A Plea To My Left-Leaning Friends

I’m a lefty. I always have been, and probably always will be. While I can see the virtue in “individual responsibility” and self-reliance espoused by the political right, I believe firmly that we need to look out for each other, and that a world in which everyone has their basic needs met and no one gets to extract wealth from others simply because they are wealthy is a world that we should work toward, even as we face declining resources and inevitable shortages in the years ahead.

I believe all profit from rent is a form of usury. I believe that profit from health care is immoral. I believe that housing and health care are human rights. I believe that refugees and immigrants are human beings and deserve to be treated as such, with empathy and respect, even if we must sometimes enact limits and restrictions. I believe that all labor deserves a living wage. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I believe that neoliberal capitalism is basically evil. I believe in revitalizing local communities and local economies and taking business away from multinational billionaire-led corporations.

You also believe most or all of these things. We used to talk about them, share visions and ideas. Then you walked away down a path that I could not follow, leaving me feeling abandoned, dumbfounded, and befuddled. Now you seem to lump me in with the right, with whatever thoughts and motivations you project upon them: selfishness, individualism, lack of compassion and empathy, bigotry, racism.

If the CEO of Monsanto, with the backing of the FDA, were to tell you that the solution to world hunger and climate change is GMO-chemical agriculture, would you believe him? It is certainly an argument that has been tried. If Elon Musk were to tell you that the solution to climate change is a total conversion to electric vehicles, would you believe him? If, ten years from now, we are all driving Teslas and Musk is a trillionaire but we’re still emitting the same amount of carbon generating the electricity and mining the lithium, would you still believe him?

Something very odd happened two years ago when a strange new virus appeared on the scene. You chose to believe that it was different this time: that the ecocidal, elitist capitalist villains in Big Medicine, in Big Pharma, in government regulatory institutions had the answers, if only we would deign to listen. That they knew how to control this pandemic. That they would rise to the occasion to become the true heroes that they never were before.

You chose to believe The Science. The same Science that calls fracked natural gas “clean energy.” The same Science that believes in chemical-intensive GMO agriculture. The same Science that brought us an epidemic of unnecessary opioid addiction.

With strong urging from the media, you went along with denunciation and discrediting of highly credentialed voices – allowing them to be somehow associated with the all-consuming taint of Donald Trump and his followers. Dr. Pierre Kory, a highly-respected critical care doctor, founded the Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance, seeking to find repurposed drugs that would be effective against this new virus. When they discovered that ivermectin – a widely used and extremely safe antiparasitic drug that earned its discoverer a Nobel Prize – seemed to work, authorities responded by banning doctors from using it and describing it as “horse dewormer.” Does it actually work? It certainly appears to at least in some cases, but even if it didn’t what is the harm in letting doctors use their training and experience to find solutions to a novel problem?

When authorities decided to recommend and then require masks – in spite of a whole body of past research finding little to no efficacy against flu transmission – you not only obeyed without question but proceeded to brand anyone who so much as questioned it an “anti-masker”, someone who clearly cared only about themselves and wanted other people to die.

When epidemiologists from Stanford, Harvard, and Oxford came together to issue a statement saying lockdowns and restrictions were doing more harm than good, and that we could save more lives by focusing on protection of the most vulnerable, and they were quickly slandered and debunked in the media, you didn’t ask whether there might be more to this story.

When vaccines were released in record time under emergency use authorizations, having been tested for a mere six months, you believed the assertions that they were “safe and effective”. When highly regarded vaccinologists like Dr. Robert Malone and Dr. Geert Vanden Bossche voiced serious concerns, you accepted “fact-checking” claims that they were peddling “disinformation” for their own supposed gain. When the only system we have for recording vaccine adverse events – VAERS – registered more disability and death following these shots than following all other vaccines combined over the past 30 years – you accepted the explanation that these reports are unverified and therefore probably meaningless. When 12-year-old Maddie de Garay, a volunteer in the Pfizer vaccine trial, spoke out about becoming wheelchair bound and unable to participate in daily life after getting the shots (while the trial only recorded her symptoms as “stomach discomfort”), you noticed that only right-leaning outlets would interview her and so you assumed the motivation must be political. When the vaccine-injured began telling their stories – how their health crashed after the shots and their doctors didn’t take them seriously or failed to consider a connection to the vaccine – you ignored that too and supported censorship of their voices.

I had hope for the vaccines as well, at first. I almost got them back in May, but I had made a promise to myself to wait a year, which I am now glad I kept.

We were promised that vaccinated people would be “dead ends” for the virus. Then the Delta wave came along, with some of the highest case rates in the most-vaccinated countries, and high rates of breakthrough infection. I thought this might lead to you doubting the vaccines, or at least doubting the wisdom of mandating them, but instead you doubled down, asserting that they protected against hospitalization and death, and that was enough.

When immunity proved to wane after 5-6 months, you signed up for booster shots, despite the fact that we had no meaningful clinical trials whatsoever to justify them. When Omicron came around – exceedingly contagious but causing much milder illness and infecting vaccinated and unvaccinated people equally – you accepted the logic that this meant we needed more boosters, maybe even to require boosters for everyone. You believed baseless assertions that “the unvaccinated” people were to blame for continuing infection, even as the virus spread through 100% vaccinated college campuses and even as the most-vaccinated countries tallied the highest case rates in the world, suggesting that vaccine efficacy might even be negative. You supported incredibly divisive vaccine mandates that were virtually guaranteed to exacerbate ongoing labor shortages in health care, transportation, food processing, and other sectors that were already under severe stress.

Perhaps I sound a bit angry. This has been a difficult two years. But I’m not really angry at you. I would like to be friends again, to talk about the world we would like to create: resilient communities outside of the global capitalist system, mutual aid networks, local food webs. I would like to gather and sing and dance together again, free from the idea that we are all walking bags of death (with the unvaccinated the deadliest of all).

But it seems like you are still under some sort of spell, and I have to wonder: what would it take to break it? How low does the covid death rate have to go before you can treat it as an acceptable risk like the flu? How many vaccine injuries have to happen before you can acknowledge that these shots have real risks and may not be advisable for everyone of all age groups? How many boosters will you accept in the face of diminishing returns, as the virus continues to evolve?

Does Dr. Fauci need to recant, or the CDC, or CNN, or NPR? I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen. People with power and influence tend not to admit they were wrong. They will try to walk away quietly, to move on to the next crisis or news story without any reflection or self-examination.

I’m not sure I can do anything to break this spell, but whenever you are ready to leave it behind I’ll be here waiting. And perhaps then we can start to see this whole episode as not so different from previous failures of technology and capitalism. Overconfidence in the face of uncertainty. Advertised solutions that are conveniently profitable for the wealthiest citizens. Destruction and demonization of the working class. Disastrous effects on human health and community solidarity shoved under the rug. Blame cast upon our fellow citizens (“the unvaccinated” are the new “deplorables”) rather than on those at the top, when their “solutions” fail to work as promised.

Let us please not let this go on much longer. It’s OK to occasionally agree about something with the folks waving the confederate flags. Just because one side of a debate has people you personally despise, or people who have stupid political reasons for acting as they do, does not mean that side is wrong. As I write this, the media is playing that game to discredit the Canadian trucker protest against vaccine mandates. It’s time to stop falling for it, to accept that none of our efforts – lockdowns, masks, vaccines – can stop this virus from becoming endemic, and to come back together to create a new way of being and living as the extractive global capitalist system crumbles around us.


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15 Responses to A Plea To My Left-Leaning Friends

  1. Shodo Spring says:

    Obviously we come from the same basic perspective. And for most of my adult life I’ve refused vaccines. I tried to talk my children into not vaccinating the grandchildren. I was going to wait and see what happened with the covid vaccines.
    I didn’t. I was offered one early, because of my profession, and I went ahead and took it. At this point I’ve had two vaccines and the booster. I don’t know whether shot #1 triggered a rerun of my old enemy pneumonia; I took the meds and recovered fully. Well, I’m pretty sure that the kidney problems are decades old and I know the cough was old before the first shot.
    I’m pretty appalled at the uniformity of insistence on vaccines, on blaming everything that went wrong on anti-vaxxers, and the absolute trust in a science that I personally never trusted.
    Yet people are dying, a lot, and as far as I can tell the odds still favor getting the shots.
    I probably won’t get any more boosters. I remember thinking, just as I think about flu shots and most of the others, that they’re replacing good health with vaccines. (This is also why I don’t pay for Medicare Part B – I need that money for my organic food and sane lifestyle.)
    I’m currently trusting Rob Wallace – author of “Dead Epidemiologists” – who got fired for naming the connection between international animal agriculture, climate change, destruction of wilderness, and the various diseases that keep cropping up. Americans got hurt because Trump had disabled the precaution system that had kept ebola from coming here, for instance, and then all the other stuff he does.
    Vaccines are a personal solution, not a public health solution. Our public health system, if it were functional, would be intervening in that agriculture. Not to mention, masks, vaccines, and tests would be free – as they are in some countries. A negative test ought to be worth more than a vaccine, in terms of getting access to work or public spaces. But we don’t need a rerun of the Spanish flu – they thought it was over, they gathered in great numbers, and it came back with a vengeance.
    I would love to have a conversation about what to do. But I’m not interested in denying there’s a disease. I’ve known too many people who got sick, and too many people who lost loved ones too soon. And there will be more, as we continue to exploit and destroy the planet.
    I’ve been trying to stay out of the discussion because everyone is so polarized and righteous. But I’d love to talk.

    • Mark says:

      Thanks for this thoughtful comment!

      Yes, we will never know for sure which health problems resulted from the vaccines and which would have happened anyway, and most of us will make a biased assessment based on our personal perceptions of the dangers/safety of the shots. In a sane world we would be tracking matched cohorts of (voluntarily) vaccinated and unvaccinated people over time to answer this question.

      I agree that the vaccines have saved lives, and that they could have been a net positive for society and the world if they had been released cautiously, with a focus on protecting the most vulnerable first and without the pseudo-religious expectation that they would be the savior which would “end the pandemic.” Taken as a whole (including the social fallout from the mandates/passports, the insistence on multiple boosters, and the dangers of vaccinating healthy young adults and children at very low risk from the disease) I am now convinced that the vaccine phenomenon will be a net negative.

      There is no point in denying the disease, although I see that as an expected “societal immune reaction” to an overblown, mostly-ineffective, and societally-destructive “public health” response. If only we could have seen the pandemic as something to be endured, survived, mitigated – rather than controlled or ended through our interventions – then we could have been in a much better place.

  2. William Hunter Duncan says:

    Misinformation! Anti-Vaxxer!

    Did you read it?

    No. Somebody else I know read it and said it was a bunch of lies and that you had lost your mind.

    How can you express such a strong opinion on the basis of nothing, basically?

    Because anti-vaxxers are killing millions of people.

    Did you know most hospitals refuse to treat Covid patients until they are hospitalized, and then only with hideously expensive pharmaceuticals some of which are very dangerous and even potentially deadly?

    Misinformation! Anti-vaxxer!

    (Mass-formation is real and it is getting dangerous to question the narrative. Best of luck. This is a well thought out and organized response. I hope some of your friends open up to it.)

  3. Alex says:

    Hey there, I very much relate to your post. I suppose I’m still a leftist too. I’m a free speech, equal rights, strong social safety net kind of leftist. Now some of the people who used to say “healthcare is a human right” are saying “The unvaccinated shouldn’t be allowed in hospitals” I don’t know if they’ll be coming back.

  4. PumpkinScone says:

    Nice work Mark, but I think there is something inherent in the western (both left and right) world view that leads itself to the strange and friendship-seperating outcomes we have seen over the last two years. Although Spengler is often mentioned on JMG’s blog a lot, I don’t think many people have actually read both unabridged volumes of DOTW, especially the more technically demanding volume 1.

    In volume 1, Spengler notes that our socialism is equivalent to the buddhism of the Indian civilisation and the stoicism of the classical civilisation. What these movements are a secular, abstract ‘scientific’ distillations of the core world views of these civilisations, and are the petrified, dead remains of an inherently religious feeling. He shows that it is in western civilisation’s intrinsic nature to demand something of everybody else as left leaning politics does, as we say thou shalt in the whole expression of our civilisation. Our Faustian world feeling developed socialism which seeks to carry out its own views on behalf of everyone in the world, ostensibly for the greater good, but who decides that is he who has power. This is contrasted with Buddha, who gave a pattern to take a leave, or Epicurus who offered counsel. We are the only civilisation who so focuses on ‘all mankind’. Classical man would never think of applying his morality or methods on anyone else but himself, and would give advice if asked but would never expect it to be taken. There is a shocking (to us) indifference to the course of the world in the Classical, Indian and Magian morality, and it is only by sitting ourselves in these other moralities that we can actually see how unusual and heterodox our way of seeing ourselves somehow responsible or burdened with creating a better world is. China is closest to us in terms of a focus upon action and deed, but they care only for China and the Chinese rather than the whole world, and their view is best summed up in the tao and ‘be like water’.

    You can see this theme in the works of all western philosophy. The problems undertaken are those of every single human, and those who do not agree are cast aside as out of date or superseded. Again, looking at the history of other cultures, this is a strange and unique way to view the world. The world improvement focus of our culture is what drives us at a very base level, and without it western civilisation would not have spread all over the globe. We have a directional action that is impossible to wash away, and this is inherent in all world improving, left leaning politics. Where it gets really crazy is that conservatives are guilty of exactly the same thing in reverse by trying to resist change, they must act as saviours of the old guard, but by doing so reinforce exactly what they think they are resisting. We cannot escape this trap without sitting ourselves completely outside of the whole paradigm of western civilisation. ‘To fight for or against the trend of times, to promote Reform or Reaction, contraction, reconstruction or destruction, all this is as un-classical and it is un-indian.’

    The whole virus narrative therefore unveils itself as something intensely Faustian. You have the faustian will to power (action) going on everywhere, with those for the pandemic measures and those resisting them playing their parts in a whole grand tragedy that we play out every bloody day in our minds. The hero trying to usher in the new utopia or the hero resisting the evils of the world, it’s the same old story for 1000 years. Left and right are completely meaningless now (always were), and it is more about competing power factions who are jockeying to implement their view of society.
    Whatever causes many people espoused before the pandemic have proven to be completely bereft of any actual follow through, as they merely existed as cannon fodder for their own intrinsic world view of the how the world ‘should’ be, and how they would act to achieve this. The cause itself was irrelevant, merely the directional action of change or resistance. That’s why it seems so many people have changed so drastically, whereas in their mind us who are resisting have. It’s merely that we jumped into different roles in the story whereas before we were apart of the same role. Perhaps before we were all in the resisting group, and now some have switched to the changing group, and vice versa.

    All of this may make your head hurt, as I know it does mine. But this just shows that this may be getting at something very deep here, and it is impossible for us to get out of this trap as we drift down the long road of civilisational decline. But I feel that the inherent drive to improve or save the world is what has created this mess, and we probably need to all focus inwards to get though it. Reading more Greek, Indian, Islamic or Chinese philosophy is a good move, as it allows us to see outside of our own cage.

  5. Devin G. Martin says:

    Hi Mark, I’d love to talk, too. I’m your target audience; a life-long lefty and also a reader of JMG’s work for 14 years. I’ve also lurked on JMG’s covid-related dreamwidth journals, and always appreciate your perspective there. I feel my own perspective to be somewhat unwelcome among the commenters who congregate there, so have remained silent.
    I’ve spent a lot of time investigating a lot of the claims on covid, public health measures, and the vaccines. I have fairly strong opinions, but I’m open to all evidence. I think some of the things that folks point to in the “alt-narrative,” if you will, are simply misunderstood. For example, I understand that VAERS data for covid vaccines is unlike any other vaccine. However, physician reporting requirements for covid vaccines and traditional vaccines are completely different–including with how deaths are reported. That alone *could* explain the discrepancies in deaths in the database, but I haven’t ever seen anyone in the “alt-narrative” scene bring that fact up.

    I’m opposed to mandates in principle. But I’ll have to be honest with you and myself–for the first time in my life, I have felt a disconnect with my principle and what I’m willing to speak out and be an activist on. I’ve spent my entire adolescent and adult life as an activist for a range of progressive causes. I spent a decade as a professional environmental organizer. But for this issue, while I agree that mandates violates principles of freedom and conscience that I hold dear, I can’t muster the concern or energy to do anything about them. I suppose this may be how some (most?) folks may feel about various social issues…”I support/oppose, but mostly I’m just going to go about my own life.”

    Anyway, I appreciate the time you put into writing this letter and look forward to having a dialog about how we can reconnect after these messy years of the Little Plague.

    • Mark says:

      I think most of us feel that way about most causes – only a few are near and dear to our hearts and are hills we might be willing to die on.

      With 20,000 reported VAERS deaths I have a very difficult time squaring that with the “official” narrative that the number of actual vaccine-caused deaths is more like 20. Of course it doesn’t help that the opposing narrative is insisting that the number is actually 200,000. Somewhere in the middle of those four orders of magnitude lies the truth. Whether or not the vaccines are less harmful than the disease for most people, it is clear to me that they are far more harmful than the medical narrative management machine is willing to admit.

      • Devin G. Martin says:

        Thanks for the reply.

        I’m still not sure why 20,000 reported VAERS deaths over a time period of nearly 14 months would necessarily be a red flag, given that an average of about 8,000 people die everyday in the USA. Because it is a new vaccine, all deaths that occur within an extended interval *must be reported* to VAERS by healthcare providers. This is not the case with traditional vaccines–only specific types of adverse events are required to be reported, though healthcare providers are encouraged to report adverse events.
        See
        https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/hcproviders/reportingadverseevents.html#covid-reporting

        for requirements of covid vaccines, and compare to the VAERS Reportable Events Table for vaccines here:
        https://vaers.hhs.gov/docs/VAERS_Table_of_Reportable_Events_Following_Vaccination.pdf

        This alone appears sufficient to explain the discrepancies seen in VAERS data from Covid vaccines to traditional ones. That doesn’t mean that there’s necessarily nothing concerning in VAERS data, or in anecdotes of severe or strange reactions, but it does seem to indicate to me that we should expect *radically* different data sets for covid vaccines, not similar ones, given the major differences in reporting requirements.

        I’m willing to believe that the Covid vaccines could be causing more death than is currently “confirmed” by the FDA and CDC, but I’m not sure why pointing to VAERS data alone is supposed to be the smoking gun. In addition to different requirements of healthcare providers, there is also the increased attention, concerns, and suspicions that people have about mRNA vaccines. That increased vigilance has no doubt led to more voluntary reporting than would normally be the case for traditional vaccines.

        As it stands, we have a database that has a lot of reports of death and side effects, but as far as I can tell, that’s exactly what we should expect given that this isn’t just a regular routine childhood vaccination or annual flu vaccine rollout.

        • Mark says:

          Thanks for this info. I have to say I’m not convinced. Your first link says, among other things, “The reporting requirements for COVID-19 vaccines are the same for those authorized under emergency use or fully approved.” There are differences in specific details of what should be reported, but I’m curious to what extent most doctors are aware of these, and to what extent doctors are actually filing VAERS reports for deaths that they have no reason to believe might be linked to vaccination. The reports I have heard from the medical field suggest that this is not happening to any great degree, though of course I could be wrong.

          I take issue with your statement that “this alone appears sufficient to explain the discrepancies seen in VAERS data from Covid vaccines to traditional ones.” You are noting that there is a difference in reporting requirements and then saying that this can readily explain the fifty-fold increase in reported adverse reactions and deaths from these vaccines compared to traditional ones. It’s not really possible to say that this can explain the discrepancies without first making some attempt to predict exactly what level of increased reports might be expected based on the difference in reporting requirements. If a five-fold increase is to be expected, then the signal we’re seeing is still highly concerning.

          Finally, I also take issue with the argument that says “lots of people die, some of those people will die immediately after getting their shots.” Yes, 8,000 people die every day, but the majority of those deaths are of people who are already near death and receiving hospice care. Presumably no one who is expected to die very soon is getting vaccinated, and if they are presumably their deaths aren’t being reported to VAERS. It’s still possible that we might expect 20,000 sudden unexpected deaths within a few days of getting vaccinated, just by chance, over the course of more than a year, but I personally find that difficult to believe. I am firmly convinced that there is an obvious signal of vaccine harm in the VAERS data that a lot of people don’t want to see and so try to explain away using various approaches – of which yours is one of the more convincing but still nowhere near enough to change my perspective significantly.

          • Devin G. Martin says:

            Hi Mark,

            Thanks for your considered reply. I want to clarify that I’m not primarily interested in winning an argument or changing your perspective, but rather am interested in a patient, cordial explanation of why I think the way I do, and how we may look at the same data and come to different conclusions. It seemed to me that this was what you were inviting your fellow lefties to do–talk about the state of the world we live in and how to move forward as a community. I think that in order to do that, we need to do the hard work of re-establishing some basic common epistemological (and epidemiological?) ground, and admitting that large portions of what we believe and how we see the world are based on assumptions as well as an acceptance and/or rejection of certain forms of authority and knowledge–and that this pattern is true of whatever side you may fall on the vaccine debate.

            I believe that the epistemological crisis we are living in right now is biggest challenge to forming any kind of effective community, whether on the global, national, or local level–and forming an effective community is of course a perennial issue for anyone who hopes to change the world through a “lefty” political frame. Short term effective communities can crop up more-or-less spontaneously (see Women’s March, Tea Party, BLM, current vaccine mandate protests, or even your local NIMBY issue de jour), but those spontaneous formations are most often ephemeral and reactionary, and won’t get us much closer to the kind of world we envision.

            First off, let me say that I personally don’t lump you among the “deplorables” because of your stance (I hate that damn term). I personally believe that we are looking at the same thing and coming away with a radically different set of conclusions based on some key differences in how we interpret what has been going on and our own understanding of the available science.

            You’ve articulated a strong case here as to why you believe the way you do. Are you interested in hearing from a fellow lefty as to reasons why they think differently, and why? I can promise it’s not because of simplistic slogans of “Believe the Science (TM)” or because I’m not skeptical of Big Pharma. I don’t believe I have mass formation psychosis (although, if I did, I wouldn’t know it, would I?)

            My understanding is that VAERS is only one vaccine reaction reporting system among many. The others, like the Vaccine Safety Datalink (https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/ensuringsafety/monitoring/vsd/index.html) aren’t open access and don’t allow for public reporting. For public health researchers who are looking for signals of harm, VAERS reports are only the very first step of collecting reports and data, which are then validated, followed up on, and crosschecked with other systems, like the VSD, which have cross-referenced control (unvaccinated) groups that allow for adequate comparison.

            My understanding is also that, for healthcare providers at least, deaths are required by law to be reported within a certain interval. This is not the case for other routine vaccines, where a report of a death is at the discretion of a healthcare provider but not required. This difference in reporting requirements effectively creates two different sets of data that can’t be compared–the VAERS database includes a lengthy disclaimer that states this upfront before the data can be accessed (https://vaers.hhs.gov/data.html).

            You raise a good point that being able to have an estimate of how much more negative reaction reports we should expect would help us to determine whether VAERS is indeed showing a signal of harm. I don’t have the expertise or time to investigate what a reasonable estimate would be, but I think we agree that with more stringent reporting requirements, including a law that requires death reports regardless of cause (again, death reports are only voluntary for routine vaccines), we should expect to see substantially more deaths.

            It wouldn’t be too hard to compute some average annual mortality rates for a few age brackets, look at the VAERS data for those same age brackets, and see if there’s a substantial increase in mortality above and beyond what we might expect reported in the data. What I find hard to believe is that among the several accomplished medical professionals who have spoken out against vaccination, none seem to have taken the time to do simple calculations like this (to my knowledge), or gone even further to publish more advanced work looking into VAERS data. I’ve only seen what appears to me to be fearmongering using raw data to a public that mostly isn’t going to take the time to validate those claims, and will either accept or reject those claims on face value based on political, cultural, or intuitive-emotional cues. This is partly why I have a hard time trusting folks like Dr. Malone and Dr. McCullough.
            The closest I saw was with myocarditis among young men, which was corroborated, not denied by CDC.

            Anyway, I don’t want to linger on the point too long–I’m much more interested in figuring out where we can reclaim common ground, and how we can move forward from the plague times. I would really enjoy continuing this conversation, but will leave it up to you whether you find value in it, and whether this blog is the place for it.

          • Mark says:

            Hi Devin,

            Thanks for continuing this conversation. On the topic of VAERS, do you happen to know what the other databases (like VSD) are showing with regard to the covid vaccines? My understanding is that the UK Yellow Card and the EU Vigilance systems are showing similarly alarming numbers to VAERS. I do accept your critiques, and I’m willing to consider the possibility that VAERS data doesn’t mean what I think it means.

            I would like to take a step back though. VAERS is only one of several signals that I find worrying here. But first I should make clear the values and beliefs that I hold, that I bring to my consideration of this topic.

            1. I believe that any perturbation of a complex system, approved based on a limited set of criteria and safety tests, has a high likelihood of causing more harm than good when all of the data are in. I apply this belief to geoengineering, to GMOs, to ubiquitous use of pesticides and antibiotics, and to vaccines, among other things. Similarly, based on my knowledge of the coevolution of the human immune system and viruses, I believe that the system we are manipulating here is far more complex and far less fully understood than most would be willing to acknowledge.

            2. I believe that the abstraction to which we have assigned the word “vaccine” has taken on cultural meanings and connotations which are not fully justified by science. I believe that vaccination has come to fill the role of a sacrament within the modern civil religion that John Michael Greer calls “Progress.” For more of my thoughts in this regard, see http://www.luterra.com/blog/?p=1335.

            3. I believe that most people know their bodies well, so when they say “I was healthy until I did X” I tend to believe them. When they say “Y symptoms started after I did X”, I recognize that sometimes there will be a false attribution, but that it is at least worthy of consideration. So when they report that they told their doctors that they think X caused Y, and their doctors told them that X could not possibly cause Y and therefore it’s not worthy of consideration, then I start to worry about the objectivity of those doctors.

            4. I believe it is important to examine the motivations at play in any situation. In the case of these vaccines, it is clear to me that there is a lot of hope across the entire population riding on the conviction that the vaccines are safe and effective. It is also clear to me that there is a profit motive, with the corporations manufacturing the vaccines standing to earn a fair bit of money. The only clear strong motivations for an opposing view, from my perspective, are experiences of personal harm, reasoned applications of a precautionary principle, and concerns about distortions in the pro-vaccine narrative that would interfere with objective science. The motivations *projected upon* so-called “anti-vaxxers” by those wishing to discredit a contrary perspective – personal profit, scoring political points, misinformed contrarianism, etc. – do not seem to match up with the actual motivations of these people.

            All of this leads me to believe that we have a situation of strong epistemological bias: our institutions are much more likely to prematurely or erroneously conclude that a vaccine is safe when it is actually dangerous than they are to prematurely or erroneously conclude that a vaccine is dangerous when it is actually safe.

            I’m curious where you stand with regard to these beliefs. I am willing to concede that in almost every case in which an issue becomes polarized, the voices that rise to prominence on either side will tend to suffer from confirmation bias and to disregard important nuance when it is present. I don’t think that Drs. Malone or McCullough have everything right by any means, and they certainly oversimplify things like the VAERS data, but I do think that their perspective deserves to be heard and to be openly debated in the public sphere.

            Mark

          • Devin G. Martin says:

            Mark,

            It is my understanding that Yellow Card and Vigilance are early reporting schemes very much like VAERS, allowing for public reporting. I think a lot of the same caution in interpreting the raw data applies. I do not know what the VSD shows–it’s not public data because (as I understand) it contains detailed medical histories and information that could lead to the identification of the subjects included. But it is also my understanding that public health institutions comb through their own respective reporting systems, and that this is what led to the recognition of (rare) blot clotting deaths and GB syndrome from the adenovirus vaccines, as well as an increase in myocarditis from mRNA ones, particularly among young men. The rates for these serious reactions are small enough though, that it’s clear that serious, careful, and stringent data analytics were necessary to find them. If much larger apparent signals of harm are in the data, it would mean that public health institutions around the world are finding (or admitting?) some very rare, very hard to find reactions but overlooking the much bigger signs. While I don’t completely rule this out as a possibility, I find it difficult to accept without at least having some data and analysis from the other side to show why, in fact, these signals show clear harm. That basic data analysis isn’t within the skillset of 99+% of folks, but worldwide there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people capable of doing so. I have looked for it, and what I have found is not very promising. There are people doing open-access data analysis of the data, some of it quite sophisticated, but their results are more or less in line with the status quo. This blog is a good example of that: https://www.covid-datascience.com/

            On your propositions, first let me thank you for taking the time to articulate your views and values so well. I will be short in my replies here because I largely agree on all points.

            1) I agree wholeheartedly here. Complex systems are…complex…and the more we investigate, the more we find out just how little we actually know and understand about them. New technologies always have the potential for blowback. I would only point out that the SARS-COV-2 virus itself is also a novel introduction/disruption into the complex viral/immune ecosystem.

            2) I actually agree that vaccination, for some, has become a sacrament. Could we also agree that anti-vaccination plays the same role in some subcultures? I think we are both looking for a non-dogmatic, rational, and humane way to think and talk about this.

            3) Your logic here is rational and I am inclined to agree with this statement–arrogant doctors who don’t listen to patients and treat them as objects to be “fixed” are common enough to give rise to the stereotype. But, I have to point out that I have extensive personal experience with people who suffer from what is today called “idiopathic environmental intolerance.” They believe, among other things, that wireless electronics can cause them to become ill, and that using a gold-plated sticker placed on the device abates this effect. Now, there could indeed be some causal link between wireless transceiver proximity and their symptoms, but I strongly doubt that causal effect is based on the effect of radio waves, and even if it was, I find it even more incredibly difficult to believe that a gold-plated sticker effectively “blocks” the harmful radiation. None of this would matter much to me if it weren’t for my child coming home irrationally scared of living in a world surrounded by electronic devices and believing that golden stickers are a protective talisman. It’s also quite common for folks to make mistakes in attributing causality, even if those mistakes have the effect of helping them avoid triggers. I grew up being taught the folks wisdom that going out in the rain will cause you to get a cold. I don’t think rain causes colds–however, it could be the case that the shock the body gets when exposed to cold, wet conditions for extended periods of time is sufficient to lower the innate immune response to endemic cold viruses. Or something to that effect.

            4) You make some good points here, and I absolutely agree that there is a major profit motive and selection bias involved in vaccines, at least in Western countries. But not all vaccination efforts around the globe share this profit-motive. Cuba, for example, doesn’t seem to have a profit motive for their vaccination program. Nor do many developing nations who seem eager to administer vaccines, if only they were more widely available and affordable.
            But I also believe there are deep, powerful human motivations for anti-vaccination narratives. Human motivation is far, far more complex than the most common, base motivations like raw financial gain or fame. Power–whether political or cultural–is itself an incredibly complex concept, one that is tied up with the idea of “influencing consciousness through will.” I’ve come to believe that stories and narratives themselves have a power of their own, and that on both sides of the vaccine debate today, we are seeing what amounts to a religious disagreement among many of the loudest voices. I maintain strong friendships and relationships with a wide variety of folks, some of whom are entirely convinced of narratives that, in my mind, don’t serve them or their own interests (think QAnon, rabid anti-climate change, alt-right ideologies, etc). What are their motivations for believing and evangelizing these narratives? In most cases, they don’t seem have much to gain from them in terms of material benefits. Psychologically, however, they derive deep meaning, and deep meaning is what matters far, far more than gold or kingdoms. Pressed hard enough, people will give up their lives quite willingly to die for a cause they believe in.
            Here’s my conspiracy: I’m convinced that at least some folks helping to spin narratives in the anti-vaccination movement are motivated by a desire to quash trust in the medical industry so that universal healthcare will never be something we achieve in the USA.
            I agree that people have a right to express their views, and I have indeed looked into the claims of Dr.s Malone, McCullough, Korry, Tess, Vanden Bossche, and some less prominent ones. My concern is that among them, there is very little published science, but a very big public profile. I generally don’t accept arguments from authority (nor, does it appear, do you), and so while I privilege the opinion of a scientist over a layperson when it comes to things I’m less well educated on than they are, I also know that science is a process, and if their claims have merit, they can demonstrate them using the scientific method and publish it for the scientific community to see. Where they have done this, I commend them, but I do believe that the vast majority of claims from folks like this are speculations or narratives. I am literate enough to read and interpret scientific articles and abstracts, and when it comes to something as serious as a virus that has taken friends and family, I want to see the work, not just listen to (most often right-wing adjacent) podcasts or read Substack articles.

            Please don’t take any of this to mean that I completely dismiss the idea that covid vaccines are more harmful than is generally portrayed in the mainstream media, or that there are harms that aren’t yet being identified by the medical establishment. I hold open that possibility and believe it deserves respect and not derision. But when looking into the claims, I remain unconvinced. Much (not all) of the narrative seems to be dependent upon insinuation, rumor, distrust–the same kinds of things that prop up narratives like QAnon or the 2020 election fraud narrative. Is it possible that nearly every single public health institution on the globe has become blinded to vaccine harms because of selection bias and the unquestioned assumptions inherent in our religion of Progress? Yes, that is possible–but it’s not for not looking at all. There are scores and scores of scholarly articles and working papers that summarize and interpret the findings from vaccine reaction and death reports. It is possible that they are flawed, corrupted, or not asking the right questions–but when I compare those to the best that the anti-vaccination promoters have to offer, I find one side clearly lacking some important evidence.

          • Mark says:

            Thanks for all of your thoughts here. I’m glad we are discussing values rather than arguing about details as it is helpful to see where we are each coming from.

            I want to address three items from your comments.

            The first is the idea that “anti-vax” beliefs are strongly and irrationally held on a religious basis, mirroring the faith placed in vaccination by the religion of Progress.

            From my perspective “anti-vax” is primarily an out-group description: it is a derogatory label slapped onto people holding particular views by the opposing side, but it does not in any meaningful way imply a unified group with shared beliefs or perspectives. This is in contrast to something like QAnon, for which believers will generally self-identify as part of the group.

            Pre-covid, there was an existing divide over vaccination, and I’ll grant that it’s true that many on the “anti-vax” side had overlap with a number of other fringe or conspiracy beliefs. Predictably, pre-existing anti-vaxxers have come out swinging against the covid vaccines; perhaps the most prominent voice is RFK, Jr. While I’m willing to consider their arguments that childhood vaccines may be causing widespread harms that are going unacknowledged, I’ll also admit that I generally have not been paying attention to anyone who is a member of this group. What the mainstream narrative has accomplished is essentially to use the label “anti-vax” – with its pre-existing conspiracy stigma – to cast a wide net in an attempt to discredit anyone raising concerns about these new vaccines.

            The voices I have been paying attention to – Geert Vanden Bossche, Robert Malone, Peter McCullough, Bret Weinstein, and a whole collection of doctors, epidemiologists, and public health scientists – would not, by any stretch of the imagination, have been described as “anti-vax” in 2019. Some of them have even voiced concerns that our coercion campaigns for these novel and potentially risky vaccines will lead to backlash against vaccination in general and strengthen the true anti-vax movement. I would not describe them as adhering to any sort of shared religion or ideology, although they have been united by circumstance and they have all appeared on the same set of podcasts etc. that are willing to air controversial views. The only thing they have in common, from my perspective, is existing outside of official structures and institutions – which is to be expected given that questioning covid vaccine safety is now grounds for expulsion from said structures and institutions. They may, of course, be wrong in some or most of their stated positions. But any attempt to describe them as motivated by some sort of shared belief or conspiracy will fall flat, at least from my perspective.

            —-

            The second is another consideration of VAERS and similar systems.

            My understanding is that the way officially-accepted analyses of the data are adjusting for probable increased reporting is by doing proportional analysis. If there are 100-fold more reports, but a similar proportion of them are for heart attacks and kidney failure as for e.g. flu vaccines, then that is not a signal, but if something is proportionally overrepresented (like myocarditis in young men) then that is a signal. From my perspective, this is unlikely to turn up false positives but it could very easily lead to false negatives, particularly if the vaccines are introducing a generalized physiological stress or an effect (like microclotting) that can manifest in many different ways. In a sense, this reveals the limitations of passive monitoring systems and the necessity of active monitoring which to my knowledge is not happening. All of the placebo group trial participants have been offered the vaccine. Theoretically this sort of information should have emerged from the trials themselves, but after hearing whistleblower reports and seeing case studies like Maddie de Garay (a healthy 12-year-old girl who became wheelchair bound after the trial, but whose symptoms were only recorded as “stomach discomfort”) I am far from convinced that the trials exercised due diligence in this regard.

            ——–

            The third is a brief consideration of universal health care.

            I believe, ethically, that health care should be a human right available to everyone regardless of ability to pay. However, I am also increasingly convinced that our existing medical-pharmaceutical-industrial complex is broken beyond repair. After seeing things like Medicare approval of outrageously expensive new drugs with questionable benefits, I believe that a “Medicare-for-all” approach would effectively amount to a massive and opaque transfer of wealth from taxpayers (and from newly-minted “modern monetary theory” dollars) into the pockets of an increasingly bloated, often-ineffective, and bureaucratic system that has buried a personal doctor-patient relationship beneath layers of paperwork and administration.

            What I would really like to see is a transparent, public-utility-type system more akin to the way we pay for electricity or food. Prices would be plainly stated and the same for all payers, and most expenses would be paid out of pocket. Cost-sharing and public assistance plans (the equivalent of Food Stamps and car insurance) would assure that those who are unable to pay can still have their healthcare needs taken care of, and would spread the cost of particularly extensive procedures (e.g. cancer treatment, heart surgery) across the population. In order for this to work without imposing a huge tax on society we would need to reduce costs by at least 50%, which could be accomplished by breaking the stranglehold of corporate medicine and allowing doctors to set up private practices with a minimum of administration and publicly-guaranteed malpractice coverage.

            I’m really not sure how to get there, although one way appears to be through the collapse of the current system, with doctors ultimately getting fed up or kicked out and setting up concierge clinics. Although I can envision what a better system might look like, none of the current options appear to lead in that direction. Although this would put me at odds with many on the left who favor central government provision of services, I am generally in favor of re-localization and dis-intermediation wherever possible. I still consider myself left-leaning, though, because I want the systems that emerge to be equitable and to emphasize community solidarity rather than battles over scarcity with winners and losers.

            Mark

          • Devin G. Martin says:

            PS: I should apologize for saying I would be short in my replies 🙂

            I want to stress that I don’t rule out the possibility that there are significantly more deaths than are currently “confirmed” in the USA (though I think that number would likely be in the tens to hundreds, rather than the thousands to tens of thousands). I also believe it is perfectly possible, and even likely, that there are more serious adverse reactions to the vaccines than most folks realize, and that most often right-wing or right-oriented folks are far more willing to listen to these stories and offer their compassion and concern. I find this to be an enormous problem for those of us on the left, as this is becoming a wedge issue that will likely drive more previously unaffiliated, vaccine-hesitant voters to the GOP in the fall (not that the Democrats are a great alternative; the state of politics in the US is a thorny, depressingly disappointing topic).

            If it were up to me, we would have a universal healthcare system in place that would place large checks and balances on the pharmaceutical industry’s profit motives, and would provide care for those who suffer vaccine reactions, many of whom got vaccinated for the greater good and deserve our care and attention. I fear that the current national dialogue around covid and vaccines is driving most vaccine-hesitant people, quite rationally following their logic, to reject any such system, even if it became a serious political potential here. A system so incompetent to overlook or, even worse, deliberately reject, obvious widespread harm, doesn’t sound like one I’d want to be forced to support and participate in through taxes. I recognize that my support for universal healthcare in the US biases me toward seeing the healthcare system as an overall net good, and perhaps all my reasoning is simply a function of trying to salvage that hope for me.

            But in the end, I’m more interested in the truth than in what bolsters my worldview. That’s part of the reason I try to follow the claims of folks who disagree, and why I appreciate conversations like this, where we can talk without casting doubt or blame on the other.

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