Empathy v2.0

Addendum to Can We Stop Wringing Hands?

Last Thursday President Biden borrowed portions of the speech I wrote for him and imposed a requirement for being vaccinated or tested at least weekly in most venues where the federal government has strong influence or control.

He doesn’t have the power to require teachers, staff and school children to be vaccinated or wear masks, because control of schools lies with the states, so he did the two things he could do there. First, he called out the governors who are doing so much to make things more dangerous. Second, he implored them to stop endangering the lives of children and make vaccinations and masks mandatory in schools. Note that vaccines for children under 12 won’t be available for a while, perhaps not for months.

As smack-downs go, the President’s last Thursday’s was mild, but it was a smack-down nonetheless.

While the right wing echo chamber is buzzing with hyperbolic idiocy over all of this, public sentiment is largely with President Biden and support will grow, as people see the infection, hospitalization and death rates plummet. The Biden approval rate will continue to climb as we become a healthier nation and the economy recovers.

Perhaps President Biden has made the time come sooner when we can stop wringing hands over this pandemic.


I’ve moved quite a bit in my thinking about those who wear pandemic blinders, from their denial of the reality of the pandemic itself, to mask and vaccine refusal, to embracing conspiracies and to full-on temper tantrums on airplanes. I’ve struggled to understand the extreme right behavior that is to their significant detriment, but now I think I’ve found part of an explanation.

Tressie McMillan Cottom writes a new newsletter for the New York Times and in her first post she dug into what’s driving millions of Americans to refuse to do the simple things that will protect themselves and others. She included in her post part of her conversation with Martha M. Crawford, a psychotherapist and clinical social worker. Here are some of her comments.

Tressie: Still, I cannot deal with the Americans who are insane as it pertains to Covid denialism. What is up with them?

Martha: This is practically a Freudian notion of a kind of manic defense against death .  .  .  It is like the horror hasn’t hit them yet. They’re in an initial, almost ecstatic phase of grief where you’re just so relieved .  .  .  that you’re alive, you had your toes curled on the dip so you didn’t fall in. There’s a kind of manic response that is activated and grandiose and inflated by massive, collective crisis .  .  .

On this [denial] territory, there is no culture that is plugged into the radio, television, or reads books, that hasn’t been indoctrinated to believe in this kind of notion of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.

Okay, these refusers are denying death and invoking invulnerability, and all their experiences and exposure to ways of being are focused on bootstraps and individuality. That’s pretty psycho, but understandable.

Click for The Onion story.

My notion is that you can amplify this explanation with a thunderclap of attitude: “YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” turbocharged by, “I’LL SHOW YOU!” (Caps and italics added to indicate shouting/screaming, like crazy people on airplanes and at school board meetings.)

Let’s be sure to cut some slack for those who waited for full FDA approval of vaccines out of an intellectually honest concern. By now, though, all vaccines have been fully vetted for a while and these folks should be fully vaccinated. If any are not, their reluctance is driven by something else.

I began this section stating that I have moved in my thinking about these refusers. At first I was puzzled and looked for explanations for why people would do self-harming things. I was concerned for their health and safety, too. You know, empathy.

Then it dawned on me that they were harming others and I was angry about that. My empathy shifted to be mostly for those others, including our frontline healthcare folks.

My primary interest is that they don’t take others down with them. I don’t have inside information, but I’m betting they haven’t asked others if they’re willing to die with them as they have their tantrums. That puts these refusers into a bucket with homicidal maniacs.

There are vaccine mandates on the way and our refusers are going to be affected. I’d like to make their transition as easy as possible, so I offer this heartfelt freedom advice for those who refuse to be vaccinated:

You have the freedom to lose your job if you refuse to be vaccinated.

You have the freedom to be refused rail and air transportation.

You have the freedom to be refused entry into the supermarket, gym, movie theater, baseball or football game and even the next MAGA rally.

You have the freedom to continue to believe what you want, for example, that Covid vaccines are unproven, dangerous and that they contain tracking nanobots that will allow Bill Gates to know where you are at all times.

You have the freedom to believe that behind the vaccines is a socialist, child blood drinking, world domination bent cabal, and that vaccines will subject you to space lasers and will suck your precious bodily fluids (Dr. Strangelove).

You have the freedom to be infuriated by governmental interference in your absolute freedom and to proclaim your rights with your gasping, choking last breath.

There’s a long list of freedoms our refusers will enjoy if they continue to insist upon being a threat to our fellow citizens.

I want to be bigger than this, more loving, more equitable in my empathy. Right now, though, as refusers make war against medicine, science, learning, wisdom, the rule of law and any hint of sacrifice for others and for our common good, this is the best I can do.

Click me for the CDC report

The days are dwindling for us to take action. Get up. Do something to make things better.

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Copyright 2024 by Jack Altschuler
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