Social Context and Personal Choice
Elements of Refusal
by Charles Eisenstein
Psychiatrist Norman Doidge, MD, has recently published a long, four-part article entitled Needle Points, in which he examines vaccine skepticism in America. The author, who got vaccinated “early and voluntarily,” is solidly pro-vaccine, yet he displays what is in these divisive times an unusual willingness to see the issue from the perspective of those with whom he disagrees.
I don’t want to default to critique in responding to the article, which I appreciate for its peaceful intentions, diligent historical research, lucid style, and willingness to bridge a steep ideological divide. Instead I will meet in good will its implicit invitation into dialog around the core question enunciated in its tagline: “Why so many are hesitant to get the COVID vaccine, and what we can do about it.”
As that tagline suggests, an assumption runs quietly through Needle Points that Covid vaccines are by and large safe, necessary, and generally beneficial for personal and public health. Therefore, opposition to them must be explained in psychological or sociological terms, because we all know that, scientifically speaking, opposition is baseless.
Dr. Doidge devotes a long section of the essay to cataloging the crimes and cover-ups that pharmaceutical companies have perpetrated over the last several decades. He also describes the “regulatory capture” of agencies like the FDA, CDC, and NIH, whose officials often rotate into lucrative positions in the very companies they had formerly regulated. As a result, he says, public trust in the pharmaceutical industry is extremely low:
As of a September 2019 Gallup poll, only a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic, Big Pharma was the least trusted of America’s 25 top industry sectors, No. 25 of 25. In the eyes of ordinary Americans, it had both the highest negatives and the lowest positives of all industries. At No. 24 was the federal government, and at No. 23 was the health care industry. These three industries form a neat troika (though at No. 22 was the advertising and public relations industry, which facilitates the work of the other three.)
Given the track record of the pharmaceutical companies and their regulators, no wonder a large percentage of the public is “hesitant” to get their Covid shots. Dr. Doidge seems to be saying, “The shots are safe and effective, and society would be better off if everyone got them, but many people are quite understandably reluctant because of past experience.”
The obvious question here is, Why does Doidge himself trust the science promoted by the very companies and regulators whose misdeeds he so compellingly enumerates? He seems to take for granted that the vaccines have a low rate of adverse reactions. Are the agencies saying that, and the data they utilize, reliable? The article’s tagline implies that he knows it is; otherwise, he wouldn’t wonder “what to do about [vaccine hesitancy]”. He would be wondering instead what to do about vaccine credulity or vaccine naivete.
The very term “vaccine hesitant” normalizes vaccination by implying that it is the endpoint at which the unvaccinated will sooner or later arrive. Most unvaccinated people I know would not describe themselves as “hesitant.” At this point, most who have resisted the social and government pressure intend to remain unvaccinated permanently. As Raelle Kaia puts it,
We don't call people who haven't gone bungee jumping "bungee hesitant" nor do we call them "anti-bungee." There is no need for a category. It's just something some people decide to do, and some people don't. So this Hegelian dialectic cleverly sets up a dynamic that implicitly assumes that the regular thing for people to do is to take a vaccine, but we need words to describe those who don't, because they're so peculiar. So just by having the words in the first place, an entire reality is created and reified about what people are supposed to do or are expected to do.
The term “vaccine hesitancy” is patronizing and presumptuous. It encodes a smug certainty that official messaging on the vaccines is reliable, that reigning medical paradigms are sound, that the knowledge medical science produces is trustworthy. Science is real! Duh.
In fact, there is increasing reason to believe that just as in the past, the pharmaceutical-regulatory complex is distorting, hiding, and manipulating data to support its narrative. To help Dr Doidge and those heeding his message understand the mind of a vaccine skeptic, I will share a bit of why I believe that.
It took me some time to come to my current conviction that the Covid vaccines are unsafe. When the mRNA vaccines were first announced, I was hesitant to condemn them out of hand. In fact, I was disposed to think of them as more benign than conventional vaccines, since the mRNA technology doesn’t require toxic adjuvants to promote an immune response.¹ While there was certainly reason for concern (see this paper from May 2021), there was no proof that any of the potential mechanisms of harm would be significant. While I was appalled that these minimally-tested vaccines would be imposed on a mass scale, I hoped that a public health catastrophe could be avoided.
Today I am convinced that this technology, never before used on humans let alone at this scale, is causing widespread harm. Here are some reasons why I think that:
1. First-hand reports from people who were harmed (or whose family members were harmed). To get a flavor for them, watch these testimonies of experts and patients, or the Testimonies Project out of Israel, or the No More Silence project. Or listen to the story of professional mountain biker Kyle Warner (and especially read the comments below the video.) Athletes have been collapsing on the field and dying with astonishing frequency (such as the two West Indies cricket players who died days after the whole team got vaccinated.) Here is a compilation of 41 such collapses (23 died) over the past four months (there are other lists with little overlap.) Well, maybe athletes have been collapsing and dying at such a rate all along, and we are only now noticing it because of heightened vigilance due to “anti-vax hysteria.” That could be. I haven’t gone into the statistics that might decide the issue—if such statistics even exist. Anyway, if you look for them you can find channels on Telegram with hundreds or thousands of stories. (Notice how many of the stories include things like, “The doctor said it was coincidence.” “I’m sick of doctors telling me it’s all in my head.” “The ER doctor said I was having a panic attack.”)
2. Doctors and nurses who are speaking out about the alarming rise in blood clotting disorders, strokes in young people, heart attacks in young people, peripheral neuropathy, myocarditis, and other supposedly rare conditions. Here is a sample, a sworn statement on the part of 11 doctors with their stories. Remember that the whistleblowers have nothing to gain and a lot to lose by speaking out. Other practitioners have told me their stories in confidence.
3. An alarming rise in excess mortality among people under age 65 in 2021. In 29 countries in Europe, excess mortality in the last four months for people age 15-44 is running at nearly double what it was in 2020. For age 45-65 it is more than 50% higher, and age 65-74 some 40% higher. This is despite (or because of?) vaccination rates of at least 70% across Europe. In the USA, all-cause excess mortality is about 50% higher (so far) than 2020, but for people age 25-44 and 45-64 it is about 85% higher; for people under 25 excess mortality is nearly double last year. The only age group that died in larger numbers last year in the US were those 85 and older. These figures don’t prove a causal connection between vaccination and mortality, but they merit concern. See also this and this analysis of UK mortality data that seems to show all-cause mortality to be higher in the vaccinated than in the unvaccinated. I haven’t examined the math closely, but given that the authors of the latter analysis are, respectively, a mathematician and a professor of statistics and computer science, it is not to be dismissed lightly.
4. Revelations of sloppiness and malfeasance in Covid vaccine trials. The British Medical Journal just published a report from an experienced clinical trial researcher describing how a Pfizer contractor running clinical trials “falsified data, unblinded patients, employed inadequately trained vaccinators, and was slow to follow up on adverse events.” She reported her findings to the FDA, who never followed up. One wonders whether this was unique to that contractor or more widespread. In a separate revelation, a girl was dropped from the Pfizer study after having a severe reaction to the shot. Apparently, the study rules required a study doctor to evaluate adverse events. If someone went to the emergency room, they would be disqualified from the study and that data excluded. Given the unavailability of the raw data, we have no idea whether this girl was the only one to be excluded, but it certainly gives reason for alarm—especially because the study size was only about 1000 children. This is part of a pattern of manipulated studies throughout the Covid era.
5. Dubious vaccine effectiveness. The issue of safety is not absolute; risks must be evaluated in relation to benefits. Questionable benefits make the risks less acceptable. But it appears that the vaccines have not lived up to their promise of protecting recipients from infection or serious symptoms. Across nations and regions, there is no correlation between vaccination rates and Covid cases or deaths. Joe Mercola, named by the New York Times as America’s “uber quack,” gives a solid review of the argument.
As Dr. Doidge acknowledges, pharmaceutical companies have cheated in the past. Why are people so confident in the data this time, when the incentive to cheat is greater than ever? (Pfizer’s Covid vaccine sales now stand at $36 billion.) Doidge describes how a large proportion of studies published in medical journals are ghostwritten by the companies themselves. Why are we confident that this hasn’t happened with studies supporting the Covid policies that benefit those companies? When regulators have been largely captured by the regulated, when the media relies heavily on pharmaceutical ad dollars and in some cases have interlocking boards of directors, can we really trust “the science”?
The willful manipulation, distortion, and suppression of research is the tip of an iceberg. The bulk of narrative maintenance is an organic function of the system, often unconscious or semi-conscious. The vaccine resistance movement needs to understand this, so it can understand the reasons for vaccine credulity. Too often people in the movement explain what is going on in terms of malice: evil politicians, perfidious scientists, greedy New-World-Order plutocrats. Such figures surely exist, but they play a role in a much larger social process.
“Evil” is a misdiagnosis that casts us into delusion. To effect positive change, we must be operating in reality. The reality is that most people, vaxxed and unvaxxed, doctors and patients, scientists and laypeople, politicians and yes, even pharmaceutical company officials, are decent, caring, intelligent human beings. Let us follow Dr. Doidge in taking that as our starting point as we try to understand those we disagree with.
If vaccine casualties are much higher than publicly acknowledged, doesn’t that mean that some kind of willful cover-up is underway? Not necessarily. Imagine that you are a clinician seeing a rise in myocarditis, miscarriages, cancer recurrence, or some other ailment in vaccinated people. Are you going to make a fuss? Are you even going to talk about it? Maybe not.
Doctors who are noticing vaccine adverse events (or experiencing them themselves) are reluctant to say anything publicly for fear of ostracism, job loss, or license suspension. Those that speak out suffer consequences. For example, Dr. Rochagné Kilian had her license suspended in Ontario after she publicly aired her concerns on blood clotting and autoimmunity following vaccines. Brook Jackson, the subject of the above-mentioned BMJ article, was fired shortly after she notified the FDA of irregularities in the vaccine trial. (One wonders whether someone in the FDA told her employer that she was making trouble.) Most are not so brave. The 11 doctors whose testimony I linked to earlier describing their injuries and those of their patients mostly chose to remain anonymous. Said one, “Due to my recognition that the vaccine has caused injury, I am scared to come forward to my fellow colleagues and peers.” “I have chosen to keep my identity redacted in order to prevent backlash as being anti-vax.” “With questioning of a vaccine adverse reaction, the physician who is questioning is immediately discounted, discredited, shamed, and aggressively bullied. I have watched this happen to other physicians who dared to speak out and have witnessed a coordinated effort among physicians to have this physician’s state license revoked as well as their board certification for spreading ‘misinformation.’ Vaccine skepticism strikes at a pillar of the medical profession, which is therefore loath to admit any information that could fuel it.”
This kind of self-censorship may take on an internal dimension where someone bullies and silences that part of herself that recognizes something is wrong. She may tell herself that she is seeing an epidemic of anxiety attacks. She may convince herself that myocarditis never was that rare. She may remind herself that “young people get strokes too.” She may read articles that reassure her that nothing alarming is happening. Doctors can do this. Public officials can do this. Regular citizens can do this. The psychological incentive may be strong to preserve an orderly reality in which I’ve been right all along. Most of us, vaccine advocates and skeptics alike, have this tendency. Left unchecked it becomes arrogance, and its antidote is a willingness to listen.
Does the foregoing prove that vaccine injuries are more widespread than official data shows? Not at all. What it tells us, though, is that if they were more widespread, we wouldn’t easily know about it. Nor would any given doctor. To her, it might look like her observations are unusual. If others were seeing the same thing, surely she would have heard of it. Surely it would show up in the safety studies. Surely she would have read about it in the journals. So she keeps her mouth shut, not just out of fear of repercussions.
What goes for doctors also goes for researchers, journalists, and government officials. To violate the narrative takes self-confidence and courage. When human beings see something unusual, they normally turn to others and ask, “Hey, did you see that too? Does that look to you like Santa’s sleigh being pulled across the sky by eight tiny reindeer?” If my companions say, “No, silly, that must be an airplane pulling an advertisement,” I will likely accept that. Under certain circumstances, it might happen that every member of the group actually thinks it is Santa, but as in The Emperor’s New Clothes, no one wishes to be thought a fool. No one wants to be the first one to say, “The emperor’s completely naked!”
Only fools think that vaccines are ineffective, unnecessary, or unsafe. That’s been drummed into us for years. The stereotype of the “hysterical anti-vaxxer,” the Trump-voting, science-denying, uneducated yahoo who puts everyone else at risk is firmly ingrained. Even I, already publicly known as a vaccine skeptic, am sometimes reluctant to be visible in my beliefs to friends or family. I don’t want them to think I’m an ignoramus, a bad person, unclean. I was just disinvited from a visit to the house of a dear relative because I was not vaccinated. Was the host actually afraid of infection? (I had Covid last March and have natural immunity.) Or is she uncomfortable associating with someone in the new pariah class? I relate this to illustrate how I myself participate in the conspiracy of silence that normalizes vaccine acceptance. I don’t lie about being unvaccinated, but I do try to slide by under the radar, not talk about it, and hope that people just won’t ask. In their eyes, I’m another data point confirming that intelligent, responsible people get vaccinated.
We might easily understand, then, why it can be so hard for a physician, journalist, or politician to voice or even entertain the possibility that the vaccine rollout is causing harm. The pressures that bear on private citizens are all the more intense for them. They have more incentive than most of us to keep quiet. If the vaccines are unsafe, it means they have been agents of harm. That’s a hard pill to swallow.
Recently, the Biden Administration announced that it would not back down on OSHA rules to mandate vaccines for government contractors and large employers. (Soon to be extended to smaller employers.) Those who are aware of vaccine damage find it incomprehensible that the administration could be so evil. But evil is not required as an explanation. With all these mechanisms of narrative maintenance, in which I myself participate, how would Joe Biden be aware that millions of people are suffering serious adverse events? He probably isn’t aware. The more deeply someone is embedded in the system, the more they rely on the information that the system produces, filters, and interprets, the harder it is for them to be aware of what lies outside the official numbers.
It is important for health freedom activists to understand how inadequate malice is to explain harmful public policies. Calling them monsters makes us look ridiculous to those pursuing those policies, most of whom are conscious only of trying to serve the public good. In their eyes and in the eyes of people who trust the basic goodness of human beings, articles like this one, “It All Makes Sense Whey You Realize They are Trying to Kill Us,” seem unhinged, even though they make some important observations.
Earlier I mentioned that deliberate lies and propaganda, and overtly corrupt individuals, are the tip of an iceberg. Yet they are still significant. Even if the bulk of narrative maintenance resides underwater, submerged in the collective unconscious, the tip is relevant too, indicative of what lies beneath. Unscrupulous people can gain and maintain power by exploiting the above mechanisms of conformity and mob psychology. They can loudly broadcast orthodoxy and ridicule and intimidate those who would be the first dissenters. If no one dares to stand with the dissenters, they appear a tiny, crazy minority. The CIA’s Project Mockingbird offers an example. It was (is?) not necessary for lots of journalists to be on the CIA payroll or for top executives to be taking orders from the CIA. Project Mockingbird needed only to plant a few agents in key positions where they could establish norms and bully those who violated them. It is like it was in fourth grade. The bully, Rob, denounced Kent as “weird.” If someone dared speak a friendly word to Kent, Rob would denounce him as weird too. Soon everyone shunned Kent. Initially, none except Rob bore Kent any ill will, but soon a song went around the playground: “Kent is bent, his brain is insane.”
What happened to Kent also can happen spontaneously, without a Rob. Either way, it looks to Kent as if there is a conspiracy afoot. In a sense there is, just not in the way conspiracy theories postulate. There is a conspiracy in that everyone goes along with it, but there was never a moment where the class got together and agreed to shun Kent. Nor did Rob have a hierarchical command system by which he issue orders to do so. Rob wasn’t even very popular.
I am ashamed to say that I never stood up for Kent. I didn’t join in the song, and I tried to be nice to him when no one was watching, but I was afraid of Rob, and as an oddball understood that I was inches away from suffering Kent’s fate. I don’t know for sure if the current wave of medical totalitarianism was deliberately instigated by the Robs of the world, but I recognize the pattern of mob formation. It is by speaking out unpopular, narrative-defying truths that we disrupt the conspiracy of silence that enables injustice to spread.
Technology and censorship abet the conspiracy of silence. From within the narrative bubble that the government, media, and tech companies have created, it is not at all obvious that anything unusual is happening. Platforms like Tik Tok, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube censor posts from users sharing their experiences of vaccine damage. The swiftness, degree, and thoroughness of the censorship varies from platform to platform, but it is enough to keep a lot of vaccine damage invisible. Because the virality of these stories is suppressed and they are rarely reported in mainstream media, one must look for them in order to find them. Otherwise, it is as if they never happened.
From Arrogance to Respect
I appreciate that Dr. Doidge does not join the chorus that labels vaccine skeptics as conspiracy theorists, white supremacists, granny-killers, psychopaths, or some of the other names I’ve been called. However, one detects in his article a tinge of paternalism. Isn’t it a shame that so many of the public aren’t listening to their doctors? What can we do about that? Sure we’ve made mistakes in the past, and sure there are some bad eggs in the carton, but we all know that the profession as a whole, and medical science generally, is sound, and therefore it would be better if people trusted us on the important issue of Covid vaccination.
It might be better to be pitied than scorned, patronized than abused. Yet pity, scorn, patronization, and abuse are all on the same spectrum of arrogance. Let me be clear; I don’t think Dr. Doidge is a particularly arrogant human being; he seems exceptionally fair-minded and generous. The arrogance, if any, is built into his profession.
Fundamental to conventional medical thinking is the distinction between doctor and “patient.” The word connotes passivity: someone who “patiently” awaits treatment from a doctor who knows better than she does what is good for her. Often this may be true. Sometimes it is not. When my mother was pregnant with me, she was at the hospital for a routine checkup when they put her on the X-ray machine to take a fetal X-ray. “You’re not doing that to me!” she declared, and against the protests of the medical professionals at the scene who thought she was foolishly putting her baby at risk, she got up, got dressed, and marched out of the hospital. The staff were left shaking their heads. They were so sure they knew better. They did not. Fetal X-rays were discontinued some years later.
Very recently a dear friend took her husband to the emergency room. He was experiencing kidney failure. At one point they took a biopsy, after which she saw her husband slumped in a chair, ignored by everyone. My friend, who is highly intuitive, knew something was wrong. “I think he’s bleeding internally,” she said. Everyone ignored her, but she made a pest of herself until finally the presiding doctor turned on her. “Did you go to medical school? You have no idea what you are talking about!” My friend went over herself and checked her husband’s blood pressure. It was 66 over 40. That got their attention, and he was wheeled back to the emergency room, where it was discovered that he was indeed bleeding internally.
Anti-vaccine parents have complained for years about doctors dismissing and ridiculing them. I’ve been following this issue for a long time; it didn’t start with Covid. A typical story is, “After my son’s 6-month vaccinations, he was up screaming all night and had a fever for three days, but was OK after that. My doctor said it was normal. The same thing happened after his next vaccination. Then when he got the MMR, the screaming went on for days. He was inconsolable. He had been an early talker, but after the screaming ceased he stopped speaking or making eye contact. The doctor said it had nothing to do with the vaccine.” I’ve read hundreds of stories like that. Thus, when I heard Kyle Warner’s story of the hospital doctor telling him his post-vaccination tachycardia was due to “anxiety” and referring him to a psychiatrist, I recognized a familiar pattern.
Of course, not all doctors are smug, arrogant, or paternalistic, but it is built into the profession, as a whole, starting with the “patient” category. Furthermore, their technical training does set doctors apart in a meaningful way. To do their work, they need to be trusted by patients who do not fully understand what they are doing and why. I can understand how frustrating it must be to meet suspicion not trust.
Inevitably, perhaps, an increasingly medicalized society becomes increasingly paternalistic. Today the basic pattern of “we know better than you what your body needs” operates through compulsory vaccination. Across the world, governments apply varying degrees of coercion to force recalcitrant citizens to do what (the authorities know) is good for them.
The same paternalistic arrogance infuses the Covid-era censorship regime. We know better than you do what is good for your mind as well as your body. We control what you read and watch—for your own good, of course. The totalizing program of control that animates totalitarian governments applies that basic principle to every aspect of life, infantilizing citizens and prescribing how they must or may not work, travel, care for their children, and live.
Above I said, “...we all know that the profession as a whole, and medical science generally, is sound….” Embedding that is a deeper presumption: Intelligent, educated people know that thanks to science and technology, humans are better off than ever before: richer, healthier, and safer. Some people may not fully understand this, and some places and people may have received an unequal share of the benefits, so for the betterment of humanity we must educate the retrograde and bring modern medicine and technology to those who’ve been deprived of it. We are doing it for their own good.
It is a short step from this progressivist certitude to forced vaccination (for their own good), censorship (for their own good), and lying (for their own good).
Deeper still, embedding all these forms of arrogance is the base-level mythology of modernity that views humanity as the sole possessor of full beingness in the world, superior to the rest of life, destined to impose order upon chaos. The ambition to tame the wild finds its most highly developed expression in science. Science first tames the world conceptually with its quantities and categories; then it controls the world materially through technology. This brings enormous power. Centralized institutions can wield the same power over people when they categorize and quantify them, part of a Utopian vision of a perfectly ordered society.
Such power is not a categorical evil. As Spiderman says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” What exactly is that responsibility? What Spidey actually means is not “to use power for the good.” Too much evil has been done in the name of good to trust that answer. A lot of evil is being done in the name of good by public health authorities as you read this, and it would be a mistake to think that that is a cynical pretext for acquiring power rather than a sincerely held belief. The responsibility relevant here is to listen. The responsibility is to respect those who respect you. Science has a responsibility to respect the beings of the material world it studies, not to destroy them, torture them, treat them as means to the end of knowledge. Doctors have a responsibility to listen to their patients and see them as full, dignified human beings who, in every instance, may have knowledge that the doctor does not. And politicians have a responsibility to respect the public, not manipulate it, not “message” it, not hide the truth, apply PR and propaganda… basically to treat us as full sovereign adults.
This is not to decry all authority or to uphold an ideal of freedom separate from social relations. Human beings naturally trust authority, starting with the natural respect—even awe and gratitude—that children have for parents and other adults. In a healthy society, people gain authority because they have earned respect,. When respect withers and fear replaces it, the first question to ask is whether there was a betrayal of trust. Dr. Doidge makes it clear in his essay that there has been.
In the end I come to the same conclusion as Dr. Doidge, even while holding an opposite view of vaccine safety and necessity. The current social crisis, of which the health crisis is but one aspect, will only resolve with honesty, transparency, and respect.
Drug companies, regulators, public health agencies, doctors, and scientists have to stop patronizing us if we are ever to trust them. They have to stop manipulating us. They have to stop cheating and hiding, bullying and censoring, bribing and coercing the public. Then, if honest research shows us that the vaccines are necessary and safe, we will trust that research and happily comply. Until then, we will not merely “hesitate”; we will obstinately refuse to receive an injection pushed upon us by people we do not trust.
Honest laboratory, clinical, and demographic research, untainted by financial gain or political power and conducted in an atmosphere of trust, will reveal whether the vaccines are necessary and safe. Dr. Doidge and I may differ in our opinions as to the likely answer to that question, but neither of us can know for sure until honesty and humility prevail in government and medicine.
1. That was before I learned that the lipid nanoparticle delivery vehicle, polyethylene glycol, doubles as an adjuvant.