California Governor Gavin Newsom recently declared a State of Emergency to respond to monkeypox in the state. During the announcement, the Governor said,
“California is working urgently across all levels of government to slow the spread of monkeypox, leveraging our robust testing, contact tracing and community partnerships strengthened during the pandemic to ensure that those most at risk are our focus for vaccines, treatment and outreach,” said Governor Newsom. “We’ll continue to work with the federal government to secure more vaccines, raise awareness about reducing risk, and stand with the LGBTQ community fighting stigmatization.”
Since monkeypox is disproportionally infecting “men who have sex with men” right now, it makes sense there would be an effort to fight stigmatization in the LGBT community. It is not helpful to have hate and blame aimed towards general groups of people adding to the problem.
It is a pity Governor Newsom did not have the same idea when it came to naturally minded people, people with religious objections, people with natural immunity, and people that simply did not want to take the COVID vaccine for a myriad of reasons.
In a Twitter war with US Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Newsom fired off this tolerant gem:
Newsom also compared the decision to remain unvaccinated to driving intoxicated which “put everybody else’s life at risk.” He added, “That’s the equivalent of this moment with the deadliness and efficiency of the delta virus, you’re putting other people’s — innocent people’s — lives at risk,” Newsom said. “You’re putting businesses at risk. You’re putting at risk the ability to educate our kids by getting them back in-person full-time for in-person instruction.”
This is of course complete nonsense, especially given how time has vindicated those that questioned the safety and efficacy of the COVID “vaccines.” It is a false analogy to compare remaining naturally unvaccinated with choosing to drive while intoxicated. Remaining naturally unvaccinated is the default and not a willful act that in itself puts anyone else at risk. Driving while intoxicated is a direct, willful act that is contrary to the natural state, and in this altered state it is well understood that activities like driving a vehicle can be difficult and pose a direct risk to the self and others. So the former (remaining unvaccinated) carries no moral culpability and there is no legitimate duty of a government to force one into compliance contrary to their fundamental rights, while the latter (driving while intoxicated) does carry moral culpability and a government is warranted in deterring people from the risky willful behavior through laws. The bad analogy and open hostility did wonders for stigmatizing the unvaccinated though. This led to demonization, hate, and terrible policies that coerced people against their wills and unnecessarily excluded them from normal functions in society.
If one were to try to make a more valid analogy out of those two circumstances, one would have to equate driving while intoxicated to a person that knows they have COVID, is symptomatic, and willfully goes out into a crowd. That would be morally blameworthy. But it is foolish to try to blame healthy, unvaccinated people for all risk of future infection (real or perceived). There are plenty of other (better) ways to protect oneself and others. Also, the idea that any action or inaction by an individual that may cause some indirect risk, real or perceived, to someone else somewhere down the line in time can be deemed immoral because of this hypothetical causal link alone is dangerous and an affront to ethics. I call this “Butterfly Effect Morality” and it is being used to promote all sorts of coercive programs these days. Be on the lookout for it.
Stigmatization: Don’t Pick and Choose Who to Protect and Who to Blame
Newsom also said of the unvaccinated, “An individual’s choice not to get vaccinated is now impacting the rest of us in a profound and devastating and deadly way.” Now image the same quote substituting ” individual’s choice to not get vaccinated” with “men’s choice to have sex with other men” as in the monkeypox example. Gavin Newsom may not agree with or like unvaccinated people or people that disagree with his preferred policies. But as Governor, he should not have demonized them as dangerous to public health like he did. Obesity is a leading factor determining the severity of COVID infection. This not only increases the risk of hospitalization and death for the individual, but it is also a risk to the public health as well, given that the obese are more likely to be symptomatic, more likely to transmit, and more likely to require hospital resources to treat their cases. Imagine if Gavin Newsom stigmatized the obese like he did the unvaccinated. Imagine he mandated exercise and healthy diets. There would be outrage. Imagine Gavin Newsom called gay men a public health threat that is risking lives. Imagine he shut down gay clubs. There would be hell to pay. Yet when he did it to the unvaccinated and others (that happen to mostly be his political and ideological opposites too) he was praised. Talk about a double standard.
We do not need to blame certain groups, stigmatize differing beliefs and behaviors, or coerce people into compliance with oppressive mandates to protect the public health. We need to keep cool heads and protect rights, livelihoods and general societal operations while we work to find solutions within our legal and rights-based framework.