Friday 19 November 2021

Hell To Pay: The alarming similarities between the Anti-Vaccination Movement and the creators of the Jim Crow South.

Never Let Go: If the violent prejudices of the Jim Crow South, echoing through contemporary struggles, teach us anything, it is that the defence of rationality, science and progressivism must never be allowed to falter. Those pre-modern night-riders, filled with unrelenting hate, are still out there. If the troops of Reason and Justice are withdrawn; if Liberty’s bayonets are sheathed; there will be Hell to pay.

FOR WEEKS NOW, I’ve been racking my brains over why the anti-vaccination movement feels so very, very creepy. I’ve sought reassurance in Jess Berentson-Shaw’s gentle enjoinders to engage empathically and constructively with the vaccine resistant, but without success.

Jess reminds me of those naïve souls who argue that non-violent tactics could have brought the Third Reich to its knees. These folk always forget that non-violent tactics only work against a government that is still capable of feeling shame, or, at the very least, fears being despised in the eyes of the world. Regimes fully armoured in self-justifying ideological extremism cannot be successfully challenged by the tactics of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Jess’s humanistic faith did, however, set off a train of thought. It caused me to review the history of the Black civil rights movement through the prism of non-violence. Was it the key element in the movement’s success, or was there something else at work that caused the segregationist regimes of the southern states to step back and take stock? While there is no doubt that the imagery of the civil-rights struggle: of fire-hoses and Billy-clubs; savage Alsatian dogs and tear-gas; deployed for the world to see against unresisting, non-violent youngsters; was more than successive US administrations were willing to tolerate; it was not enough, on its own, to bring victory.

What effectively ended the official administration of Jim Crow was the Federal Government’s clear willingness to pick up where it left off in 1877. That was the year in which the last remaining garrisons of Federal troops were withdrawn from the South. The year when Washington effectively told Southern Whites that nothing would be done to prevent them from constructing violently racist regimes throughout the states of the defeated Confederacy. It was the 1957 decision of the Republican President, Dwight Eisenhower, to dispatch paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce the Supreme Court’s desegregation orders, that made it clear that “Reconstruction”, deferred for 80 years, was back.

After 1957, more and more of the heavy-lifting in defence of Jim Crow was taken up by the openly terrorist Ku Klux Klan. But the violence unleashed by the Klan, and the non-violent response of Black and White civil rights activists, only made the Federal authorities’ responsibility to uphold the Constitution more urgent. The FBI’s ruthless counter-intelligence tactics made the Klan’s terrorism increasingly ineffectual. The violence at Selma, the Jim Crow South’s last stand, merely ensured that the crucial 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed – sealing its fate.

Of what relevance is this to the anti-vaccination movement of 2021? Simply, the anti-vaccination movement draws its power from the same mental machinery that constructed the Jim Crow South nearly a century-and-a-half ago.

What enraged Southerners in the aftermath of the American Civil War was not simply that they had been defeated militarily, but that the racist ideological edifice that had sustained slavery was being demolished. The progressive view of humankind espoused by the Abolitionists had prevailed. In contemporary language, the old software no longer worked in USA 2.0.

Something very similar happened in the US, and New Zealand, with the arrival of Covid-19. Dangerous ideas and attitudes, which had been permitted to guide a minority of the population, were suddenly and unequivocally declared erroneous and unsafe by the State. The majority strongly concurred. Anti-scientific twaddle could no longer be ignored. In the context of a deadly viral pandemic, such ideas posed a direct threat to society’s well-being.

For those who saw science, and the progressive political and social ideas it underpinned, as the root of all evil, this was an intolerable situation. With some justification, they saw the war against Covid-19 as a war against their own, essentially pre-modern, world-view. Accordingly, the demands being made of them by the State were received as an existential threat – to be resisted at all costs, by any means necessary.

Exactly the same feelings of desperation and outrage gripped Southern Whites as they saw the triumphant principle of racial equality being given practical application in the 1870s. Under the protection of Federal bayonets, Black Southerners founded schools, established businesses and stood for public office. It was not to be borne.

An utterly uncompromising determination to destroy this new regime, and to obliterate the progressive ideology that inspired it, seized an unrelenting majority of White citizens across the Southern states. They would not rest until their version of reality was reinstated. Those who opposed them were shown no mercy. When the political weariness of the Northern states offered them the opportunity to reclaim political control, they grabbed it with both hands. Racist terror became the means of restoring calm to White Southern souls – for the next 80 years.

Peruse the Southerners’ “Lost Cause” propaganda of the Reconstruction Era (1869-1877) and you will find there the same unhinged extremism that throngs the dark recesses of the anti-vaxxer Internet. The same “Big Lies” are there. The same dumbfounding claims. The same threats of violence.

A vast international crisis, the Covid-19 Pandemic, has exposed the irrational underbelly of twenty-first century society. Neuroses and delusions that the majority had reluctantly tolerated (if only because the harm they caused was almost exclusively restricted to those who suffered from them) now threaten the general welfare.

If the violent prejudices of the Jim Crow South, echoing through contemporary struggles, teach us anything, it is that the defence of rationality, science and progressivism must never be allowed to falter. Those pre-modern night-riders, filled with unrelenting hate, are still out there. If the troops of Reason and Justice are withdrawn; if Liberty’s bayonets are sheathed; there will be Hell to pay.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 18 November 2021.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

I remember getting the oral vaccine for polio. Obviously I was a kid and had no choice, but my parents jumped at the chance because all around us was evidence of the results of catching polio. No one needed encouragement then. Given the circumstances it was a complete no-brainer. I saw an iron lung a few months ago in a provincial museum. There used to be hundreds if not thousands of them, but it's the first one I've seen for 65 years or so. Outside of historical photographs. Thank you vaccines.

Unknown said...

Excellent piece by Chris Trotter. I had been struggling to find a metaphor for the situation we are in with the anti vaccination brigade. As he says, the weird ideas of the tin foil hatters (and haters) and conspiracy theorists have been tolerated because they only seemed to harm the people who perpetrated them. Not so now. The price of freedom (as opposed to freedumb) is eternal vigilence . Calling out the crazy claims of the willfully brainwashed anti vaxxers who are brainwashing many vulnerable people (sick parents included), is the responsible and moral imperative.

John Hurley said...

The progressive view of humankind espoused by the Abolitionists had prevailed. In contemporary language, the old software no longer worked in USA 2.0.
Well that's where you are 100 percent wrong. The old software is still there thinking about society and who is us (the context being a neo-liberal regime that celebrates foundation ethnic groups becoming minorites). It is about trust; society is social environment.
Jess Berentson-Shaw is definitely from the other side. She doesn't think we should hear from Don Brash (repressive tolerance). Her soft persuasiveness would extend to He Puapua.

We aren't told the truth in this country Eric Kaufmann is out on a limb a "data driven pol sci academic", collating attitudes that explain Brexit and Trump. What we are told is that we are the exception and that bi-culturalism has matured us to a new multicultural society. We won't see that type of objectivity from our corrupt lot. The rot goes back a long way (eg when Spoonley and his mates expelled Greg Clydesdale from Massey).

I can see both sides here
The black guy comes across as a good bloke and people (society) want allies. However things don't always run smooth, neighbours aren't always good neighbours. People group (black youth/white). Singapore public housing is topical: they make sure all the ethnic groups are mixed up (Singapore started out with ethnic riots/NZ started out homogenous and decided that was immoral). There is a difference between forging ahead and binding groups under a common identity as when blacks were patriotic and the Norman Corwell's One World Tour to NZ and the "Maori were marginalised" (Paul Spoonley) current zeitgeist. As Sonya Davis confided in Chris Trotter "New Zealanders would be horrified" (if they knew what Labour elite had planned. Hell, we are now sheep tied to a stake waiting for some private jet flying developer to take our sun out (or threaten to- 11m high one meter from the boundary) and scoop our quarter acre pavlova paradise (Warren Coopers Queenstown produced a market driven mess). Nothing to see.

The hounding of anti-vaxxers reminds me of Aesop's fable of the sun and the wind trying to remove a man's coat. Add to the wind the current zeitgeist. People often judge the message by it's messenger.

Today is Groundswell Day. My thoughts are that NZ used to be a positive story and the farmer was the central hero. What though is the socialist Ardern regimes ghastly narrative: "very violent histories".

David George said...

"if Liberty’s bayonets are sheathed; there will be Hell to pay".
Seriously Chris?

Thanks for the history lesson but I'm not convinced by your conclusion. One thing becoming increasingly obvious is that the vaccines have significant efficacy limits; that they have been oversold. Gibraltar has over 100% vaccination rates but are suffering very high rates of infection and death.

What happens here when people realise that the imposition of some of the most draconian intrusions on liberty, the vilification of a significant minority are being undertaken with such flimsy justification, their friends and family marginalised and cast as the "unclean". I don't think the continuing attribution of blame on the un-vaxxed will stand and that will be bad news for the government.

Kat said...

I can only assume the author of this site views the continual posting of unfounded and ridiculous assertions by certain commenters here as some stark illustration of just how low the bar of informed critique has sunk in the anti Ardern/govt mob.

This from WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: "Covid-19 is surging in countries with lower vaccination rates in Eastern Europe, but also in countries with some of the world's highest vaccination rates in Western Europe," he said.

"It's another reminder, as we have said again and again, that vaccines do not replace the need for other precautions. Vaccines reduce the risk of hospitalisation, severe disease and death. But they do not fully prevent transmission … no country can simply vaccinate its way out of the pandemic."

That is why the NZ govt actions that some view as "draconian intrusions on liberty" are necessary at this point in the fight against Delta.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Kat.

That was my objective, Kat, you're right.

But I no longer consider it responsible. There is just too much madness abroad in our society to risk somebody taking these bogus claims seriously.

The Barron said...

David: 'What happens here when people realise...'

Since the pandemic became global at the beginning of 2020, I have seen a weight of especially Americans who had publicly denounced Covid19 giving warning to others from their death bed. I have seen politicians continuously backtracking easing of measures. We have seen horror stories of bleach and deworming pills, and those saying they were misled by the misinformation. Since the vaccine, I have seen those that refused vaccine for themselves and their families in despair over preventable illness and death.

What I have not seen is widespread regret or realisation that the recommended public health measures do not work, or that vaccination is not a safe and effective counter to Covid19. To para-phase Elvis - 7,370,902,499 global vaccine shots can't be wrong.

The answer to your 'what happens when...? It ain't happened and it won't happen.

sumsuch said...

Just mentioned on Fbook to my rational 'senior'cousin (as opposed to my four siblings) our species has been magnificent but is short-lived. The two go together methinks, I don't think the dinosaurs have a story.

sumsuch said...

You haven't yet engaged with the centrality of fundamentalist christianity to the overthrow of ... science and democracy. Where the 'art of the possible' lets down reality and democracy, if you've noticed.

Talk about truth. Your talk matters. Your 'art of the possible' is your, and our, smarting from many defeats. But you, and us, are right.

Talk truth. It's the end and it's your magnificence, and our necessity.