August 16, 2021
Extreme individualism—the concept that “I have a right to do whatever I want, in line with my sense of my personal freedom”—is a tremendous problem in this society today, among all sections of the people. And one of the worst things about this is that this extreme individualism is actually a point of unity between some Black people, and other oppressed people, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the genocidal racist fascists. What a terrible situation where some Black people and other oppressed people can actually find themselves in the same place as those fascists who regard them as inferior sub-humans and want to deny them basic rights, lock them up permanently, or outright exterminate them!
This has come out sharply around the question of COVID vaccines—in opposition to getting the vaccines. While there is, particularly among Black people, some awful history with medical experiments, and some bad experience, historically and right to today, with medical authorities and medical treatment, it is a fact that the COVID pandemic has, in this country, hit Black people (as well as Latinos and Native Americans) the hardest, and with the heaviest death toll; and it is a fact that the vaccines against COVID have been clearly demonstrated to be safe and to be overwhelmingly successful in preventing serious illness and death from COVID. So, there is no good reason NOT to get these vaccines—and refusing to do so not only puts those refusing at risk of serious illness and possibly death, but also exposes others to the same risks.
And people are not just refusing to get the vaccines because of any legitimate concerns about the safety (or the effectiveness) of the vaccines. Far too many people—especially lunatic anti-scientific fascists but far too many others as well, including among those hardest hit by the COVID pandemic—are refusing to get the vaccines because of a combination of crazy conspiracy theories, other anti-scientific garbage, and rampant individualism. People insist that “it is a matter of personal choice” whether to get the vaccine—and those refusing to get the vaccine argue (often angrily and belligerently) that “it is a matter of my personal freedom.”
This is nonsense—very harmful nonsense! Individual freedom is not absolute—as almost everyone will agree when this is posed to them in terms that do not run up against their individualism. For example, few will argue that someone should have the freedom to drive 100 miles an hour through a school zone when children are crossing the street. And any reasonable person will agree that it is not okay for white supremacists to lynch Black people—or for the police to wantonly murder Black people—simply because they feel like it—because they see it as an expression of their “individual freedom” (and “personal choice”).
Along the same lines, it is worth noting that, in opposition to civil rights laws, people who owned businesses, such as stores and restaurants, and wanted to discriminate by refusing to serve Black people, would very frequently argue that it was a matter of their “freedom” to discriminate in this way (their right to do what they wanted with their business). And we have seen the same kinds of arguments from people who want to discriminate against other oppressed groups. Should that “individual freedom,” to discriminate in that way, be upheld?
It would be impossible to live in any society where “individual freedom” (or “personal choice”) were absolute. The question is: Are expressions of individual freedom, or restrictions on individual freedom, good or bad—do they make for a better, or worse, society?
This is why no woman should ever be forced to bear a child against her will, and it should therefore NOT be legal to deny women the right to abortion. And, on the other hand, it is why it SHOULD be legal to require (mandate) that people get vaccinated against COVID (except those for whom it would actually pose a demonstrable health problem) and mandatory to wear masks in situations where there is a real possibility of contracting, and spreading, COVID.