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The Taliban Got More Sympathy

Treatment of ordinary people as the enemy due to their vaccination status is a shameful indictment of a supposedly civilized society.

The startling levels of antipathy, if not hatred, displayed toward the unvaccinated as “the enemy” are enough to make those long hot days of bloodshed in Afghanistan during my time in the British Army appear a halcyon time of basic ethical medical practice.

As the Covid-19 industrial complex continues its best-selling run, it’s not uncommon to come across opinions such as, “if they are unvaccinated then they deserve to die,” or, “if they catch Covid they should not get treatment.” But even in Afghanistan, in the midst of war, the soldiers of the coalition were able to extend compassion to enemies whom we had every reason to loath. In Camp Bastion’s field hospital, horrifically wounded soldiers were treated alongside the same Taliban we were fighting, and who were so effective at inflicting gruesome injuries on our soldiers.

It was an example of humanity’s nobler side—as well as of basic medical ethics, in line with the Geneva convention. And yet, now, in peace time, in supposedly civilized society, many appear unable to display such equanimity for their fellow citizens.

“For the vulnerable and at risk it’s a no brainer, but for everyone else, it’s an individualised decision that should be based on actual facts and information that is designed to help them make a decision not bully them into it,” Renee Hoenderkamp, a British doctor and radio and TV presenter, recently tweeted regarding vaccines and measures such as vaccine mandates and passports. “I cannot support any form of medical apartheid. It goes against every medical ethic that I was trained to respect and most importantly; my heart. I don’t discriminate.”

But as medical ethics go out the window in other quarters, so too are thrown out other basic ethical considerations that hitherto seemed obvious enough—often from those who previously set great store by them.

“Why did the Left ignore the massive increase in inequalities, the attack on the poor, on poor countries, on women and children, the cruel treatment of the elderly, and the huge increase in wealth for the richest individuals and corporations resulting from these policies?” Toby Green and Thomas Fazi asked in a recent essay for UnHerd. The two writers note the left’s blinkered embrace of the “for the public good” narrative behind vaccine development and rollout, despite the huge amounts of money at stake for the companies involved.

And then there’s the left’s surprising obliviousness, given its usual focus on oppression, to the worrying ethical and political implications of Covid passports. Drawing from the writings of Viktor Frankl, the famous Austrian psychiatrist, philosopher, and Holocaust survivor—who I sense would have some choice words about Austria’s latest measures around Covid-19—part of the problem might be that humans seem to be behaving more like ants these days.

Frankl describes how the biological instinct that leads to “a pattern of reaction that preserves and saves” the majority of ants in a colony can, in a given case, mean the destruction of a particular ant for the sake of the collective. Fortunately, he explains, humans, while sharing animal instincts, are also driven by other factors. “The ‘ethical instinct’ is entirely different,” Frankl says. “In contrast to vital instincts, the effectiveness of the ethical instinct depends on the fact that its target is not anything general but something individual, something concrete.”

Frankl notes that morality at a more general level, unlike the ethical, doesn’t always help clear up the confusion around a conundrum. Hence, “just as the animal is at times misled by the vital instincts, so may man go astray, ironically, by obeying the precepts of moral reason which, as such, only deal with generalities, whereas the ethical instinct alone enables him to discover the unique requirement of a unique situation.” It is only conscience, Frankl elaborates, that “is capable of adjusting the ‘eternal,’ generally agreed-upon moral law to the specific situation a concrete person is engaged in.”

People have decided not to get vaccinated based on their specific situations, which will indeed be an issue of conscience for some. Many of their critics have responded with reductive slander by labelling them anti-vaxxers, a misnomer that fuels division. The very fact we are now talking about “the unvaccinated”—as I have done and now regularly do—should give us pause. I appreciate that often it is simply shorthand, but language is both a blessing and a curse, words can be both tame and destructive, and there is a risk of using “unvaccinated” as a dehumanizing label akin to other pejorative categorizations used throughout history.

It is increasingly odd how blasé many people are about the emerging trends around “the unvaccinated.” In a recent Substack article, former public policy journalist Alex Klaushofer discusses the work of Mattias Desmet, a psychology professor at Ghent University in Belgium, on “mass formation.” This phenomenon emerges in a society when four conditions are met, Klaushofer explains. First, there is widespread social isolation, with the population lacking in social bonds. Second, life is characterised by a pervasive sense of meaninglessness. Third, free-floating anxiety—a sense of general unease unrelated to worry about particular things—is widespread. Fourth, there is widespread frustration and aggression, but again without a specific focus.

These kinds of conditions, Desmet argues, prevail in many western countries, with people working long hours in jobs they consider meaningless, living in isolated modern housing in suburbs lacking in communal life. (I can see the Taliban nodding along: Yep, for all your tech and supposed progression, the way you guys live really saps the lifeforce from you—and that’s one of the reasons you lost and we won.) Into this Western lifestyle of ennui, saturated by a general uneasiness, if not an undefinable fear, sprang Covid-19 and a subsequent chain reaction of mass formation, given a little nudging help from our friends in government and mainstream media. Desmet writes:

If, under these conditions, a narrative is distributed through the mass media indicating an object of anxiety and at the same time providing a strategy to deal with this object of anxiety, then the free-floating anxiety attaches to the object of anxiety indicated in the narrative and there is a huge willingness to participate in the strategy to deal with this object of anxiety.

And thus, “solving” the crisis posed by this new infectious disease became an all-important new goal to aim for, justifying a new set of practises to perform accompanied by the idea that this new enemy could be controlled or eradicated—thereby giving people a new, common sense of purpose.

But woe to those who don’t want to participate, especially if they don’t want to get vaccinated. Writing in 1975, Frankl spoke of the “spreading existential frustration” causing people to either wish to do what other people do, in conformism, or to do what other people wish them to do—which is the road to totalitarianism.

James Jeffrey is a freelance journalist and writer who splits his time between the U.S., the U.K., and further afield, and writes for various international media. Follow him on Twitter: @jrfjeffrey and at his website: www.jamesjeffreyjournalism.com.

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