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When I grow up, I want to be a shrink

June 4, 2021

This is a post about stupidity. Or perhaps about how a cocktail of influences fatally skews the minds of people who are not ordinarily stupid to behave in stupid ways.

When I think about those who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID because they don’t want poison to be injected into their arms, I’m reminded of the infamous air crash near Madrid, in which a Colombian Boeing 747 plunged into the ground a few miles short of the airport because the pilots chose to believe an erroneous altimeter setting rather than the evidence of their own eyes and, more critically, the automated alarm that urged them to “PULL UP, PULL UP!” The last words of the pilot, preserved on the voice recorder, were alleged to be “shut up, you stupid gringo”.

Of course there is a difference between the split-second reaction of a pilot and a person who has all the time in the world and an abundance of evidence on which to make their decision. But there is surely also a difference between innate stupidity, if such a condition exists, and a stupid decision.

Antivax arguments range from improbable and paranoid (as in Bill Gates, microchips and world controllers) to logical (we don’t know the long-term effects, think thalidomide), ethical (the clinical trials were far shorter than normal, so we’re taking an unacceptable risk) and emotional (how dare you tell me what to allow into my arm?).

I prefer to focus on the poison argument, because that’s the one I’ve encountered in the real world. I don’t tend to socialise with people who believe in the Antichrist or contend that the world is ruled by half-men-half-lizards, so let’s disregard the wilder shores. But to refuse a medication on the grounds that it’s poisonous strikes me as perverse. After all, many of us ingest poisons every day: alcohol, paracetamol, tobacco, diesel fumes, animal flesh incinerated on barbecues. In small doses they may not kill us, but in sufficient quantities or over a sufficient period of time, they will. And we know it.

And then there are some of the extreme medications used to treat us when we have a life-threatening disease. How many of those who refuse vaccines on the grounds that they’re poisonous would refuse chemotherapy for their cancer, or not allow themselves to be bombarded by potentially lethal gamma rays?

As for the those who see a mass poisoning event, brought about by a global conspiracy, are they brave outliers who know something that we don’t, whose individuality and freedom of thought should be cherished and respected? Or are they just another cult whose adherents have disappeared down a rabbit hole and whose beliefs, against overwhelming evidence, threaten the safety and security of the rest of us? Whichever view you take, there seems to be a high level of scientific consensus that as long as COVID is allowed to spread, it will develop variants that will become steadily more effective in evading the vaccines that currently protect the vast majority of recipients.

Should we condemn them for being stupid, selfish and attention-seeking, or should we embrace them and seek to assuage the fear, if that’s the compelling emotion, that lies at the heart of their stance? Although condemnation is the easiest route, the alternative is unlikely to be more successful, because such is the multiplicity of information sources available to all of us that viral disinformation is far more effective than COVID at dismantling any defences that we can construct against it.

As is often the case, I fall between two stools. I think their behaviour is stupid. But I also think that their mindset needs to be categorised as a personality disorder and treated as such. It feels at the moment as though a good proportion of the world’s population is having a variety of simultaneous nervous breakdowns. But then again, perhaps that’s always been the case, but we’re only just noticing it. With so many people who haven’t fallen down rabbit holes nonetheless fretting about their mental health, you would think that this is a good time to be a shrink.

One wonders how our ancestors, who lived through famine, wars, economic collapse and any number of massacres, plagues and natural disasters actually survived without them and still managed to produce us.

From → Media, Politics, Social, UK, USA

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