American disunity at a critical time

Please remember my comment policy. Also, I’ve slightly revised this post to remove some language that might have been taken as condescending toward people who don’t share my views — that was fully unintentional. I also changed controversial phrasing “for the common good” to “taking care of each other,” which better captures my intent.

I’ve been masking up again when inside public spaces. I’m doing it because of news reports that vaccinated people like me are still able to carry the virus, especially the Delta variant. But when I wander masked around the grocery store, most people unmasked, it feels much more like a symbolic gesture and a statement of my beliefs.

While I was on the Ride Across Indiana I forgot to bring a mask, which wasn’t the end of the world because I was entirely alone the vast majority of the time. However, I did eat breakfast and dinner inside restaurants. Also, when I got that flat tire and in the repair lost the nut and bolt that secures my coaster brake, I did walk into a hardware store for a replacement. Even then, I was reasonably certain I wasn’t making anyone sick, because I had this:

The week before my Ride Across Indiana, I felt exhausted and I had a stuffy nose. It was bad enough that I took a full day and a couple partial days off work that week. I got a COVID test and, thankfully, it came back negative.

I think I was just suffering from stress. Work has been a skull crusher lately. I wasn’t fully recovered when I started the Ride Across Indiana, but I pressed on anyway. But I’m not here to write about work or the ride. I’m here to write about the new COVID spike in Indiana.

Source:, September 8, 2021


News organizations across Indiana are calling this “the Delta spike,” which seems fair. I’ve heard government leaders call it “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” which is pithy and sure sounds like it oughta be true. Yet in Indiana, vaccination rates have stalled:

That represents just over 3 million fully vaccinated Hoosiers, when the state has 6.7 million residents. Less than half of us are vaccinated.

Some of my connections on Facebook have ranted against the stupidity of the unvaccinated. Some of them have pointed their fingers squarely at the conservative media machine that’s feeding them the talking points they’re using to justify their anti-mask and anti-vax positions. But who on this side of the mask/vax fence is trying to understand where they’re coming from, and to build bridges to them?

Last Saturday morning as I prepared for the last day of my Ride Across Indiana, I had breakfast in a truck stop restaurant. Truck stops and and Waffle Houses are my secret pleasure when I’m on the road!

This large restaurant had just four people in it: the cook, the waitress, me, and a fellow the waitress chatted up so familiarly that he must have been a regular. They spoke at length of the vaccine and all of the reasons they wouldn’t take it. They repeated all of the talking points from conservative media, sometimes even in their own words. But it was easy to tell that they very much enjoyed these common beliefs and the feeling of a bond, of being on the same team, that they created.

The waitress said that she was in nursing school, close to graduation, but that she was unemployable because she wouldn’t be vaccinated. She also said that her mother, also a nurse, faced losing her job at a big hospital in Indianapolis because she wouldn’t take the vaccine either. The waitress and the fellow lamented the sad state of personal freedom in this country.

I was relieved that they never asked my opinion. I’m not sure what I would have said, as I couldn’t disagree with them more and wasn’t interested in an argument. It’s not about personal freedom, it’s about us taking care of each other. I seriously doubt their assertions that these vaccines are insufficiently tested, that they’re insufficiently effective, and that they can be deadly. I don’t fancy myself an expert in immunology or vaccine science, but in the end I have more faith in the CDC than I do in conservative media or in hearsay — even hearsay from people I trust.

What seemed clear to me, however, was that these two people believed that they couldn’t trust their government, and that they felt like the side of all of this that I’m on are alien to core American values.

I’m not sure I can trust my government, either, but I do not believe agencies like the CDC to be meaningfully corrupt. Therefore, I choose to have faith in the CDC’s guidance. And I think that American values need to expand beyond personal freedom to caring for each other. But therein lies the divide.

How did we get this way as a country? More importantly, how do we find out way back to unity? Even more importantly, what are you doing to encourage it? I worry that this fracturing of our national unity could well be our undoing as a nation, and how we lose our primary world power status to China in the coming years.

Regardless of which side you’re on, we all need to build bridges.


66 responses to “American disunity at a critical time”

  1. matt Avatar

    “It’s not about personal freedom, it’s about the collective good.”

    If there is no individual security, then there is no “collective good”. Collective good is a term that despots, dictators and tyrants use to shame or force their agenda down the throats of people who would rather be left alone. It’s a term that immediately sets alarm bells ringing when I hear it.

    Nothing will ever convince me that a group of people will be able to make decisions for me or my family better than I can myself.

    You despise? denigrate? look down on? these “common” people for their views from “all of the talking points from conservative media” yet you outline an example of exactly why people who question the Official Narrative might question the efficacy of a vaccine: “vaccinated people like me are still able to carry the virus”. They’ve heard the vaccine is the ticket to freedom — something the government does NOT get to hand out as it sees fit; yet two or three months later, the lock downs/masks/illegal repression of freedoms are back like a nasty STD. Whatever “conservative media” there happens to be, it is a minor segment of the Leftist Propaganda Machine that pathetically passes as ‘journalism’ in the country/world now.

    Frankly I couldn’t care less if you get vaccinated, wear a mask or a level 4 MOPP suit — that’s your call. The problem is the same freedom of choice — something leftists are only selectively in favor of — is never given to anyone who disagrees with them. This is the so-called “collective good”.

    We are going to disagree on political topics, that’s obvious to me. I’m asking sincerely: Do you think this sort of commentary is reaching out in good faith to those of us who don’t hold your religious viewpoints?

    I don’t disagree that bridges need to be built; but those of us on the more conservative side of the issues aren’t usually the ones burning them down.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m sensing some hostility here. Also, I take umbrage to you calling my viewpoints religious. You don’t know me and where I’m coming from. I ask you to accept that I offered my comments here in good faith seeking to find at least a way to agree to disagree but remain friends.

      1. matt Avatar

        Jim, I know you and I are on opposite ends of political ideology. Though no hostility is intended, I’m not surprised you sense it. It’s been my observations that people on the Left in general become defensive/offended when any viewpoint other than The Narrative is expressed… But I do think you, specifically, are actually interested in an agree-to-disagree detente.

        It’s not about feelings for me: I’m truly not invested in changing your mind or forcing you to see my position. I have no expectations of doing so; and frankly, politics isn’t why I follow your blog. I usually ignore the political stuff because I don’t expect any discussion — including this one — will be fruitful or productive.

        In this case, I’m submitting the view of someone similar to those you seemed to be looking down on because they don’t think the way you do. Which is why I used quotes from your post to make my points — the words you used to describe the people in the truck stop did not come across as neutral, they came across as condescending. Now text is an inflectionless medium, and therefore unreliable at best in conveying intent; perhaps I’m reading condescension in your tone where it wasn’t intended.

        Irrespective of our differing views, unless you prefer I stop following your blog, I’m fine to disagree and remain friendly.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I appreciate you leaving this feedback about how my post came across. I might spend some time later rewording it because the absolute last thing I want to come across is condescending.

          I started out as a conservative. However, I have moved much more toward the center as I’ve gotten older. I don’t consider myself to be on the left — there are left positions that frighten the bejabbers out of me.

          I would be pleased if you’d continue to hang out here.

          1. matt Avatar

            Well there we can agree: there are positions on the Left that frighten the bejabbers out of me as well.

            I describe myself as politically conservative and socially libertarian. The government has a strict limitation of powers it can rightfully/legally wield. Shutting down businesses and describing people as ‘essential’ or ‘non-essential’ isn’t one of them. Every business is essential to those who own or rely on them. (This is an example of the collective hurting individuals, by the way). And personally, I have problems with the labels themselves: who’s to say there won’t eventually be a point where those deemed non-essential aren’t eradicated? (Look up the Obsolete Man episode of the Twilight Zone… seems appropriate for this discussion).

            I’m please to be allowed to stay. When I see you’ve liked a post/photo of mine, I get a little thrill since you’re like a “real photographer”. Makes me think I’m starting to get the hang of film (though every time I think that, I get schooled on something else). I’ll also work on the wording of my responses; though I’m direct and tact-light, I never intend to cause hostility or elicit offense.

        2. Jim Grey Avatar

          I describe myself as financially classically conservative but socially left of center, though not full on liberal.

          Gosh, you consider me a “real photographer.” I just think of myself as a fellow amateur and learner.

    2. Abdul Avatar

      We’re seeing more and more hospitalizations of the unvaccinated. In some places there’s no issue, however, in many other places this comes with a burden on the healthcare system. That’s not freedom – it’s an imposition, and in some cases a sentence, where the vaccinated who need medical attention for non-COVID reasons have to wait at their own peril to receive the care they need. Therefore, collective good has little to nothing to do with the government or the media in this context. It’s simply being a thoughtful neighbor, and thoughtful member of the community. If the unvaccinated don’t want to get vaccinated, then they shoulder the burden of not getting sick – and unfortunately they’re not doing a very good job of that in many places.

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        Thank you Abdul – you framed this better than I could.

      2. matt Avatar

        See, Abdul, you can change the label, but it doesn’t change the result. You’re still justifying the tyranny over the individual whether you call it the ‘collective good’ or ‘being a thoughtful neighbor’.

        Imagine you live on a street with five other houses, all owned by the respective occupants. Five of the six of you all maintain your places and keep them pristine; but one doesn’t — he has cars on the overgrown yard and generally doesn’t keep his place as nice as everyone else’s. Is he allowed to do this or should he be forced to keep his place as nicely as you do yours? What lengths are you allowed to go to ensure his compliance? This is the fundamental problem with your approach. Sure this neighbor isn’t being thoughtful, but the group doesn’t have any right whatsoever to force him to comply with his own property.

        If the situation were reversed: Five poorly-maintained houses and you were the only one in a pristine place… what then? Is the collective allowed to force you to run down your property?

        I know it’s a somewhat spurious example, and I don’t expect you to change your mind based on that. Attributing no malice, I’m simply laying out an example of the kind of thought process you seem to exhibit.

        There’s no justification too extreme for those with tyrannical intent.

        1. Abdul Avatar

          Matt, I appreciate your example and candid response and I see where you’re coming from. My best friend is unvaccinated and he has very similar attitudes. I want to ask you something that I asked my best friend, which I did not receive a very convincing response. Perhaps I can better understand your perspective.

          It’s apparent to me you value liberty, which is natural and honorable. How do you reconcile the liberties that government already limits, regulates, or has outright taken away (e.g. it’s required to wear a seatbelt). In principle, the two are very similar issues. However, in one case one seems like a no-brainer, while the other is heavily challenged. In short, where do you draw the line for tyranny?

          1. matt Avatar

            Hi, Abdul, I don’t know if this answer will be any more satisfying/convincing a response than the one you got from your friend, but I’ll give it a go. And I’m making the assumption you live in the US too.

            Ideally, the government you and I should be most concerned with is the local government. Local government is designed to be accountable to us directly as voters and residents. This is where we should see the use of our tax dollars, and that sort of thing. It can be as granular as you like, but lets say the city/town you live in is the closest government to you.

            Now if you, as a resident of that city, allow your city government to enact tyrannical measures on its residents, that’s entirely up to you. Knock yourself out. But that decision isn’t binding on anyone outside your town.

            The federal government is supposed to be subject to the states: the 10th amendment to the constitution places all powers not explicitly given to or prohibited to the federal government in the hands of the states. The purpose is simply to keep “the power” in the hands of the people.

            So to greatly oversimplify an answer to your question: the federal government shouldn’t have the power to dictate anything outside its explicitly-granted powers to anyone.

            Government exists to serve the will of the people, at least by design; it’s obviously become an abominable hydra of bureaucracy and BS in the last couple hundred years.

            Something like seat-belt regulations should — again, simply put — be a matter for cities or states to enact by action of the citizens. Meaning, the government should come to the people hat in hand and humbly ask, in the form of a vote, “Can we enact this regulation?”

            But as the federal (or state or local) government becomes more oppressive and steps outside the bounds of its limitations (and the more the people allow this to happen) the more the government stops asking and starts demanding or threatening. And it’s in this situation that we find ourselves.

            I hope that helps you understand my position; as I said, I’m not sure it’s any more satisfying to you than your friend’s answer.

            Something else to consider is the lens you’re viewing things through. Using your example, seat belts have not always been standard or required equipment on cars; it wasn’t until the 60s that it’s been required for cars to have them. Even though there are laws on the books to require their use, in many states that’s not a ‘primary offense’: one that can be used to pull someone over and issue a citation.

            Frankly, it shouldn’t be. Whatever the Thing is (seat belts, motorcycle helmets, smoking, whatever) is a matter of personal responsibility. Our courts are full of lawsuits brought by people who don’t want to take responsibility for their actions and/or stupidity. This is getting convoluted and less academic, but it’s not like companies should be exempt from taking responsibility; but in this country, it’s become almost a way of life.

            A lot of what we’re seeing with the current hysteria is this avoidance of responsibility. Believe it or not, I can see the value in guidance (not edict, but suggestion) of “two weeks to flatten the curve”. But if no one complied, there should be no retaliation. And once the ‘corpses in the streets, mass graves, Stephen King’s The Stand Fur Really Real’ scenario failed to materialise, that should’ve been the end of it. Those who were vulnerable take precautions if you want to; everyone else get on with your life.

            I’m going to stop now; Jim probably won’t appreciate his comment section turning into a debate! But thanks for your question and being willing to ask. I do understand the concerns you all have — but I think most of the fear has been deliberately packaged and sold with nefarious ulterior motives behind it.

            Cheers, Abdul.

        2. Jim Grey Avatar

          For the record, as long as the comment section remains free of personal attack and unkind speech, I’m good with whatever’s said here.

    3. tbm3fan Avatar

      Personal freedoms have their limitations and I can name numerous limitations we all live with and have for a very long time and never think twice about them.

      I love the leftist part seeing as how this country has a far greater right wing lean to it (always has) and easily a third of this countries population would be quite comfortable with a fascist government also for quite some time. Being centrist I fear not a socialist government but a fascist government I have seen all the hallmarks here for the creation of one when I look back over all the others in past history and their starts. I kid you not.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        Ditto T3, I think it’s time for many to read “Twilight of Democracy” by Anne Applebaum. Lots of examples of fascist and authoritarian types taking over democracies currently in Europe. I never fear modern socialism, and identify with “Sewer Socialists” (google it, it’s a long German tradition). I absolute fear the people that tried to take over the capitol, and push their fascist “beliefs”. These are people that listen to the radio and think people are having sex with babies in the basement of a pizza parlor on Capitol Hill! (and this is better than normal media…how?) Koo-koo, koo-koo… AND, not rational, and unable to have a ration conversation. Hey, even Ayn Rand collected Social Security!

        If you don’t believe in the “community good”, leave the community all together; don’t get my friends sick, and my friends kids that can’t have a vax yet!

    4. Khürt Williams Avatar

      If you come to my house and I say you can’t enter unless you’re vaccinated, have I taken away your personal freedom?

      If your boss says, don’t come to work unless you’re vaccinated, you have the freedom to find another job.

  2. retrocrank Avatar

    To this and your previous post: We need more people to take more bike rides. 30-50 mile days on upright and comfy bicycles that do not require Spandex and speed. It would be good for human health, awareness of surroundings and other people, and give people time to reflect on some of the nonsense spewed from all points on the political spectrum. As far as I know, the monsters in history are always fed by despair, whether that’s starvation, economic hardship, or utter disregard for tradition. We don’t have the first here – yet – but plenty if the other two.

    BTW I just got my 3rd dose….I agree that vax is the lesser of two evils.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I worry about us crossing into despair.

  3. seatacphoto1951 Avatar

    I am not sure vaccination rates and political affiliation are tied together as closely as people think they are.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m having a little trouble deciphering the graphs at that link. Can you break it down?

      1. seatacphoto1951 Avatar

        Let you mouse hover over the data for each group and you will see the percentage rates, whether (according to color) they are vaccinated, will get vaccinated, or will not get vaccinated. I agree with you that the chart is poorly done. The CDC is not making it easy with the information. The group most vaccine friendly are Asians. The data also shows the age response to the vaccine. The differences in the rural and urban data is interesting. Different vaccine hesitancy rates is what we would expect from different groups. People react to medical issues differently and we must come to accept that. I have received a flu shot for the last 22 years, but I know people who will never get it.

    2. tbm3fan Avatar

      Really are you sure it is that or is it something else. I happen to have a patient for whom I have tremendous amount of respect for. He is extremely intelligent and smart. He is also your traditional conservative like George Will. He went to Cal Tech and got his advance degree in physics. In the end he became a CFO of a top Silicon Valley firm. Engineers would come by asking for money and he would say tell me about it. They would say you wouldn’t understand and he said try me.

      When he came in the second week of June, like always for the last 20 years, I asked him he he was vaccinated and he said yes. He then went on into how he completely research the vaccines, read the scientific reports, and came to his conclusion as to which he would take. The difference between him and others we see here is that 1. he understand science well, 2. he knows how good studies are set up, and 3. he knows how to read them and understand them like me. Neither him nor I take what some mouth says on TV but instead go looking for the well designed studies. The science of the Covid virus is still evolving and will for a long time while the efficacy of the vaccine to prevent serious illness and safety (no vaccine is 100% safe) are now known.

      1. seatacphoto1951 Avatar

        I appreciate and agree with you to some extent. I know of people who are liberal and have been to college but still find reasons to refuse the vaccine. The evidence both of us have provided is anecdotal but does provide insight.

        1. tbm3fan Avatar

          I just had a Nurse Practitioner, from San Francisco General (aka Zukerberg San FRancisco General) and we discussed medicine and medical providers. She couldn’t understand doctors saying the vaccine was a complete waste among other thoughts. I felt their license should be revoked but we both know how hard that truly is. She also related that about 10% of the nurses have refused the vaccine and don’t even want to take a weekly test instead.They have asked the Union to intercede for them with the City. Mandate is one or the other or leave. The reasons these nurses give can be traced right to what they read on social media. How someone intelligent enough to be a nurse can then believe the opposite is hard to fathom. My opinion for them was the same as for others in the medical field. If you can’t trust evidenced based well designed controlled studies, supposedly using your rigorous scholarly mind, then you don’t belong in medicine.

  4. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    The idea that “alleged” medical professionals are “anti-vax” is one of the great mysteries of the era. Can uninformed, inaccurate, non-fact based right wing “infotainment” radio actual set precedence over their medical education? How deep IS their medical education, or is it on the low level of the medical food chain, is it just enough to empty bed pans, take blood pressure, and give shots now for a certain segment of the medical industrial complex? I understand none of this.

    I told someone the other day that I have “pandemic fatigue”, and they said: “…yeah, I’m tired of wearing the mask too…” And I replied, “…you don’t get it…” what I’m tired of is being bombarded on the media by constant stories of the anti-vaxxers and their “ideas”. How many more times do people need to see anti-vaxxers in their hospital beds, literally an hour away from dying, begging people to get vaccinated? I’m personally over it. I have both Pfizer “jabs”, I wear masks everywhere, and I’ll get the third booster in October when it’s available for me; and I really don’t care what happens to anyone not on board, how much begging do we need to do?

    I read recently that medical insurance companies are deciding not to cover hospital stays for people who have no legitimate reason for not getting the VAX, and didn’t, and became sick. Hey, for the same reason Evil Kniveal couldn’t get insurance, or your car insurance company won’t cover it if you get into your car and decide to use it as a weapon.

    Jim, you are on-board with a lot of the media! I’ve recently been reading a lot of stuff in the NYT and other magazines like Harpers and the Atlantic, on trying to understand how an entire segment of society can decide they’re getting their “info” from so many less than accurate channels, and actually believe it.

    I really mean I’m kinda done, tho. Last comment on this subject for me. Let the cards fall were they may. BTW, my buddies wife, who has both her “jabs”, decided, against our pleading, to go to a “super-spreader” event, the local State Fair, and got the covid after, and was laid up for a few days…some variation. At least she was only laid up at home and only for a few days.

    And, s for China, the American Century is over. Never more obvious than when watching Frontline on PBS last night, on America after 9/11. All the same faulty thinking of the Viet Nam conflict 50 years before.


    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m trying to figure out how to be in the world, and how much. I went to our State Fair, for example. I’m occasionally eating inside a restaurant, though I take outside seating whenever possible. I am leaning on my vaccination but I’m a little unsure how much I should.

    2. J P Avatar

      I think more than a few of those medical professionals understand that this vaccine works in a way totally unlike every other vaccine from the past, which injects actual virus into your system and lets you respond. This new type of vaccine as not been as well studied as those of the past. I think it is quite reasonable to have questions about the long-term effects of this mRNA therapy, as well as the long-term effectiveness.

  5. Paul Hoppe Photography Avatar

    I have a very good friend who argues like you. I always say that I admire his trust in the government and its institutions but i think that concerning covid it is sadly misplaced. I’ll say the same to you. I feel that here in Germany my government does not trust me but instead tried to scare us into compliance with horror prognoses (that fact is now well known here). So i am distrustful.

    I am a bit shocked by your reference to the common good against individual freedom. Countless crimes and injustices have been argued from the need for the common good. Individual freedom should be a much needed antidote to the authoritarian and almost totalitarian tendencies that many governments show during the corona crisis.

    Nevertheless i admire how you put your convictions out here, take a stand and are willing to take criticism. This honesty is very valuable.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I hope you can see that my call to the collective good is an individual call, a personal plea, and not meant to endorse any government making that call.

    2. matt Avatar

      Ah, gut ausgedrükt, Paul… gut ausgedrükt, in der Tat!

      I think you said it very well, more succinctly and tactfully than I did.

      1. Khürt Williams Avatar

        Were it not for the federal government, people who look like me either still be picking cotton on a plantation for free foe a white person or sitting at the back of the bus whenever a write person needed a seat. Are Goverment mandates so anathema to you?

  6. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Just get the damn vaccine and we can get this thing over with. When I was a kid, there was polio. Then there was a vaccine. Everyone got vaccinated. No more polio.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It sure seems that simple to me. And at the time of the polio vaccine, there wasn’t an FDA that required any level of testing before a vaccine could be approved.

    2. Andy Umbo Avatar
      Andy Umbo

      BBF2 you said it…I’m an old guy, and I’ve said repeatedly, that if this was the 50’s, half the country would be in an iron long with polio!

    3. matt Avatar

      A few weeks ago, there were reports of 3 fully-vaccinated senators testing positive for covid which seems to undermine that statement:

      That alone is going to cause people to doubt the usefulness of a vaccine: it just doesn’t seem to work in all cases, if at all. As for the polio vaccine comparison, you’re comparing apples to oranges, as it took nearly 10 years to develop a vaccine before cases dropped significantly; and somewhere around 5 years of development to begin testing.

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        Someone who reports to me who’s vaccinated got Covid and was down for three days. So the vaccine isn’t bulletproof.

        1. matt Avatar

          No, nothing is. I would think, though, that would help in understanding why people may not be so gung ho to line up for the hokey pokey.

        2. Andy Umbo Avatar
          Andy Umbo

          I actually never remember anyone saying the vaccine was full proof? I DO remember people saying that if you got some strain of the virus, and you were vaccinated, it would be unlikely that you would end up in the hospital. That is why, when I got vaxxed, I didn’t run around without a mask. I’m still using the same protocols, and wiping my hands with sanitizer when I leave a store and get back into a car. I’ve actually bought a new packet of masks a while back, and am planning to wear them in the winter going forward. I’ve been going to San Francisco for 40 years on business, and have always seen old Asian women wearing masks all that time. Last winter was actually my first cold and flu free winter for years. If that’s what it takes, I’m in.

      2. bodegabayf2 Avatar

        No matter if it took 10 years or 10 months to develop the polio vaccine, it worked. If you watched someone you cared for (as I did) join the 600,000 plus Americans who have died from this thing, you might feel a bit different.

        1. Khürt Williams Avatar

          I’m so sorry for your loss. We lost my father-in-law to COVID-19 last year.

  7. Ward Fogelsanger Avatar
    Ward Fogelsanger

    I think that Dr Fauci has a very big credibility gap these days. I think the federal government has been losing trust since the Vietnam war…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m not following Fauci or much news at all really – I’m not aware of a credibility gap?

  8. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Thanks for this short interlude, now let’s get back to….Three Speed Cycling!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Happy to!

  9. Paul Hoppe Photography Avatar

    Reading the comments here I would like to talk about three things. I see the same arguments made over and over again and they simply do not hold. In case it is important I do not feel politically affiliated in any way, I like some leftist ideas and I like some conservative ideas and I generally think any policy should be able to stand on its own no matter where it comes from. I strongly dislike ideologies though.

    First, the vaccine does not prevent infection or transmission. Now we can argue about the degree the vaccine might reduce transmission or maybe even enhances it because people who feel less sick might get out more often than those who feel really ill. That is beside the point. Data will come in about that anyway. You can’t compare it to the measles or polio vaccines that actually offer real immunity and can therefore severely limit or even stop the spread of a particular disease. It is more like the flu shot which we all know helps reduce disease severity but does not do much to prevent transmission. Point is taking the COVID vaccine will NOT protect others from infection. Therefore any argument calling for vaccination to do something about the common good is pointless. The COVID vaccine is about individual risk (or disease severity) reduction. There should not even be a moral discussion about it. Do we argue like this about the flu shot? I don’t think so.

    Second, there is this argument about unvaccinated people taking up valuable medical resources that then are not available to the vaccinated. That is straw man argument. Most European countries have some kind of government medical insurance or public health care system. I know the US is somewhat different but the argument broadly applies. We as a society pay for the medical consequences of all kinds of individual behavior. Smoking, obesity, drug use, bike accidents, lack of exercise, risky sexual behavior or occupational hazards. We decided to cover those risks with our public health care systems. So why do we suddenly refuse to do so with this one particular virus? In most industrial countries the health care system did not collapse last year, why do we think it would do so now when so many people are vaccinated?

    The third argument is that the vaccine will bring back our old and normal lives. That is also untrue. Government action lead to lockdowns, mask mandates, school closures and everything else. Governments could decide to lift all these measures and simply let people and businesses decide on their own. There is no logical or medical imperative for these measures and the accompanying claim that only the vaccine would allow us to lift restrictions.

    There is no moral duty and no common good to take the vaccine. There is only individual risk assessment. I am not a doctor I won’t make a recommendation to anyone. I only suggest to make it a medical not a moral decision. We should stop politicizing a first and foremost medical problem. This is no longer a pandemic but a political crisis. It is no longer about sensible public health solutions that respect individual decisions but a moral debate where people fight for the moral high ground instead of working together on solutions. A debate where the “morally right” side feels entitled to force their truth on anyone in the name of a common good. And where the other side resists and understandably refuses to comply. There can be no dialogue or cooperation this way.

    So in a sense I am echoing Jim’s plea for unity. Thanks for reading this somewhat lengthy comment.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      “This is no longer a pandemic but a political crisis.” Could it be both? Good comment, thanks.

  10. Abdul Avatar

    I appreciate your objectivity. Healthcare systems being overwhelmed by COVID patients and therefore having to cancel elective procedures or reduce quality of care for other ailments is not a strawman – it’s very much a reality on the front lines in the U.S. I have close friends who are nurses, internists, hospitalists, etc who are having to reject care for patients who need it the most. If the emotional trauma they’re experiencing is any indication of a preventable tragedy then it must be discussed.

    The other medical issues you reference like smoking, obesity, drug use are not all as severe as COVID, they’re not novel like COVID, and we’ve had decades to prepare for them and build up resources, infrastructure, public health campaigns, treatments to combat them. We simply do not have the same for COVID in this moment of time other than the vaccine.

    In the spirit of positive, good faith argument let me pose a question. From an external perspective – is it fair for an unvaccinated patient who ends up in the ICU to take up scare resources given they had the option to avoid this scenario while a vaccinated medical patient has to wait for care? What about trauma centers and emergency rooms that can’t tend to normal patient volume in a timely fashion because of increased covid patients from the unvaccinated? At what point do the perceived liberties of others begin to curb on unsuspecting/innocent victims?

    1. Andy Umbo Avatar
      Andy Umbo

      ….and I’m a cigar smoker, and since the 90’s, I’ve had to pay more for my health care in America because I’m a cigar smoker, based on the expense that may be incurred because of that risk.

    2. J P Avatar

      ” who are having to reject care for patients who need it the most.”

      I am sure that none of that is because hospital CEOs have made big bonuses by making their facilities lean and mean or by firing all of the staff who will not get the vaccine (he said more sarcastically than he should have). You could make the same argument about those who had AIDS at the beginning or those who suffer all kinds of diabetes-related issues because of an unwillingness to live an objectively healthy lifestyle.

      Every resource is scarce. Do you want to know who almost always gets served? The ones with money and power and pull. Which happens to be the same group most solidly behind the point of view you are sharing.

      1. a Avatar

        Two wrongs don’t make a right. It’s possible to have a middle view. None of my views are borrowed or regurgitated as you seem to imply. I think it’s gross to fire healthcare professionals who refuse the vaccine. or any employee for that matter. It’s not a sterilizing vaccine and we see vaccinated people still spreading it so it has no basis in public health. This is simple retribution.

        Let’s say that there’s scarcity in all resources and there will always be unwitting victims of our broken Healthcare system, it doesn’t detract from the idea there’s also an important moral consideration here. Especially those who have families. If one lobbies a close family member or friend to not get vaccinated (for similar reasons you hold, or due to distrust, or genuine concern and fear from long term effects of the vaccine), and that person ends up dying, that’s wrong.

    3. Jim Grey Avatar

      Tough questions to answer to be sure. As someone commented on an earlier one of my COVID posts, my right to throw a punch ends at your nose.

    4. Paul Hoppe Photography Avatar

      I’ll answer your question in the last paragraph. Thanks for posing it.

      You can not base medical care on who you think deserves it more because of his or her behavior (this includes obesity, smoking or not taking a vaccine). Who is going to decide who gets what? This ends up being an inhuman and horribly utilitarian system. There was a very dark time in my country when we thought that it would be “unfair” that some people (like the mentally ill or disabled and of course Jews) would take away medical care from healthy and productive people. We ended up killing them. It is a very harsh example but it is the endpoint of your question. I don’t want to shame you in any way…just try to think about all the implications of your question and maybe try abstract it from this one virus and vaccine. Because the argument has to hold in similar situations as well.

      Medical ethics is based on first not doing harm (Hippocrates anyone) and second on providing care for anyone regardless of their personal responsibility. A doctor will and has to provide care even for a child murderer. And we do provide medical care to criminals. If the situation arises that medical care needs to be rationed because of either limited resources or overwhelming demand then the decision about who gets care is based on who has first the best chance of survival and second the most to gain (usually in terms of life years left). No doctor will decide for or against care based on the individuals behavior which he can’t fully judge anyway.

      If you have friends in the medical field ask them how care is provided during overwhelming inrushes of patients. How they decide. Any system that imposes a decision about “fairness” or “desert” on doctors and nurses is grossly inhuman. And now we should talk about health economics to deal with your posed problem but that is probably too off topic.

      Back to the point, there is no moral argument to be made for this kind of vaccine. Therefore no one should be pressured or discriminated against. It is wrong for a society that is based on individual sovereignty as we understand it since the age of Enlightenment.

      Again I can only speak for Germany here but our hospital system was overwhelmed every year in autumn/winter due to an inrush of patients with respiratory infections for the last decade. We did not care enough about this fact to increase capacity (in fact we even closed hospitals during this pandemic) nor did we blame people without flu shots for using up hospital beds. I am sure the situation is similar in the US. There is a lot to disentangle but I suspect that the overwhelmed medical services are more due to “lean” management and constant drives for more profitability.

    5. Kodachromeguy Avatar

      This is a well reasoned comment. We heard the same arguments about personal freedom and it’s my rights some 40 years ago with respect to smoking in public places, and then with respect to wearing seat belts. All of these behaviors affect and, often, hurt other people who are innocent victims. I find it especially ironic that very political group that decried the Affordable Care Act and screamed that we would have rationing and death panels now has rationing and death panels (I.e., their relatives) thanks to their own behaviors.

  11. J P Avatar

    I will answer your question of how do we get over this: Ask questions, lots of questions. And do not be upset when other people ask lots of questions. And listen for the answers. Don’t treat the other guy’s answer as time for you to frame your devastating rejoinder. I argue against adversaries for a living. My job is to make a point. In my off hours I try to listen and learn. Which is not easy.

    A whole bunch of “responsible” “legacy” “corporate” (pick your term) media dove in on a false story recently – that so many people were overdosing on horse de-worming medicine that gunshot victims were lined up outside the ER unable to get in. It was false. Every bit of it. There were no Ivermectin overdoses at that hospital. Ivermectin, by the way, being an FDA approved drug for humans which is given prophylactically in several countries where parasites are a problem. Modern media does not make questions easy. If you want a counterpoint, you have to really have to go looking for it – which is why I tend to trust conservative news consumers more than those from the left, because we conservatives hear the other side all the time on television, the movies, in advertising, online and in almost every news source we grew up thinking of as “normal”.

    All modern media make independent thought hard. They all operate on a business model that succeeds by making their viewers mad. Too few are able to overcome that. Even worse is the big tech companies’ recent practice of deciding what is or is not worthy of sharing. There is a particular well-known news aggregation website that caters to conservatives. I often have to type the actual URL into the search bar of Firefox, because otherwise you can search 3 pages in and not find it.

    I do not trust my government. Top vaccine people at the FDA are retiring and saying that it is at least partly because politics have overcome medicine. The FDA may not be ready to bless a Pfizer booster but the Biden Administration is, so waddyagonnado? When my government becomes too populated by activists operating under a worldview that sees activism as the norm, why would I trust their objectivity? Forget their self interest, which is almost always different from yours or mine (whatever our beliefs may be).

    Death, disease and a whole bunch more nasty things have been normal parts of the human condition for thousands of years. Only in the last 75 years or so have we lived in this bubble where we are lulled into thinking that everything is controllable. It’s not. Modern science has a long history of successfully solving one problem after another. Virtually always creating one or more new problems in the process every time. (Ohh look- I just invented a way to make and use PCBs or tetraethyl lead! Look at all the problems I just solved!) What is not common is a society where the average man or woman is not a subject, but a free person with inalienable rights due to birth. Technocrats who want to tell me what to do are as old as humanity. My ability to stand in a town square and scream nasty things about my government officials because I possess just as much worth as they is a rare thing. It is something that must be protected, because right now the technocrats are winning.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thoughtful comment, thanks.

      “Ask questions, lots of questions. And do not be upset when other people ask lots of questions. And listen for the answers. Don’t treat the other guy’s answer as time for you to frame your devastating rejoinder. ” — This, a thousand times this.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        Actually I love J.P. and his blog, and I’m perfectly happy to live in a world where I can have a cocktail in the town square and list to him screaming! Especially about jazz and audio!

      2. tbm3fan Avatar

        I helps to know where to start and end your search for reliable science information. I know where to start and end and corporate media and social media are never on the menu. Of course most people wouldn’t think of them and two would roll their eyes, as in high school, when the science goes right over their heads. Unfortunately the days of Cronkite, Huntley, Brinkley and Bergman are long gone.

  12. DougD Avatar

    There was a quote in Esquire magazine this month I was going to send you, it was by Tim McGraw: structure creates freedom, if you don’t have any structure, what you think is freedom is actually chaos.
    I’m in Canada, and back in April me and my co-workers in Mexico, Finland, and Australia were thinking some very uncomplimentary thoughts about many Americans. Here we are dying, can’t get a vaccine and America is awash in vaccines that people won’t take. Why is freedom only used to justify dumb stuff, why can’t you be free to love your neighbor or do something constructive?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good point.

  13. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    I got the vaccine because it demonstrably REDUCES infections, transmission and serious illness, and in doing so I have done something that I can do to prevent harm to my family, and to others in the community. I wear a mask when I out shopping for the same reason. Neither of these things are pleasant, but they do seem to be necessary in the current climate.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Same here on all counts.

  14. puneybones Avatar

    Wow, lots of discussion on this, as expected. I appreciate your thoughts on building bridges instead of furthering the divisions. You set a great example in this comments section of how it can be done with tact and grace.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m so pleased that this comment thread didn’t devolve into nastiness.

  15. Bill Hails Avatar

    A point of view that should be spoken more openly and shared more widely.
    Thank you for this post !

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s always pleasant when people agree!

  16. Sam Avatar

    Thought provoking post!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Sam!

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