Why do so many people distrust the government and the leading institutions of their country? That is the question I have been trying to solve in my own meandering and no doubt annoying style.
Many people, even poor people, have been sucked in by the dominant ideology. Such people, for example, say something like this: ‘I am not any-vaccine, I just want to exercise my personal choice.” They see everything through the lens of personal choice. Now I am also big on personal choice and being responsible for my choices, but I don’t want to forget about the common good either. Sreedhar and Gopal interviewed a woman from the residential complex where Mr. Steed lived, Amanda Santiago and this was her attitude. Anita Sreedhar and Anand Gopal pointed this out in their essay in the New York Times about one of the residents of a lower class housing project in the Bronx: “A growing body of research suggests that Ms. Santiago’s views reflect a broader shift in America, across class and race. Without an idea of the common good, health is often discussed using the language of “choice.” We must remember all such choices, which we are allowed to make, have consequences.
For example, Kyrie Irving is a basketball star. He advocated for personal choice and decided not to take the vaccines. As a result, he is so far missing the entire basketball season, and he is accepting the consequences in lost earnings. He can afford it. In Steinbach we have Pastor Tissen from the Church of God restoration who used the same language of personal choice.
This is what Sreedhar and Gopal say about personal choice:
“Of course, there’s a lot of good that comes from viewing health care decisions as personal choices: No one wants to be subjected to procedures against their wishes. But there are problems with reducing public health to a matter of choice. It gives the impression that individuals are wholly responsible for their own health. This is despite growing evidence that health is deeply influenced by factors outside our control; public health experts now talk about the “social determinants of health,” the idea that personal health is never simply just a reflection of individual lifestyle choices, but also the class people are born into, the neighborhood they grew up in and the race they belong to.”
Anita Sreedhar and Anand Gopal pointed out some important things about personal choices and Covid-19 when the social determinants of health are ignored:
“Vaccine uptake is so high among wealthy people because Covid is one of the gravest threats they face. In some wealthy Manhattan neighborhoods, for example, vaccination rates run north of 90 percent.
For poorer and working-class people, though, the calculus is different: Covid-19 is only one of multiple grave threats.”
For people who live in poor areas such as the Bronx, Covid is not as big a threat as they face every day from other sources such a drug related crime, hostile police, racism, and unreasonable landlords, to name just a few. In such a context Covid is not really that scary and as a result vaccine hesitancy is not irrational. Sometimes distrust is rational.
As a result, attitudes to Covid are quite naturally different between the lower and upper classes in such neighbourhoods. As Sreedhar and Gopal said,
“Most of the people we interviewed in the Bronx say they are skeptical of the institutions that claim to serve the poor but in fact have abandoned them. “When you’re in a high tax bracket, the government protects you,” said one man who drives an Amazon truck for a living. “So why wouldn’t you trust a government that protects you?” On the other hand, he and his friends find reason to view the government’s sudden interest in their well-being with suspicion. “They are over here shoving money at us,” a woman told us, referring to a New York City offer to pay a $500 bonus to municipal workers to get vaccinated. “And I’m asking, why are you so eager, when you don’t give us money for anything else?” These views reinforce the work of social scientists who find a link between a lack of trust and inequality. And without trust, there is no mutual obligation, no sense of a common good.”
The cost of distrust is enormously high, as we have been discovering. We really should not be surprised that so many people distrust the government so much that they refuse to take lifesaving vaccines. The world’s elites are paying a big price for allowing the poor to feel abandoned. Unfortunately, so are the rest of us.