In Upstate New York, thirty Lewis County General Hospital health clinicians resigned rather than take the mandated Covid shot. Six of those who resigned worked in the maternity unit; the hospital shut down the maternity unit until new nurses who are vaccinated can be recruited.
Other essential services may be curtailed, as 73 percent of unvaccinated clinicians have yet to decide if they will quit rather than be vaccinated. Recruitment of new nurses will not be easy, since thousands of job openings for nurses in Upstate New York are unfilled.
Are these unvaccinated nurses and other healthcare professionals the “true enemy,” as one Democratic consultant called them? In the region served by the hospital, do families soon to experience the birth of a child feel safer now that some of their formerly trusted healthcare professionals have been purged? Are some of their patients wondering why these healthcare professionals would sacrifice their careers?
Illiberal mandates violate bodily autonomy and arguably worsen health outcomes. So, why are President Biden’s advisors pushing them? Do Biden and his advisors sincerely believe mandates will end the pandemic? If so, James Harrigan explains well the logical absurdity of mandates. Or are they consolidating power by exploiting human nature and borrowing a page from the totalitarian playbook to exacerbate tribal differences?
To understand the psychological roots of tribal fractures, let’s begin with a story not about vaccine mandates.
Larry David’s Contempt
Larry David and Alan Dershowitz were close friends for 25 years until Dershowitz became one of Trump’s impeachment lawyers. In August, Dershowitz was having a cup of coffee with friends on the porch of a Martha’s Vineyard general store. David arrived and started screaming at his former friend.
Dershowitz: “We can still talk, Larry.”
David: “No. No. We really can’t. I saw you. I saw you with your arm around [former Trump Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo! It’s disgusting!”
Dershowitz: “He’s my former student [at Harvard Law]. I greet all of my former students that way. I can’t greet my former students?”
David: “It’s disgusting. Your whole enclave — it’s disgusting. You’re disgusting!”
This was not a publicity stunt for the next season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
If you have ever watched Curb, you know feelings of disgust run through many episodes. Larry is being called disgusting, or he is calling someone or something disgusting. In art, Larry never beats his tormentors.
Larry David is 74 years old, yet like many of us, he hasn’t learned not to toss his psychological trash on the side of the road. The overwhelming sense of disgust that Larry feels for Alan is in Larry’s mind. Angrily denouncing Alan won’t solve Larry’s problem. Larry can project the idea of disgust onto Alan, but the more he projects, the more he strengthens the idea of disgust in his mind. The more Larry projects, the more he wallows in his psychological trash.
Projection is our futile attempt to absolve ourselves of responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors by denying what exists in us while finding the same qualities in other people. Dershowitz was merely a symbol for how David sees himself. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey wrote, “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are.”
Of course, Larry’s attempt to project is universal. What we block from our awareness, what we don’t acknowledge, we seek to hurl out. Projection never works; our psychological trash does not magically leave our mind when we demonize others. Larry may have felt a temporary catharsis, but he was losing, not gaining, psychological freedom. David’s psychological freedom comes from his decision to acknowledge his mind is the causative agent of his experience of reality.
Importantly, politicians will exploit the human weakness to project. Using propaganda, they aim to drum into our minds scapegoats onto whom to project what we do not want to acknowledge in ourselves. Individuals who are psychologically free will be less susceptible to totalitarian propaganda.
In The True Believer, social philosopher Eric Hoffer observed: “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil. Usually, the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil.”
Hoffer recounts that before the “Final Solution,” “when Hitler was asked whether he thought the Jew must be destroyed, he demurred, “We should have then to invent him. It is essential to have a tangible enemy, not merely an abstract one.”
Hoffer continued with the story of “a Japanese mission that arrived in Berlin in 1932 to study the National Socialist movement.” Journalist Frederick Voigt asked “a member of the mission what he thought of the movement. The visiting delegate replied, ‘It is magnificent. I wish we could have something like it in Japan, only we can’t, because we haven’t got any Jews.’”
Hoffer found, “It is perhaps true that the insight and shrewdness of the men who know how to set a mass movement in motion, or how to keep one going, manifest themselves as much in knowing how to pick a worthy enemy as in knowing what doctrine to embrace and what program to adopt.”
Nazis argued that Jews were vermin that spread disease. If you thought that most Germans saw through the propaganda and merely went along because they were intimidated, you would be wrong. German doctors claimed, “that Jews were especially responsible for outbreaks of typhus.” They “published essays claiming that Jewish people’s supposedly ‘low cultural level’ and ‘uncleanliness’ were to blame.”
Yesterday’s “low cultural level” has morphed into labeling the unvaccinated and those not in step with Covid policy as “anti-science,” who manifest villainous disregard for the safety of others.
After the invasion of Poland, “German public health officials…repeatedly urged occupation authorities to isolate Jews further from the rest of the population and deny them access to medicine.”
Anti-Semitism was not required to support the Nazis. In my essay, Safety is Found in Principles, Not Lies I tell this story:
In his book They Thought They Were Free, (Milton) Mayer tells the story of how ordinary Germans—“we little people” as they referred to themselves—became Nazis. Mayer befriended these former Nazis and also examined the historical record to verify their stories.
Consider policeman Willy Hofmeister. Mayer relates the story of how in 1938, Hofmeister was assigned the job of rounding up Jewish males “for their own protection.” Hofmeister was no Nazi thug; he was polite and respectful as he carried out his officious but deadly deeds.
As Hofmeister was taking into custody one Jewish man, he recalled being asked why the town synagogue was blown up that day. He answered, “They blew it up as a safety measure.”
Today, medical professionals are being terminated as a safety measure. No doubt, some readers will be outraged by this historical comparison. Willy Hoffmeister was not aware of his mental blinders; similarly blinders block awareness of many today.
Of course, not all policymakers advocating mandates have totalitarian goals, yet their good intentions don’t matter. Illiberal means will lead to destructive ends.
In the face of widespread illiberalism, if we are resigned to thinking there is little we can do, we will get the politicians we deserve. Yet, there is much we can do; understanding psychological freedom undoes the error of projection.
Watch Your Fear Response
Fear drives the primitive part of the brain, the amygdala. In his book, The Fundamentalist Mind, Steven Larsen writes, “If you wish to induce a state of compliance in your would-be-constituency it is clearly an advantage to frighten them. First, induce the amygdaloid fear response and then offer them a loaded choice: be saved or be damned.” To deploy coercive power totalitarians need your fear.
Take Back Your Projections
Hoffer explained how totalitarians use “a sense of grievance” to drive people to submit to authority. Grievances will arise in your mind, but you don’t need to hold on to them. Totalitarians can only exploit the hate in your mind that you cultivate. For a moment, forget about more significant societal issues and get personal: Take back your personal projections. Learn from Larry David’s mistake. If you remain unaware of your projections, politicians will exploit your grievances.
Don’t Intellectually Bully People
No matter what side of an issue you are on, don’t make arguments that begin with “There is no other way,” “All sensible people know,” and the like.
Larry Cosme, the president of the nonpartisan and pro-vax Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association offered this guidance: “[Biden’s] executive order villainizes employees for reasonable concerns and hesitancies and inserts the federal government into individual medical decisions. People should not be made to feel uncomfortable for making a reasonable medical choice.”
See The Humanity in Others
As Hoffer explained, when we don’t see the humanity in others, we provide oxygen to authoritarians. Oppose authoritarianism by seeing the humanity in everyone you meet.
The Vienna-born philosopher Martin Buber fled Germany after Hitler came to power. In his best-known work, I and Thou, Buber observed that we see the world in one of two fundamental ways: “I-Thou” or “I-It.” Seeing others as important as one’s self is the “I-Thou” way. Through the “I-It” lens, others are seen as lesser objects who help us or are obstacles that get in our way.
Watch your mind as you “I-It” your way through the day. The supermarket clerk who moves slower than you would like, the customer service representative not solving your problem, the driver who cuts you off on the highway; watch how your mind turns them into “its.” Awareness of your thinking patterns helps you make different choices.
Hoffer wrote, “There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgment.” Hoffer continued,
“When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse. Herein undoubtedly lies part of the attractiveness of a mass movement. We find there the “right to dishonour,” which according to Dostoyevsky has an irresistible fascination.”
Hoffer taught there are high personal and societal costs when individuals renounce personal responsibility.
Respect the Extended Order
In his book The Fatal Conceit, Friedrich Hayek explored the extended order, an order that is the product of voluntary, human cooperation and not a designed order based on coercion. Hayek wrote, “Our civilization depends, not only for its origin but also for its preservation, on what can be precisely described only as the extended order of human cooperation, an order more commonly, if somewhat misleadingly, known as capitalism.”
Jonah Goldberg has observed, “The market system is so good at getting people—from all over the world—to work together that we barely notice how much we’re cooperating.”
The residents of Upstate New York now have fewer medical options. They are noticing the impact of less human cooperation, as controls undermine the rights of individuals to make personal medical decisions.
Most of us would perish without the extended order; the few survivors would revert to a primitive existence. Today, notice how much you depend on human cooperation for fully stocked supermarkets, UPS and FedEx deliveries, the internet, electricity, and on and on.
Totalitarians reduce human cooperation. Don’t be a cheerleader for their illiberal schemes. Cultivate your psychological freedom to be less susceptible to totalitarian propaganda. As human cooperation decreases and hatred increases, you too, not just the people the mandates are directed against, will suffer. The oxygen of capitalism is cooperation. The oxygen of totalitarians is hatred for differences.