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rigged games, scapegoats

I could be wrong but I feel like there's a thing going on rhetorically right now with covid as follows. There's a big push for face to face school and college, on-campus living, etc. This is a choice will increase covid transmission. That’s justified by saying or implying that the additional infections are few and that the health risks and harms resulting from those additional infections are both few and relatively mild. I have some views (and a lot of big feelings) about the political and moral facets of defining these harms as small and few, that’s part of what my book is about. But setting that aside, there’s a kind of message here that says ‘unvaccinated young people being in these circumstances is not a cause for serious concern’ - in the sense that it’s not a big enough deal to force anything to change. Alongside these, there’s also a drumbeat around the mental health and social contact needs of young people, implying that for those populations the prevention may be more harmful than the disease. It’s my understanding that’s questionable - the predicted wave of suicides hasn’t happened, as far as I’ve read, for instance - and it’s also hard to weigh different harms against each other, hard to tell how much mental anguish equates to being hospitalized etc. (That’s another thing my book is sort of about. Anyway.)

While this is happening, the people making these pushes are talking out of the other sides of their mouths about responsibility - not their own, but yours, you, this is on you for your actions, pleb! There’s all the hygiene theater around handwashing and maskwearing (maybe wear two masks, wash your hands twice while you’re at it...) and there’s also lot of fingerwagging about people getting together socially. This is obvious, but if it’s okay for kids to be in close proximity for hours in classsrooms, and in school and college athletics, then what’s wrong with getting together with family over the holidays, or having a party? The latter stuff is written off as irresponsible. The focus is placed on officially powerless ordinary people deciding sometimes to do face to face activities, while the decisions of official decision-makers to push face to face activities get insulated from questioning.

Along similar lines there’s some emerging - and justified! - concern about some people potentially not getting vaccinated, or not vaxing their kids once that’s available. That’s awful and I hope the vaccination numbers are very high. At the same time, the people who don’t get vaxed seem to me like a convenient scapegoat for powerful people and their sycophants and supporters. Mass vaccination is at best a mixed bag in practice right now in lots of ways, it seems to me, including massive global inequities in who does and doesn’t get the vaccine. Focus on some wacko anti-vaxers helps distract from that, even though those anti-vaxers are legitimately some level of danger to society. I also think the push for so-called re-opening and the use of the vaccine as the cure-all rather than more social measures - like, above all, paying people to stay home! - helps create a context where anti-vax is a little more plausible. People who don’t vaxed or say they won’t vax their kids against covid are to some extent following the implications of the script involved in the push for face to face schools. Students who socialize and party despite the fingerwagging are doing the same, they’re following the script that says they can be face to face relatively safely and that ultimately they need to be face to face together. And the irresponsible partying college student seem to me a convenient scapegoat for the administrators and others making this push.

That’s what I’ve been trying to think my way toward. There’s a kind of gameplay here, so to speak, where institutionally powerful people set out a range of positions for others, and within those positions there’s a kind of loyal or useful opposition who serves as a convenient scapegoat. It’s a kind of casino in that in the long run the house always wins. I think that level of in-game opposition and conflict helps keep the game going, so to speak. So it’s not that partying youth and antivaxers are right or even rational (I’m more sympathetic to the former than the latter but wish both would knock it off), it’s that I think both are low key encouraged by the same institutionally powerful people who wag their fingers at those troublemakers, and those troublemakers (and the opportunities for finger-wagging that they faciltiate) probly ultimately help powerful people get their way in all this.

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