Herd immunity is the protection of society from an infectious disease, which is realized from either a high percentage (> 70%) of people surviving the infection and/or being vaccinated against the disease. The importance of realizing herd immunity is about protecting one’s self and fellow human beings from becoming infected with a disease. Because of our inherent interdependence, it is about doing what one can to support each other’s/everyone’s well-being. As evidence of the benefit of societal immunization, we no longer experience smallpox, polio and rubella! Unfortunately not everyone is intent on being vaccinated against COVID-19.
Because a not-so-insignificant portion of the US population is unwilling to be vaccinated, several states have decided to appeal to peoples’ material self-interest toward realizing herd immunity. Although this portion of the US population is unwilling to be vaccinated—even if it means having a high probability of protecting themselves and others against COVID-19—it appears they can be moved (i.e. acted upon, bribed) to be vaccinated by offering them a (very low) probability of winning a lottery (for something of outer value such as cash or event tickets). Ah, the power of extrinsic reward in appealing to people’s what’s-in-it-for-me way of looking at things.
Has capitalism’s dictums of material self-interest and unlimited growth been internalized? What does this say about what this portion of the population cares about? What does it say about the extent to which this portion is capable of exhibiting care and concern for others—an essential characteristic of a life sustaining safe society?
While we each are different individuals (that is, individual I’s), we are not (inherently) separate Me’s whose sole concern is what’s-in-it-for-me!
Just because we each are different individuals doesn’t mean we are independent of each other—in fact, we are deeply interdependent, deeply connected. Society, at least a healthy viable society, cannot be a collection of separate independent individuals—that would be a large heap not a society. A caring society—a collective ‘We’—is as essential to each individual ‘I’ as are clean air and water.
We are social beings as much as we are individual beings! Our individuality doesn’t imply we must oppose our communality. We are simultaneously individuals and members of a collective: each ‘I’ needs ‘We’ as much as we need a non-toxic and life supporting natural environment within which to live. We can’t remain viable (as a species) otherwise!
It is essential that we must not allow capitalism with its dictums of material self-interest and unlimited growth, to be the contagion that destroys society. Contrary to the belief underlying capitalism, we are not at base material self-interest maximizing beings—we are so much more than this. As such our responsibility reaches far beyond what’s-in-it-for-me. The individualistic approach of I take care of me and you take care of you, won’t cut it.
Immunize or We Perish
We must transcend self-interest to develop immunity from this contagion, by rejecting the notion that society is merely a collection of individuals whose life’s purpose involves the pursuit of maximal material gain. Believing in and acting as if this world is a dog-eat-dog world and that we are separate and independent individuals who must seek to get as much as we can for ourselves by exploiting and extracting whatever we can from each other and Nature runs counter to our nature and thus our continued existence. This view, which gives primacy to things of outer value, clearly serves capitalism, but it doesn’t serve the development of humanness (i.e. our better qualities). The more this pervades society, the more we forsake our responsibility—as deeply interdependent people—the more we inhibit the emergence of a caring collective We (which we sorely need), the more unsafe society becomes, the hotter and more toxic the environment becomes, the less viable we (as a species) become, and thus the closer we move toward self-destruction (a.k.a. suicide).
As Gregory Bateson asserted, evolution follows the path of viability. If we, as a society, are to evolve toward a higher level of human existence—become more of what we potentially are—then we must ensure our viability. To this end, we must immunize ourselves from this contagion.