COVID vaccines: You cannot inoculate against irrational

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Rational thinking reveals that freedom is always contextual. Freedom should always be understood in the context in which it is sought. From an educational perspective, it is interesting to listen to the reasons why people refuse to be vaccinated.

That such people seek to exercise personal choice is not an issue. However, advocating for ‘freedom’ whilst bullying and disparaging others, or telling outright lies to confuse or undermine others, is downright dangerous.

In society there is a bond citizens have with one another. We all balance our rights with responsibilities. It is for this reason rational people do not speed through red lights. Rational people understand that reckless indifference in the name of unbridled freedom can kill or maim others.

During a global pandemic, normal social structures have broken down. Nothing can be freely trusted because distance is the new closeness. Educators need to navigate students through this time, including teaching them how to sift fact from fiction, clarity from conspiracy.

In this context Fakebook, feeding on anger and confusion, allows irrational people to spout conspiracy theories that make people hesitate. Pause. A source that may not have previously been a direct threat to mental health has become a threat to both mental and physical health.

Stills from an anti-lockdown protest in Sydney CBD, July 2021. Source: NSW Police Media

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From an educator’s perspective, the issue is a lack of critical thinking amongst such conspiracy theorists. Instead of sitting with a single question and researching to find an answer, they use analogy and opinion, distraction and anecdote to appear cogent. An example is this:

Conspiracy theorist (aka “freedom fighter”): “If people are refused entry to a restaurant because they are not vaccinated, ask the owner if the waiter washed his hands or wears deodorant and if you can view their entire medical history. If they do not let you – it proves that they are all liars.”

Rational response: “Restaurant owners have a right to refuse entry to others if you come to their premises. They can decide the basis on which you enter.”

Conspiracy theorist (aka “freedom fighter”): “On that basis I should be able to demand your complete health records to ensure I do not come into contact with any disease.”

Rational response: “No it is not. We are discussing the right of a person to refuse entry of customers to a business. We are not discussing the rights of customers. That is a separate conversation.”

Alas, when interrogating information in a life-or-death choice, anecdote and opinion, whilst interesting, are not useful. This approach to problem solving, or rather problem avoiding, has been role modelled by Trump. Following his lead, conspiracy theorists know better than all rational people. They know better than science, facts and evidence because, well, they know. If only we could see!

covid vaccine
Source: Canva

I often wonder how people believe they have a right to march for freedom, without understanding the commensurate responsibility to protect others from harm. Then I realise that many anti-vaxxers have grown up at a time when measles, mumps, whooping cough, diphtheria and polio are not widely seen due to high vaccine rates. Having had the benefit of herd immunity they become immune to critical thinking. Having lived in safety, they cannot see how vaccines have assisted. Having been the beneficiaries of inoculation as children, they now say vaccines kill us as governments seek to control us.

It is akin to a person believing fire will not burn them because they have never been burned.

Whilst vaccine rates are slow but rising, it might be wise to ask anti-vaxxers if they would be prepared to be jailed for life should people die, at this time, from catching Covid from them. I wonder how many freedom fighters we would have left.

The situation changes when there are 80 or 90 per cent vaccine uptake rates. However, we are nowhere near there yet, so personal discipline is paramount.

In a democracy during a pandemic none of us particularly likes being told what to do, and all of us have a right to an opinion.

What we do not have is the right to decouple personal rights from broader social responsibility.

READ ALSO: We’ve lost the trust of Western Sydney and it’s critical we repair it

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Mohan Dhall
Mohan Dhall
Academic leader, M2K Education and Advisory and CEO of Australian Tutoring Association and Global Tutoring Association.

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