I suspect these little controversies have been erupting all over the United States over the last few months, as the COVID-19 vaccines have rolled out. My local version had a prominent member of the Buffalo Bills, a wide receiver named Cole Beasley (who is quite a good player indeed) opining quite loudly that he will not be getting vaccinated, because of, well, reasons. As his reasons are almost entirely transparently goofy anti-science BS, his entire position ended up boiling down to amorphous concepts like "Freedom!" and "Personal choice!" and "Respect my opinion!" and, in one very strange utterance, "I'd rather die living."
I'm not going to prosecute the scientific case against the vaccinations, because in my estimation there simply is no such case and I'm not going to pretend there is just for the sake of balance. (And if you intend to use my comments section to make your own anti-vaccine arguments, don't bother. Moderation is on and no such comments will be published, nor even read past the point it takes me to recognize the game.) I am, however, interested in this notion of "I'd rather die living", because it represents a deeply strange way of looking at life.
I've heard various versions of this sentiment all throughout the pandemic, and in some contexts, even farther back than that. A particularly weird individual, an Ayn Rand-loving Objectivist, with whom I occasionally crossed swords on a particular geeky forum before I realized how far out the dude was and stopped engaging entirely. But at one point he was holding forth on the "metaphysical consequences" for not thinking logically (i.e., conceding the superiority of every one of his opinions), though he could never exactly say what those "metaphysical consequences" might be. I do recall him quoting a line from the movie Braveheart, in which our hero, on the eve of his public execution, says "Every man dies, but not every man really lives." Seems to me the same kind of notion as Beasley's "I'd rather die living".
Here's my question: I got vaccinated, just as soon as I was eligible to do so. Does this mean that I'm not "living", in Beasley's head?
Seriously, what does that mean?!
The idea seems to be an expression of a particularly annoying brand of American individualism. I've seen a lot of the past 18 months in America as yet another in a lifelong (and longer, actually) sequence of events illustrating just how spectacularly bad Americans are at thinking collectively, in terms of being a part of a community and the idea that a society has moving parts, and those moving parts are people. The very notion of doing any one thing that you might not want to do, on the basis that by doing so you will assist others, is anathema to a great number of people in this country. I mean, sure, they'll do voluntary stuff, because that makes them feel good. They'll donate to charities and attend the Basket Raffles to benefit some cancer victim, but suggest that we all contribute via our taxes to a nationally-administered health program that meets the healthcare needs of the people at significantly less cost per capita and ends the possibility of bankruptcy for people who get sick? Well, that is unacceptable.
We've seen this all over the place in the last year: You can't tell me not to go to a packed theater! I'm an American! I have freedom!
You can't tell me not to eat at a packed restaurant or get takeout only! I'm an American! I have freedom!
You can't tell me not to go to a baseball game with forty thousand other people! I'm an American! I have freedom!
You can't tell me not to wear a mask! I'm an American! I have freedom!
You can't tell me to get a vaccine! I'm an American! I have freedom!
Just imagine that: thinking that your freedom to refuse a vaccine to beat a pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 of your fellow citizens as of this writing is somehow more important than protecting the lives of those people in the first place.
To me, this represents a pretty sick version of freedom, and it's pretty clear to me that there are limits beyond which protecting life is a finer goal than preserving certain "freedoms" that aren't exactly existential in nature. In fact, I believe the ways that life might be made better through collective action greatly outweigh the benefit of any abstract "freedoms".
I don't mind giving up my freedom to drive my car 90mph whenever I want.
I don't mind giving up my freedom to drink a bottle of scotch and then go out driving.
And those are just the obvious examples. I don't mind giving up my "freedom" to quit my job tomorrow, because the benefit of showing up to work and doing a good job far outweighs the exercise of my "freedom".
And you know what? I'm still living, in every sense that matters.
By choosing to accept wearing a mask and by getting vaccinated against COVID-19, I wasn't choosing to not live. I think I was choosing to live more than Beasley is: I'm choosing to do my part in squashing this pandemic, and hopefully bring about the ability to do the things I love all the sooner. And while doing those things, it's not like I was sitting in some sort of ascetic withdrawal from society. We went out, we went for walks in the woods, we went on long drives, we got takeout food from favorite restaurants. We watched movies, had fires in the backyard, read books, walked dogs. We adopted two cats. We listened to music. We lived.
For Cole Beasley's "I'd rather die living" notion to be true, then the converse would also have to be true: By choosing the mask and social distancing and vaccination, I chose not to live. Beasley thinks his existence is somehow richer than mine, simply because he's taken the ignorant path against vaccination. And I find that notion...stupid and insulting.
You know what I've been doing, Cole Beasley? I've been living. And part of that has been helping to ensure that other people live, and that the people who need me and rely on me will still have me.
I've been living. And I'd rather continue living.
Because show me a person who died living, and I'll show you a dead person.
I'll get there soon enough, I guess. But for now, I'm not going to elevate it in some weird way.
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