Submitted by Aaron Arkin.
In H. G. Wells’ famous science fiction story, “War of the Worlds,” an advanced technological civilization from Mars is quickly winning a war against humans on Earth. Winning, that is, until they are felled, as Wells put it, by the lowliest of creatures: germs (perhaps even the common cold — a virus). Sound familiar?
Critiquing H. G. Wells’ story, it is fair to ask how a civilization so advanced and prepared for invasion, capable of transporting armies and equipment from one planet to another, still not foresee they might be exposed to pathogens their species were not equipped to handle. Was it hubris, compartmentalized thinking, a case of generals overruling scientists? Wells doesn’t say.
Meanwhile, on the non-fiction Earth where we live and have reached great heights of technological achievement, many of us in the US are succumbing to the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic. Although we have gained the knowledge to successfully vaccinate ourselves against this pathogen, and can utilize other protective measures, millions have refused to take advantage. The result is that case counts, severe illness, and deaths are and will be increasing as the virus mutates into more transmissible and deadly variants. Unless behaviors change, this process will continue and likely increase societal dysfunction.
So, maybe Wells wasn’t really just describing Martians’ inability to realistically consider their prospects. Despite overwhelming evidence of safety and efficacy (after all, vaccine development is based on established science, there have been rigorous trials showing that for the vast majority of individuals these vaccines are safe, peer review has affirmed no shortcuts were taken in vaccine development or approval, and epidemiological evidence has clearly shown those most likely to get seriously ill and/or die are the unvaccinated), millions believe one or more of the following: the pandemic is a hoax, few people are affected, healthy people won’t get sick, vaccines don’t work and/or will make you sick, masking is an assault on individual liberty, the vaccine is a government ploy to put tracking devices into its citizens, and (to me the most pernicious and disturbing) people should be able to exercise their personal freedoms without regard for the safety of others.
One can only wonder how these ideas found so much rich soil. Is it willful ignorance, inability to think critically, lack of education, misguided self-interest, wishful thinking, refusal to be concerned for others, machismo, contrariness, fear, close-mindedness, paranoia, tribalism, something else? But as we witness these attributes leading to increasing societal friction and deteriorating societal norms, a very important question has been brought to the fore: can a democratic society, where individuals are free to take actions against their own interests, successfully compete or even survive against authoritarian societies that can both mandate and enforce policies without regard to individual choice?
Looks like we may be about to find out.