As Auckland slowly — too slowly — emerges from its Delta variant lockdown, we’re now allowed to hold limited social gatherings. One household can mix with one other, and everyone is supposed to stay outdoors. With something over 90% of the population groups we normally socialize with being fully vaccinated, the risks seem manageable to us.
Last evening we headed over to a friend’s house for dinner, a thing we haven’t done in months. It was nice!
During the meal we learned that her 21 year old son who joined us over the roast salmon and quinoa salad is not only unvaccinated but has become deeply influenced by anti-rational teachings about vaccines and treatments and, well, almost everything.
I seldom get into ideological tussles with people whose beliefs I disagree with. I don’t think I have the power to change your mind about your gods or your death metal band or your candidate or your kooky diet fad. And for the most part that attitude gets me through social situations with a minimum of fuss. Your gods don’t have power over me, and if they help you live your life, well and good.
But last night I sort of lost it and lit into this young man. He showed me some of his canon of YouTube videos and web sites. He spoke of meta-analysis, Uttar Pradesh, and renowned cardiologists now scaling the ramparts of good sense in service of anti-vax and conspiratorial causes. I tried to speak about science and risk and the sheer lunacy of assuming that a few leaders are bent on hiding so much from so many.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the knowledge base, training or experience to even be talking about these topics. He obviously doesn’t understand what he’s saying in any logically consistent way… his worldview on all this amounts to here’s something I heard online and here’s something else I heard. Counter-arguments are dismissed with pseudo-rhetorical flourishes (I asked whether he believed his website or some other more reputable one and he said ‘that’s just an appeal to authority’) or a studied profession of ignorance (‘I don’t know about that but let me repeat what I just said’).
This non-dialogue went on until I was just unable to continue. No minds were changed as far as I could tell. I felt like the shocked and helpless protagonist in a Kafka story, transported to somewhere that just doesn’t make sense. But maybe that’s what it’s like dealing with any addict or cult member. I’m not in a position to give him a hug and $20 and an invitation to re-enter my life after he’s cleaned up, but that’s what I wanted to do.
We got through dinner and he retreated to his room and his Internet pipeline of mind sludge. And maybe, probably, it will all be ok. Even when COVID becomes endemic in our little city, which will happen soon, most people won’t die or be hospitalized because of it. I can only hope he’s not in the unlucky cohort so he has time to see other ways of thinking about the world. And I can hope that the psychic infection he has contracted is less contagious than COVID-19.