“Here lies the United States of America, sacrificed at the altar of ‘Rugged Individualism.’”
That’s the epitaph on the tombstone that looms ever larger in front of us as this nation appears destined to tear itself to shreds — no matter how apocryphal the idea of “Rugged American Individualism” really is.
For the last decade, we’ve watched the creeping death of expertise under the blade of poorly written memes, punditry disguised as news and served up as entertainment, and self-proclaimed citizen journalists with an iPhone, ring-light and a $50 microphone eviscerating even the most obvious things we know unquestionably to be objectively true.
The Earth is not now, nor has it ever been, flat. Yet thousands of Americans believe it is. We stand perched on the ever-shrinking precipice between “knowledge” and “belief.” And we teeter there because this nation is filled with a populace raised to cling to the notion that their opinions are always valid, and must be respected. No, Todd, your opinion that the Earth is flat is not valid, and it is not respectable.
Nowhere has this become more evident than the argument over COVID-19 vaccination. “This is very much a personal decision,” said Lori on a recent Facebook thread from a friend’s decision regarding whether or not to get the vaccine. “I’m not going to play an experiment on my body and health nor my children since we are all young and healthy.”
This was a sentiment echoed by several others on the thread. Thankfully a minority of the 125 people who responded — but taken as a sample size and extrapolated across a population of ~330 million Americans, it’s enough to prevent herd immunity from ever being acquired (my friend who posted the original comment did get the shot. Lori’s lack of civic responsibility did not sway her, thankfully).
It’s the underlying theme that drives all the wedge issues in this country. A sense of personal freedom — which is left up to the individual to define — trumps any sense of responsibility to community. Guns? Don’t tread on my freedom. Wearing a mask? Don’t tread on my freedom. Paying into a bigger pool so everyone can get healthcare? Don’t tread on my freedom. Baking a cake for gay people? Don’t tread on my freedom.
No, Lori. It’s not “very much a personal decision.” It’s a community decision, and your decision actively puts other people at risk. Not just you and your children. Other people and their children — specifically those who are too young or those who have health conditions that preclude their ability to get a vaccine.
Even if you’re still waiting for more “science,” the math is already clear: The COVID-19 vaccination is exponentially safer than dealing with COVID-19 without a vaccination. That is an objective fact. Vaccines do not cause autism. That is an objective fact. The United States has more guns in circulation than any other developed nation, and also the highest incidence of gun violence. That is an objective fact. The Earth is round. That is an objective fact. Your opinions on these facts have no bearing on their truth.
Either we embrace the idea that we bear some measure of responsibility for each other as neighbors and countrymen…
Or before long, we’ll really have to learn what it’s like to embrace Rugged Individualism.