaccine. That means the problem should now be over.
The virus returns next winter. More people get infected than last year. Alright, fine. I’m not asking for much. If the big problem that caused so many elderly people to die was a new virus that 95% of elderly are now vaccinated against with a vaccine that’s 90% effective against death, then I expect to see fewer people dying now. But here’s what we see:
You can see the black bar, for which the numbers from week 45 were released today. More people died in week 45 than did last year in week 45. The Dutch newspapers are saying we’re having so many people die, because most deaths from this new virus are now apparently somehow being recorded as non-COVID related. But that merely raises new questions: How are we supposed to trust the vaccine effectiveness estimates, if most COVID deaths now go unrecorded as COVID deaths? How do you measure the effectiveness of a vaccine against a cause of death you never recognize?
There is of course a long list of excuses we’re getting:
-There’s a new strain called Delta. Isn’t that the vaccine developer’s job, to make sure your vaccine actually works against the virus that infects us?
-People suffer delayed medical care.
-People are not socially distancing.
Of course everyone is eager to mention all the factors that might theoretically increase deaths. They’re also eager to ignore the factors that are supposed to be reducing deaths right now:
-Deadly winters are normally followed by mild winters, as the most frail elderly die.
-Many people should now have natural immunity from last winter.
-When people do get sick, we’re supposed to have gotten much better at treating this disease than last year.
But somehow, the most obvious explanation is taboo:
-Perhaps the vaccines are not saving lives.
It seems however that the vaccines are the one product that can’t fail. Are there any numbers that would lead people to admit that these vaccines have failed? Last week we had 850 more deaths than we’re supposed to have.
I can’t think however, of any number or statistic that would lead people to admit these vaccines have failed.
-If most people in the hospital are vaccinated, it’s because most people are vaccinated.
-If per capita vaccinated people were more likely to end up in the hospital, you would say that they changed their behavior in response to being vaccinated, or were overall in poorer health.
-If excess mortality is worse than last year, you will tell me that we have a new strain of this virus and people don’t socially distance anymore and we delayed medical care for sick people so they’re now dying.
So my question becomes: Speaking as an “anti-vaxxer right-wing populist anti-science conspiracy theorist”, what are the goal posts that I’m supposed to shoot the ball through? If I believe the vaccine doesn’t work, what sort of numbers or statistics would lead you to say “well you may have a point”?
It’s worth showing you Carl Sagan’s story about the invisible dragon:
“A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage”
Suppose (I’m following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!
“Show me,” you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle–but no dragon.
“Where’s the dragon?” you ask.
“Oh, she’s right here,” I reply, waving vaguely. “I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.”
You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.
“Good idea,” I say, “but this dragon floats in the air.”
Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.
“Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.”
You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.
“Good idea, but she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.”
And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.
Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.
The usual suspects enjoy using this story in response to people who believe in God. But if you believe in the effectiveness of these vaccines, I end up finding myself in the same position as you do when you’re faced with someone who believes in a God for whom he can offer you no evidence.
So I ask you: What’s the difference between a vaccine that doesn’t reduce excess mortality, doesn’t stop me from getting infected, doesn’t stop me from spreading the virus and doesn’t stop me from getting hospitalized with COVID, to no vaccine at all?
How exactly am I supposed to disprove the hypothesis, that this vaccine saves lives? The numbers we’re seeing right now, are the exact sort of numbers I would expect to be seeing if you had injected fifteen million people with some saline water.
Here’s a radical suggestion: If you were properly recording COVID deaths last winter, but now you’re not recording four out of five COVID deaths, to me that sounds like you’re covering something up. Vaccine failure after forcing it down our throats is the sort of scandal I would expect my government to cover up.
At this point, we reached the stage where people have locked in their beliefs. Most people are not going to change their minds anymore in response to any new information. If next week we record 2000 excess deaths, most people you speak to will tell you “it would have been even worse without the vaccines”!
Again, if you disagree with me, if you think I’m supposed to roll up my sleeve and get this vaccine, I’m eager to have you tell me: What sort of evidence would change your mind? I accept that you think “the antivaxxers are evil and wrong”, but what sort of evidence would lead you to suddenly change that opinion?
For the record, I don’t think most people are going to change their opinions, unless some external factor forces them to change their opinion. If something causes a vast overnight consensus shift, most people will move along with that consensus shift, but there isn’t really anyone in a position of power with an interest in such a consensus shift, so I doubt the consensus shift will happen anytime soon.
To demonstrate my point, imagine the worst of the worst “conspiracy theories” were correct: This vaccine doesn’t protect against the virus. Rather, it starts to kill a bunch of people through blood clots and this winter we see a massive wave of deaths, comparable to the 1918 Spanish flu, because the vaccines cause antibody dependent enhancement.
What would the media tell you?
-The vaccines still protect people, as evidenced by higher death rates among the unvaccinated elderly. They won’t tell you that the only unvaccinated elderly left are too sick and frail to receive these vaccines.
-There is a new more dangerous strain of the virus, against which the vaccines have reduced effectiveness. However, the vaccines still provide some protection.
-There is a sudden surge in people dying from blood clots. This is caused by delayed medical care, complications from long haul COVID and lack of physical activity from the lockdowns. Young people have also started using more drugs in response to boredom, so this also contributed to a rise in blood clots.
-The reason this new more dangerous strain could evolve is because we haven’t reached herd immunity. We haven’t reached herd immunity yet because of people who didn’t get vaccinated, as well as people who got vaccinated but didn’t hurry up to get their boosters. This allowed case rates to remain high, which allowed new more dangerous strains to evolve.
-Yes, unvaccinated people seem to be doing fine during this wave, but that’s not because this wave is caused by the vaccine. Rather, the sort of people who refuse to get the vaccine are at relatively low risk from COVID, which is what makes them vaccine hesitant in the first place. They also tend to take more safety precautions and our government has succeeded in protecting them against this virus by banning them from nightlife, gyms and other places where people get infected.
-If we could have convinced the 15% of anti-vaxxers to take these vaccines, cases would have dropped down to nearly zero. This would have prevented this more dangerous strain that killed so many people from coming into existence.
And most people would swallow this bullshit. Even the most extreme expression of vaccine failure, a case where the vaccine makes the virus more dangerous, can easily be fitted into a narrative of the vaccine working as intended. Anything that happens, can be fitted into the narrative of this vaccine working. Evidence that the vaccine doesn’t work, can always be blamed on those of us who didn’t take the vaccine.
There is no evidence that you or me can give to people, that will change their minds.
And remember, this matters, because you’re being accused of a crime you didn’t commit. Most people you encounter on a daily basis, are people who genuinely believe that you and me are responsible to some degree for murdering other people. Because we didn’t get these vaccines, we’re held responsible for spreading a deadly virus.
It doesn’t matter that the only country that consistently reports the numbers, the UK, has been showing for weeks that vaccinated people are more likely to test positive for this virus than unvaccinated people. It doesn’t matter that all the available evidence shows that vaccine resistance evolves in people who got these vaccines, that unvaccinated people like you and me are in fact the only people left who discourage vaccine resistant variants from coming into existence.
Because guess what’s happening? You’re living in a Kafka novel now. You’re held responsible for a crime you didn’t commit. There is also no level of evidence that will ever convince people you didn’t commit the crime. They will never outright say that you can’t deliver them any evidence that will change their minds. That’s part of the game. You’re on trial for a crime you didn’t commit. You show up to court with evidence to defend yourself, but the evidence is refuted or reinterpreted as evidence of your crime. You’re allowed to sit out your sentence at home and every once in a while you can return and try in vain to defend yourself again, only to suffer the same response once more.
And that’s damaging for your mental health. It’s not good for your mental health, to live in a society that constantly accuses you of a deadly crime you never committed. They’re probably not going to force you to get vaccinated however. Austria will probably remain an exception to the rule. Why is that? Because there is nothing traumatized and stressed people enjoy more than having a scapegoat. Deep down they’re thankful to you.
Why were the Jews never exterminated in Europe, despite being hated for centuries? Why were poor whites in the USA stopping free black people from emigrating to Africa? Because people enjoy not being at the bottom of the social pyramid themselves. If you’re willing to be at the bottom of a social hierarchy, people aren’t going to stop you. They’re going to hate you, because they don’t have the strength themselves, but they won’t stop you.
I think what’s happening to society now is something that was explained by a French philosopher of religion, René Girard. I quote:
In Girard’s psychology, internal mediation and metaphysical desire eventually lead to rivalry and violence. Imitation eventually erases the differences among human beings, and inasmuch as people become similar to each other, they desire the same things, which leads to rivalries and a Hobbesian war of all against all. These rivalries soon bear the potential to threaten the very existence of communities. Thus, Girard asks: how is it possible for communities to overcome their internal strife?
Whereas the philosophers of the 18th century would have agreed that communal violence comes to an end due to a social contract, Girard believes that, paradoxically, the problem of violence is frequently solved with a lesser dose of violence. When mimetic rivalries accumulate, tensions grow ever greater. But, that tension eventually reaches a paroxysm. When violence is at the point of threatening the existence of the community, very frequently a bizarre psychosocial mechanism arises: communal violence is all of the sudden projected upon a single individual. Thus, people that were formerly struggling, now unite efforts against someone chosen as a scapegoat. Former enemies now become friends, as they communally participate in the execution of violence against a specified enemy.
Girard calls this process ‘scapegoating’, an allusion to the ancient religious ritual where communal sins were metaphorically imposed upon a he-goat, and this beast was eventually abandoned in the desert, or sacrificed to the gods (in the Hebrew Bible, this is especially prescribed in Leviticus 16).The person that receives the communal violence is a ‘scapegoat’ in this sense: her death or expulsion is useful as a regeneration of communal peace and restoration of relationships.
However, Girard considers it crucial that this process be unconscious in order to work. The victim must never be recognized as an innocent scapegoat (indeed, Girard considers that, prior to the rise of Christianity, ‘innocent scapegoat’ was virtually an oxymoron; see section 4.b below); rather, the victim must be thought of as a monstrous creature that transgressed some prohibition and deserved to be punished. In such a manner, the community deceives itself into believing that the victim is the culprit of the communal crisis, and that the elimination of the victim will eventually restore peace.
Does this remind you of something?
Society has gone to shit. Young people can’t go to parties, old people are dropping dead. Stock markets have hit record levels, but most of us have grown poorer and houses have become unaffordable. People are very stressed out, drug overdose deaths hit record levels and mental health services have waiting lists. The problem can’t be solved, so what do people want? They want someone they can blame. They want a scapegoat.
And because nobody wants to think of themselves as the bad guy, they want to be able to think of their scapegoat as truly evil. And so they decide: You, through your selfish refusal to stop spreading a deadly virus, are truly evil. They don’t consciously recognize that this is irrational, that all the evidence suggests this vaccine does not work.
If YOU are the scapegoat, people who would otherwise now be fighting each other can live in peace. Millions of people are dead. Scientists were experimenting with dangerous viruses in Wuhan. The vaccine we received seems to be killing people too. Everyone is supposed to be at each other’s throat right now. People are supposed to be angry at their government, they are supposed to be angry at the scientists who experiment with these viruses. We’re supposed to witness the war of all against all.
But we don’t, because everyone now has a convenient scapegoat for all of this: People who don’t get the vaccine. This is the perfect scapegoat, because the scapegoat will never be able to prove his innocence. The scientists can come up with a really good story about a pangolin that had sex with a bat within walking distance of the Wuhan institute of Virology and you would have no way to prove them wrong, because their incestuous community of virologists will bail each other out as all of them have blood on their hands.
The unvaccinated on the other hand? They’re working class people, eccentrics, the disenfranchised. They have no tools to defend themselves against these allegations. When they do try to defend themselves against the allegation of spreading a deadly virus, they will not be believed, because they are “not virologists” after all.
Society needs a scapegoat to avoid social instability. In the absence of a scapegoat, we would witness anger against scientists, anger against Chinese people, anger against the young who continue to party, anger from the youth against the elderly andsoforth. It would be the war of all against all. With the vaccination campaign, a society creates for itself a perfect scapegoat, a social pariah who receives all of society’s anger, frustration and hatred.
Ultimately however, scapegoating leads to the great reversal: When the scapegoat is sacrificed, the irrationality of the whole persecution becomes clear and the scapegoat is subsequently deified:
According to Girard, the scapegoat mechanism brings about unexpected peace. But, this moment is so marvelous, that it soon acquires a religious overtone. Thus, the victim is immediately consecrated. Girard is in the French sociological tradition of Durkheim, who considered that religion essentially accomplishes the function of social integration. In Girard’s view, inasmuch as the deceased victim brings forth communal peace and restores social order and integration, she becomes sacred.
At first, while living, victims are considered to be monstrous transgressors that deserve to be punished. But, once they die, they bring peace to the community. Then, they are not monsters any longer, but rather gods. Girard highlights that, in most primitive societies, there is a deep ambivalence towards deities: they hold high virtues, but they are also capable of performing some very monstrous deeds. That is how, according to Girard, primitive gods are sanctified victims.
In such a manner, all cultures are founded upon a religious basis. The function of the sacred is to offer protection for the stability of communal peace. And, to do this, it ensures that the scapegoat mechanism provides its effects through the main religious institutions.
The question to ponder is whether this will happen to the unvaccinated scapegoat too. I want to show you my graph again:
If you look at this, you can see my point illustrated, that unvaccinated healthy young people are an immunological reservoir, that prohibits the spread of vaccine resistant variants. Once we run out of unvaccinated healthy young people, the vaccine evading variants will be able to become dominant. This will not be immediately admitted. It will become obvious however once the immediate crisis is over and we can look in an emotionally detached manner at what has happened. It will become clear that the catastrophe was caused by forcing these vaccines onto young people.
After this is over the unvaccinated people will serve a number of purposes. Their blood will be used to restore immune competence in vaccinated people. In addition, they will serve as a useful control group, who can be used to prove what these vaccines have caused. This then likely leads to the next response that is generally the ultimate outcome for society’s scapegoats: Deification.