Note 47: An analogy

Since COVID analogies are so popular these days, I thought I'd share my own.

I’m going to break with format a bit this week.

Last week’s Note got quite a bit more traction than the regular nerdy stuff I write about. It turns out that more than a few folks took exception to my new Social Darwinist stance where I’m less concerned with winning hearts and minds for getting vaccinated, and more concerned with limiting the cost and damage to the folks that remain.

In the comments around the post and responses to other posts I made on the topic, I saw a Nazi comparison, analogies to the seasonal flu vaccine, equivalences with smoking, and one that compared me pushing for vaccines as being like pushing for others to wear bulletproof vests so that I wouldn’t get shot. Rather than get into further into the weeds litigating the validity of the various comparisons, I figured that I’d provide one of my own.

Before I get to that story though, I want to be upfront and clear that I was very fortunate growing up in that alcohol and drug abuse wasn’t a major factor in my origin story, and I was lucky that I didn’t have to deal with drunk or high relatives or friends growing up. I know people who had to deal with that, and I’m grateful that addiction didn’t cut a swath through my life as it has some others.

However, as an adult, my wife and I tried to help a friend who was alcoholic and addicted to painkillers arising out of a back injury. I’m going to leave her unnamed so that this Note doesn’t show up under searches for her, but she was a remarkable individual with a lot of spunk and life and had accomplished some pretty significant and awesome things.

She stayed with us for several weeks while she was trying to get on her feet and get back into a position where her daughter could live with her and they could get back to being a regular family. While staying with us, she had several relapses, and it quickly became clear that no matter our good intentions for her, we were out of our league when it came to help her deal with the demon on her back. She eventually bounced out of our place, continued wrestling with her problem, before the demon won and took her away from us and her family, including her teenage daughter, a few years later.

Watching the nation wrestle with COVID as it’s doing now (and make no mistake, this is easy part of the year, if last year’s winter surge is any indication) is a lot like watching our friend slowly lose her battle with drugs and alcohol. In her case, the solution wasn’t an easy one - beating addiction never is - but there was a path forward that wasn’t taken far enough to save her life. In our national case, the solution IS an easy one - get the shot - and fewer people end up dying in the process. It’s that simple.

If I sound triggered when I hear people I know and care about make excuses or provide shoddy rationales for why they aren’t doing the common-sense thing to remove COVID as a factor in their lives, I’m hearing echoes of similar excuses I’ve heard before.

“It’s my choice and I’m the only one affected, so leave me alone.” While the vaccine resisters think that this is a novel statement affirming their independence, it’s also something that people dealing with addicts have been hearing for decades. It’s true that it is their choice, but it’s not true that the negative repercussions of that choice are only felt by the one making the choice. There’s plenty of collateral damage left in the wake of the solitary addict. They may accidentally hurt someone else. If we’re playing the analogy game, this is similar to the anti-vaxxer failing to get immunized and then infecting someone else. An addict often hurts or kills themselves. This is directly analogous to the anti-vaxxer contracting and succumbing to the disease. While it’s true both the dead addict and dead anti-vaxxer may have ended only their lives, they also tore pretty big hole in the social fabric in which they were embedded, and those that were connected to them are now forced to deal with the trauma of their absence.

In the case of the addict, I can at least understand why the addict does what they do. Physical dependence is real and folks abuse substances to get away from the consequences of their addiction and the wreckage of a life that is waiting for them when they are sober. For the life of me, I can’t come up with the prize that the anti-vaxxer receives as a reward for not getting the shot. Is it an inflated sense of self-worth as they are convinced that they demonstrated what an independent thinker they are and how they won’t be a “sheep” like others? Is there a twisted joy in watching others worry about them and ask them to quit hurting themselves? I honestly don’t get it.

What I do get is this - for whatever reason people decide to take their chances with COVID, they’re also INCREASING their chances for the following outcomes:

  • Getting seriously injured or killed by the virus outright.

  • Surviving the virus, but leaving treatment with a large enough bill that has severe negative repercussions for their financial future.

  • Getting lucky with the virus and escaping injury, but injuring others by passing the infection on. These others could be perfect strangers, or friends and family.

Our friend who we tried to help understood fully that her addiction was a danger to herself and others. If someone invented a shot that would instantly wipe the addiction away, I have zero doubts that she would have taken it to slay the demon on her back. In the case of the COVID vaccine resisters, I don’t see a similar sense of self-awareness. For whatever reasons they try to justify, they’re avoiding getting the shot, and a consequence of that decision is that they are putting themselves, their family, their friends, and their community in more danger compared to the alternate universe where they just get the shot. They can’t explain how their resistance benefits the world around them, and end up falling back on increasingly tortured excuses. Just like the addict.

So, getting back to analogies, when I look at what’s happening in this country, I feel like large swaths of the country (including people I know) have simply decided to engage in reckless behavior that makes no one better off, for a reward that I’m just not seeing. The world that I am seeing now makes LESS sense than a world where the same people just decided to become full-time alcoholics and eventually drink themselves to death. In the alcoholics’ case, even though I think that their risk-to-reward metal circuits are busted, I can see what the alcohol buys them. In the world I’m witnessing now, I can see no analogous reward, just additional unnecessary risk.