(Image Credit: ‘The Conspirator 3’ from Wikimedia Commons; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
As politicians intensify the push to make Covid vaccine mandatory (sometimes by resorting to lies), our pliant punditocracy merely parrots their statements instead of correcting them. One wonders why the two appear to be acting in concert.
A MIS-STATEMENT, PARROTED
On August 04, 2021, former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne tweeted:
“Vaccination for multiple diseases is already mandatory for children in Ontario publicly funded schools.”
To put it mildly, this is at variance with facts. As I pointed out in my earlier article ‘Why Vaccine Passports Are a Bad Idea’, exemptions have existed for a very long time for medical grounds, religious beliefs and reasons of conscience (for ease of reference, I am repeating the links to the simple forms that parents have to fill out in order to avail the exemption; they are here and here).
In the context of making Covid vaccine mandatory, therefore, offering up this ‘example’ is simply wrong.
It is extremely relevant here that the first public position that Kathleen Wynne was elected to was that of a School Board Trustee in Toronto, in the year 2000. In 2003, she was elected as an MPP, and went on to become the Premier in 2014.
Given her track record of over two decades in active politics, including in the schools system, it is simply not possible that she is unaware of the existence of these exemptions. I am forced to conclude, therefore, that she knowingly uttered a lie.
But a politician lying to the populace isn’t exactly news. What made this lie worse was that it was taken up and amplified by the media – whose job should be to confront the person offering the lie so that the public can be properly informed. In this case, the exact opposite happened.
On the website of CTV News, Sean Davidson wrote an article the following day, titled ‘Ontario requires mandatory vaccines for students against nine illnesses, but says it won’t for COVID-19’.
It is unclear if this is the result of an overzealous headline-writer or not; although the second paragraph of the article begins with the words “Unless a student has a valid exemption …” the author still goes on to voice his lament soon thereafter:
“Despite not clearly stating why, the Ontario government has remained firm stating the COVID-19 vaccine won’t be added to the list.”
Colin D’Mello, another journalist with CTV News, tweeted this article with the following comment:
“Ontario requires mandatory vaccines for students against nine illnesses. Why not Covid-19?”
In the conversation that ensued, someone provided the link to the official policy page of Ontario government that clearly states that the exemptions exist, and gives the information associated with them. The unavoidable conclusion is that CTV either did not verify the relevant facts, or didn’t care about facts in this case.
THRUST AND SALLY
Elsewhere, the advocacy by an assortment of opinionators for making Covid vaccine mandatory via a vaccine passport / certificate continues. In previous articles, I have already cited their pieces that have the combined effect of an offensive from multiple directions:
- Andrew Coyne saying that ‘Vaccine mandates are not a hill to die on – literally or figuratively’
- Andre Picard contending that ‘The time for debating COVID-19 vaccine passports is over’ and
- Gary Mason introducing the element of threat in his piece ‘It’s time to get tough with vaccine resisters’.
All the three pieces above appeared in the Globe & Mail. Subsequently, I came across an article by Tasha Kheiriddin, writing in the National Post, wherein she issued a rallying cry for the pro-vaccine crowd in her article titled ‘Bring on the vaccine passports, and bottoms up’. In that article, she made this curious argument:
“… if you want people to get vaccinated, you have to give them an incentive. And that incentive is safe access to their pre-pandemic life.”
Even with English being my third language (the first two are Gujarati and Hindi, respectively) I am able to see that this is not an incentive, but rather blackmail.
On the same day (August 03), Scott Gilmore over at Maclean’s magazine threw out an outright ultimatum: ‘Vaccinations – No more carrot – bring out the stick’. The piece begins with comparing the opponents of the idea of mandatory vaccination with ‘toddlers’, and goes downhill from there; we learn that they are ‘less agreeable personalities’, ‘gullible’ and ‘assholes’ (I have repeated the last term with great consternation here; I am severely averse to use of such words by people in certain positions). In a word, the article oozes a combination of condescension and utmost disdain. In any other setting, it would be (rightly) judged as an act of bullying. But since he is advancing the official line, somehow it doesn’t get called out as such. As a side note, I also wonder how a publication of national stature can allow such language to appear in its pages.
On social media, there are a number of doctors and other personalities pushing hard for mandating Cavid-19 vaccine.
If I take a couple of steps back to look at the overall picture to understand the entire exercise, carried out with the connivance of multiple players strewn across the landscape, it strikes me that, despite the seeming coordination in their messaging, it is fatally disjointed. Here is why I have this opinion:
When we hear the word ‘Sanskrit’, we usually think of that language as being associated with religious scriptures of Hinduism. But actually, there is a very large body of ‘secular’ literature in that language, ranging from lengthy socio-romantic dramas all the way down to stand-alone couplets containing a single nugget of worldly wisdom. There are even fragments that don’t make a full sentence. These are probably part of some larger text; however, to those who are used to it, the fragment suffices to convey the intended meaning within the context of a discussion. One of these fragments is on the subject of how to deal with an adversary in negotiations. It says:
Saam, Daam, Dand, Bhed, Neeti
There are five ways to deal with someone whose interests or demands run counter to yours:
Saam: Persuasion – where you get the opponent to come around to accepting your position on the matter. It is noteworthy here that making untrue statements can be a part of this, if one does not desire to abide by a moral / ethical code. The only constraint in such cases is one’s assessment of their ability to deal with the consequences once the deceit is found out.
Daam: Price – offering material reward to offset the loss that is likely to occur to the opponent as a result of agreeing to your position. Depending on individual circumstances, this reward may be ‘compensation’ or ‘bribe’.
Dand: Punishment – whether carried out or threatened. The opponent’s motivation to agree to your position consists, in this case, of a desire to avoid pain. The arguments advanced by Gary Mason, Tasha Kheiriddin and Scott Gilmore fall in this category.
Bhed: Division – when the opponent is a group of people, you cause division among them in order to break down their collective strength. It is always easier to prevail over a divided group of people.
Neeti: Policy – you amend your position so that the opponent is more willing to agree with its revised version. Depending on the degree of amendment made, it can result in either a compromise or capitulation.
Let us now assess how the efforts of the pro-mandatory-vaccine crowd compare against this set of policy options.
Changing the sequence a little bit, let me note that ‘Neeti’ (policy amendment) is not on the table, as far as the pushers are concerned. They want complete capitulation of their opponents. This is in stark contrast with the existing regime, where the provision of exemptions for medical grounds, religious beliefs and reasons of conscience constitutes an example – and a fine one at that – of Neeti. This sensible approach is, for whatever (unfathomable) reason, not available in respect of the Covid-19 vaccine.
It is also clear that ‘Saam’ (persuasion) has failed – or at least reached the outer boundary of its effectiveness. Those who were predisposed to receive the idea have already joined the camp, and importantly, the efforts to get the remaining ones to agree by resorting to deception a la Kathleen Wynne are proving to be infructuous, if not outright counterproductive. At this point, all that their arguments (including the lies) amount to is (a) preaching to the choir, and (b) giving nods of approval to each other. Paradoxically, the deceit / lies may in fact be fueling the resistance to the message, because nobody likes the realization that the other person thinks of them as a fool who can be duped easily. Using Economics jargon, we can say that Saam now has negative marginal utility.
It is equally clear that ‘Daam’ (price) has also failed. An assortment of inducements (such as the nearly $ 2 million in prizes announced by Manitoba) have failed to coax the ‘vaccine-hesitant’ out of their safe spaces and into the embrace of the State. And contrary to what Ms. Kheiriddin believes, an offer of ‘safe access to their pre-pandemic life’ is not just notan inducement, but people also see it for what it is: a threat that such return would be denied to them if they don’t agree to what is being asked of them. In effect, it is Dand in the guise of Daam.
‘Dand’ (punishment) has not yet been tried, nor has it been explicitly threatened by the State (except in Quebec). I get a feeling that the authorities are using the media / opinionators (journalists and ‘Twitter doctors’ alike) to remain in the clear, politically speaking. In sum, they may be advancing the idea by using proxies. In Quebec, after the province announced its vaccine passport plan, vaccination appointments doubled, as reported by Global News. However, looking at the experience from other countries where this has been tried (notably Europe), it is likely that those who may still be opposed to mandatory vaccination could become even more viscerally opposed to it. The policy move could, thus, prove to be counterproductive beyond a point. One inescapable fact is that using Dand usually rules out going back to Saam; once punished, people are too ticked off to be in a mood to listen to a persuasive argument. The only recourse is to using even more Dand.
When it comes to ‘Bhed’ (division), the first thing that comes to mind is that the citizenry is already divided into two polarized, irreconcilable camps. But as a policy-maker, that is irrelevant; the objective would be to cause division among the people who are opposed to the idea of mandatory vaccination. Thankfully for that policy-maker (and the opposite for the rest of us), there are tools at their disposal. Let us examine them – and if & how they are being used presently – at some length.
‘THEY’ AND ‘THEM’
Before I begin, however, it is important to ponder how and why these tools work. Similes with the Holocaust always run the risk of being in poor taste (sometimes horribly so), but with that caveat in place (and with advance apologies to anyone who may feel offended), the widely known phrase ‘First they came for the Jews’ comes to mind. The crux of that lesson in the current context is that a policy-maker seeking to inflict a widely unpopular policy on an unwilling populace often seeks to do so first on an identifiable group that many people see as ‘deserving’ of such treatment. Alternatively, they may see the forcible implementation as being justified in the case of that group because of the surrounding circumstances. Once that group is tackled successfully, the process moves up the ladder, one rung at the time.
The first two groups that appear to have been singled out for making vaccination mandatory are health workers and teachers (or more broadly, education workers). These may seem like logical choices, given our concern for the elderly, the infirm and the young. However, it is worth noting that back in 2015, the Ontario Nurses Association was against mandatory masks for its unvaccinated members in the flu season (see this report by CBC). This stance was contrary to a decision by an arbitrator. Reading between the lines, there were nurses (and other health workers) who didn’t (or couldn’t) take the flu shot. Three years later, the Globe & Mail reported that another arbitration ruling forced nine hospitals in the Toronto area to scrap their policies forcing unvaccinated nurses to wear surgical masks. During Covid, however, both the Canadian Nurses Association and the Canadian Medical Association have called for mandatory vaccination among healthcare workers. It is likely that the blanket nature of their stance would lead to division among their ranks.
By contrast, Teachers’ Unions, by virtue of their cohesion and political clout, may offer the stiffest resistance of all to making vaccination mandatory.
Elsewhere, it was reported that Prime Minister Trudeau announced that he had asked the Clerk of the Privy Council ‘to look at mandatory vaccinations for federal employees’. Politically speaking, this is a shrewd move – it distances the PM from being held responsible for any decision (either way) that may be based on the recommendation of the Clerk, especially if things go south afterwards. At the same time, any resulting success would be his to claim. He is getting to eat his cake and keep it too.
It is unclear from the announcement whether employees of contractors working for the federal government would be covered by whatever recommendation that the Clerk may make (given the official tilt and the coordinated push, it is likely that the recommendation would be to have mandatory vaccination policy). One is also left wondering if ordinary citizens visiting the premises of a federal workplace would be covered by any new policy.
On another track, there appears to be an effort to farm out the policy on this matter to businesses, which I see as the governments shirking their policy-making responsibility in an effort to run away from a tricky situation. If that ‘farming out’ transpires, I can see several pitfalls ahead, including that there could be considerable variation between the policies of different business organizations, both regarding employees and customers.
The sum total of all the above is that forcing people to willy-nilly take the Covid vaccine would lead to considerable confusion and friction. There is also a possibility – however remote – of chaos. As if that weren’t enough, a new red flag went up recently.
POWER & PRIVILEGE
Quebec Premier Francois Legault used the term ‘vaccine privilege’ in one of his statements. For a considerable time, the term ‘privilege’ has been understood to be one side of a coin, the other side being ‘discrimination’; you are either ‘privileged’ or ‘discriminated against’.
In light of the very real experience where marginalized communities had far lower access to Covid vaccine (for a whole host of reasons), making that vaccine mandatory could exacerbate the discrimination that they are already facing. This factor is further compounded by the fact that booster shots are in the offing for the next several years; each shot would open up a new possibility for ongoing discrimination ( have explored this in detail in my previous article ‘Our New Untouchables’). Of course, that doesn’t matter to the pushers, whether politicians, opinionaters or others, all of them safely ensconced in their ivory towers. For reasons that they haven’t revealed or even hinted at, and that nobody outside their clique has been able to divine yet, they are dead-set on ushering in a ‘papers please’ era in what is, until now, a free society. Whatever cost that others (mostly the hoi-polloi) end up paying is immaterial to them. But what they don’t seem to have realized is that as the authoritarianism that they are helping to usher in takes root and grows, many of them could – perhaps would – end up being its victims. This is because, at the end of the day, there is no honour among thieves.