COVID-19 reveals breakdown of society - opinion

The COVID-19 crisis has brought out some of the best in us, but also some of the worst.

Police officers during a raid on a Yeshiva that is open in violation of the Covid-19 emergency regulations, at the Sanhedria Neighborhood in Jerusalem, January 19, 2021. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Police officers during a raid on a Yeshiva that is open in violation of the Covid-19 emergency regulations, at the Sanhedria Neighborhood in Jerusalem, January 19, 2021.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
The COVID-19 crisis has brought out some of the best in us, but also some of the worst.
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Most people follow the rules of wearing masks and keeping social distance, but many do not. The underlying problem emerges from this comment in a Facebook thread aimed at encouraging people to get their vaccinations:
“If I’m vaccinated, why should I care if anyone else gets vaccinated?”
We respond to anti-vaxxers by recounting all the health reasons why we should be getting our vaccinations, why it’s important to protect ourselves, to protect our neighbors, and to protect those who can’t get vaccinated for legitimate reasons.
This comment takes the argument to another level, opening up a new field of morality, or lack of it.
In his book Morality, the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks defined the term as “the capacity to care for others. It is a journey beyond the self.”
I don’t know if the person who asked the above question is in the US or Israel. It doesn’t matter. There is a class of people in both our societies that care only about themselves. Rarely do they admit it as this person did; instead, it’s usually a screed about “rights” or “freedoms” or “big government” or “deep state.”
People claim the right to not wear masks, because masks infringe on their freedom (apparently unlike seat belts). They claim the right to refuse vaccination because, oh, pick from the list (all disproven, but that doesn’t matter to them): We don’t know what’s in the shot, it hasn’t been tested, it alters DNA, it’s a conspiracy, it’s a Big Pharma scam.
The common thread running through all these bogus arguments can be summed up in one letter: I.
This goes far beyond the issue of COVID-19 and vaccination. It’s a matter of how society has evolved from a collective where people took care of each other, to a collection of self-centered individualists.
These days, people spend a lot of time defending their rights. They spend precious little time discussing their responsibilities. Though this makes me an old fogy, it seems to me that this fits in snugly with the “selfie culture.”
Remember when photography was taking pictures of scenes, action, and people? It still is, but now we have to stick ourselves in the foreground. There’s that “I” again. And yes, I do it, too.
Of course, there never was an ideal society, in either Israel or the US, where everybody cared about the collective and put the society first. There was, however, a critical mass that did – some people did it all the time; many, some of the time; and a minority, not at all.
It appears that the proportions are shifting now toward the last one, the “who cares” mentality. The COVID-19 and vaccination issues are just symptoms of it.
So, indeed, if I’m vaccinated, why should I care if anyone else is? I’m safe. And for that matter, if I’m safe, why should I wear a mask? Why should I follow social distancing rules? After all, I’m OK now.
Really? If widespread flouting of rules leads to lockdowns – and it has – how does that not harm me? People like me lose their jobs, kids lose their education, families face new and cruel strains that can even end in deadly violence.
The sad fact remains: If all of us had followed the rules – masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds, and washing hands – we would never have needed multiple lockdowns. Perhaps the first one was inevitable, while we were trying to understand what hit us. After that, with the rules in place, all we had to do was follow them.
All we had to do was wear our masks properly for a few months, stay 2 meters away from other people, and wash our hands again and again. But not enough people did that. Why?
Some of it was ignorance, a failure to appreciate how the system works, or failure to understand how to wear a mask properly. Without any research to back this, though, I believe that in most cases, the explanation is laziness, callousness, and what the British call bloody-mindedness – a feeling of “Why should I care?”
Which brings us back to that original question: If I’m vaccinated, why should I care if anyone else is?
You should care because you are a member of a society that benefits if as many people as possible are vaccinated. That’s what’s getting lost too often as we debate the ins and outs of vaccine effectiveness and all the rest.
On both sides of the ocean, we have failed to contain this pandemic by societal means. We are counting on vaccines to wipe it out. Maybe they will.
But that will not bring back any of more than 6,000 Israelis or nearly 550,000 Americans who have died, many of them because people around them broke the rules.
And it won’t help us when another pandemic strikes – and there will be another one.
Mark Lavie has been covering the Middle East for major news outlets since 1972. His second book – Why Are We Still Afraid? – is available on Amazon.