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Feature 09.29.2021 10 minutes

My Body, My Choice

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Aborting reason.

Editors’ Note

This essay was originally published on Mike Solana’s Substack, Pirate Wires. Subscribe here.

This month, as fate would have it, a controversial Texas abortion ban, shouted down from coast to coast with cries of “my body, my choice,” coursed a horrified media landscape just days before Biden introduced the concept of a national vaccine mandate. This is a very polite way of saying “forced medical procedures for almost everyone.” Across the ideological spectrum roles and rhetoric were promptly reversed. Demands that a person’s right to their own body be honored were ridiculed and rebuffed by many of the same people who had in some cases just hours prior made impassioned arguments on behalf of a person’s right to their own body. It was an almost perfect cognitive dissonance, and it should have been enough, once illustrated, to jar even the most ardent partisan hack from their bullshit. Long story short, approximately zero partisan hacks were jarred from their bullshit. My body, my choice? Depends on who’s asking, and for what reason. But setting aside the committed idiocy of our loudest talking heads, the question at the heart of Biden’s mandatory vaccination is as old as the concepts of society and liberty: when personal freedom and social good enter conflict, what the hell do we do?

A couple weeks back a reporter asked Jen Psaki, Biden’s press secretary, how “bold” the president was willing to be with his vaccine mandates. Forcing government workers to vaccinate was already on the table, a federal policy shadowing state and local policies around the country. But what about everyone else? Can we also force people working in the private sector to undergo medical procedures they don’t want? Psaki’s answer was, for me, literally unthinkable, in that I genuinely did not think something like this could ever be spoken from the White House. She smiled, bizarrely eager to answer the question, almost as if she were about to relay exciting news about some aspect of our government finally functioning in a manner not entirely mortifying (still no btw). Then she delivered a teaser for an unprecedented medical mandate delivered by way of what is almost certainly an unconstitutional breach of executive power.

“Yes,” she said, “stay tuned.”

There are a small number of people who believe no subversion of individual liberty is ever justifiable. This belief makes for a consistent, noble worldview, but it’s also irrelevant. On some level, almost everyone else believe in tradeoffs between liberty, society, and security. The questions are only when do we make trades, and how much of each value are we willing to trade for what? The answers to these questions tend to get a little messy, because reality’s a little messy, which is another thing most people intuitively understand. This is why a disregard for balance between high-level political values, or a refusal to acknowledge a balance must be struck, tends to be clocked in voting booths around the country as childish, and dismissed—there is a reason libertarians have failed to gain ground for the entire popular existence of that movement (for example). This is all to say my issue with forced vaccination is not absolute. I understand sacrifices sometimes must be made, and values sometimes must be traded. But this is a bad trade.

A subversion of liberty so significant as forcing someone to undergo a medical procedure they don’t want can potentially—if regrettably, and rarely—be justified. Two cases come to mind. First, if an individual is mentally incapable of making rational decisions concerning their health, conservatorship is in my opinion ethically justifiable. Second, if the country is faced with an existential threat that, say, something like forced vaccination could realistically thwart, let’s lay down the facts and have a conversation. But no one is arguing on behalf of conservatorship for tens of millions of Americans, nor is Covid-19 an existential threat to the nation or world. The virus is very dangerous, and my recommendation for every adult capable of doing so, especially the elderly and obese, continues to be: please f*cking vaccinate. But despite the hysterics of the actual craziest people alive on social media, no, we are thankfully not living in the movie Contagion. So what exactly are we doing here?

Biden’s mandatory vaccination will include federal workers as well as anyone working at any private company with more than 100 employees. It’s projected to force around 100 million Americans to vaccinate or lose their jobs. While no one in government has yet proposed holding people down and sticking them with a needle, the idea is something like this: get the vaccine or lose your ability to afford food. Okay.

To legally justify such an incredible use of executive force, the Biden administration is hiding behind a fifty-year-old Department of Labor power called an “emergency temporary standard.” The power is almost never used because the standard for use is incredibly high, a difficulty by design; legislators are supposed to legislate, not unelected bureaucrats working for the president, and a separation of powers is something even politicians used to care about. Since the emergency temporary standard’s inception, six of the nine attempts to use it were challenged in court, and all but one of the challenges were successful. But in this most recent case, questions concerning the power’s legitimacy have been muddied by the separate question of a national vaccine law’s constitutionality. The consensus among force-vaxx radicals seems to be something along the lines of “read a book, luddite, nation-wide mandatory vaccination is already legal.”

It is unequivocally not.

Enthusiasts of the “already legal” force-vaxx argument are for the most part referring to Jacobson v. Massachusetts, a 115-year-old Supreme Court ruling in which a local—not national—compulsory vaccination was upheld. But the compulsory vaccination central to the Jacobson case concerned Smallpox, which kills around a third of people infected, including somewhere between 40% and 50% of small children, with some rare strains killing between 90% and 100% of infected people. It’s hard to get a sense of the global Covid mortality rate as an enormous number of cases are asymptomatic, and therefore not included in the data (notably, the CDC estimates close to 60% of infections have been transmitted via asymptomatic individuals). But among diagnosed cases of Covid-19 the mortality rate seems to sit around 2%, with the vast majority of deaths occurring among the elderly and the obese. A child’s risk of dying from Covid is almost negligible, even among children with serious comorbidities, and a healthy child’s risk of dying from Covid is statistically close to zero. But in terms of stark differences between the world of Jacobson and the world of Biden, we’re really just warming up.

The Smallpox vaccination, and especially the earlier Smallpox inoculation, differed from the Covid-19 vaccination in a handful of significant ways. Among them—and I don’t understand why it feels so dangerous to point this out—Smallpox vaccination was in use for over a century before the Cambridge mandate that Jacobson brought to court. That’s a century of data. That’s a century, in a sense, of clinical trials. The Covid-19 vaccine has existed for a little over a year. We’re the trial. It’s also a fundamentally new kind of vaccine, something the RNA vaccine Wikipedia page used to make clear (and this rewrite of history should really be a piece in itself by the way, because holy sh*t). More significantly, smallpox inoculation (pre Edward Jenner) used to cause infection, which is to say a recently-inoculated individual could spread the disease. This is almost certainly why George Washington opted into compulsory Smallpox inoculation for his troops during the Revolutionary War, another fact radical force-vaxx ideologues love to bring up. In the first place, as previously established, Washington faced a far more dangerous threat in Smallpox than we do today in Covid. But more critically, inoculating any of his troops put all of his troops at immediate risk. He was faced with an all or nothing decision, and doing nothing was unthinkable. Then, Washington’s troops also trusted him, and isn’t that the real difference here?

Americans are reluctant to trust what our institutional leaders have to say about the vaccine because Americans no longer trust our institutions. We especially don’t trust our political leaders or media. After the last few years, why would we?

Masks are for Peasants

Last week, in a dress emblazoned with the words “TAX THE RICH,” we watched a maskless Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez smile brightly at one of the most exclusive parties in the world. This was presumably intended as a symbol of solidarity with the masked men and women working the event. Ocasio’s dress, it perfectly turns out, was designed by a tax-evading rich person. But her class hypocrisy didn’t resonate anywhere close to so greatly as the mask double-standard, which further contributed to the ongoing national trend of politicians and celebrities bucking irrational mandates they themselves have championed, and in many cases crafted. This week, in San Francisco, Mayor London Breed refused to apologize for going maskless inside a jazz club while marathon runners in the city were forced to maskoutside. This is not the first time Breed has pulled a stunt like this. But this is the first time Breed defended her actions in a manner befitting only the most cartoonish, apocryphal caricatures of Marie Antoinette:

In the above clip, Breed argues it doesn’t make sense to mask between bites (true), she reminds us she’s vaccinated, and so the mandate really doesn’t make sense (true). What she fails to acknowledge is these are her mandates. Then, spectacularly, she includes the utterly surreal defense that she was simply “feeling the spirit.” These were legendary jazz musicians, after all, she had to take her mask off. Why don’t her peasant critics understand this?

Great leaders make us feel a part of something. You’re hurting? I’m hurting too, but we’ll get through this together. The behavior we’ve seen from our leaders over the last two years, along with their mouthpieces in the media, is something very close to the opposite of what inspires trust.

Let’s run through a few of the greatest hits.

We all remember being told not to mask before being told to mask, only to ultimately be forced to mask. On the vaccine, Democrats like Kamala Harris mainstreamed Covid-19 anti-vaxx skepticism, which was echoed by her parrots at MSNBC, while Trump, and by extension Fox News, was perhaps the vaccine’s first champion. We likewise remember both of these positions reversing the moment executive power switched from the GOP to the DNC. Americans were not only told the zoological origin of Covid-19 was obvious, was certain, but that any questions concerning the bat coronavirus factory down the block from the Wuhan wet market were racist. There is presently no evidence supporting a zoological theory of origin (just last week from the Lancet: “An appeal for an objective, open, and transparent scientific debate about the origin of SARS-CoV-2”).

The “elites can’t be trusted” suspicion is a rabbit hole with no bottom. Once someone even vaguely skeptical of institutional power starts googling, it’s not too long before they hear about the FBI’s involvement with the Senator Whitmer assassination plot. Any casual observer can plainly see the bizarre disparity between coverage of the January 6th Capitol riot, characterized by many across the media and government as an actual coup, and the obvious capabilities of, for example, the self-described shaman in American flag face paint who memed his way across the internet in a costume Viking helmet. This is not to say the Capitol riot wasn’t a big deal. Political violence is always serious, and I myself took the Capitol riot very seriously. I also took the preceding six months of rioting seriously, as did most Americans. This was a period of time CNN famously characterized as “mostly peaceful protests” in front of a flaming building. Up in Washington, the mayor of Seattle characterized Antifa’s explicit “autonomous zone,” the group’s overtly secessionist name for several blocks of Capitol Hill held under quasi-gang occupation, as perhaps a new “summer of love.” But on the topic of coups, are we ever going to talk about General Milley? Because it seems like he attempted to take control of the military from Trump in the final days of his presidency, something even a few of Trump’s greatest critics, including the View’s Sony Hostin of all people, have characterized as essentially treasonous. Forgive a question from the peasantry: how the hell is this man still employed?

I’m often asked what I would do about the vaccine problem, where “vaccine problem” is defined as Trump supporters refusing to vaccinate. In the first place, it’s more complicated than that. All sorts of people are vaccine hesitant. But for anyone who actually believes “the only reason Covid still exists is Trump supporters refuse to science,” isn’t the answer obvious? Swallow your pride and call the vaccine a Trump shot. Put all of your money and time into praising Trump for doing what the ‘dumb loser hater libs’ could not, could never. Wow, how lucky we are to have once had a man such as TRUMP in office, my God. Thank you, Donald. Bring the man to CNN. Throw him an award show, give him a tiny golden syringe, whatever. Showering Trump in praise for championing the vaccine is how you would change perception of the vaccine among Trump supporters if changing perception were actually the goal of Covid policy. But the goal of Covid policy is power, and anyway, listen, I’ve got to be honest, I’m starting to have a hard time caring about the health outcomes of people who choose not to vaccinate.

In March 2020 I believed Covid-19 was an existential threat to the nation, mostly because we didn’t understand the nature of the virus. We now know a great deal about the virus, vaccines are free and ubiquitous, and Covid-19 is no longer an existential threat to the nation. Today, Covid-19 is only an existential threat to individuals at high risk of Covid mortality who refuse to vaccinate. To these ostensibly rational adults I would simply say this: yes, there are risks innate of any medical procedure, including vaccination, but your risk from Covid is far, far greater. If you don’t vaccinate you will almost certainly get Covid, and if you do get Covid, there is a very good chance you will not survive. The end. Later. I’m sorry, but I’m sort of over it!

Provided the vaccine hesitant aren’t literally crazy (they mostly aren’t), and the rest of us are pretty much safe (we are), there is no ethical justification for forcing anyone to undergo a medical procedure they don’t want. And until there is?

My body, my choice.

Forced vaccination at the scale of our entire country is presently an unjustifiable grab for power, and the thing about power? Sure, once a man gets a taste of it there’s never enough, and we should all expect more authoritarianism from this administration. But in America power also changes hands. You love your God King today, that’s swell. He won’t be president forever. What happens when the next Trump gets to tell you what you have to put inside your body?

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