Las Vegas Sun

January 28, 2022

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Cast away selfishness and embrace humanity

In his Where I Stand column on Sunday, Brian Greenspun asks, “(Why) are so many people refusing to take the shot?” 

This question has had many of us perplexed.

When Jonas Salk proposed the polio vaccine, the world responded so quickly that polio is no longer a serious concern in health care. Iron lungs, which once were used to treat polio victims, are now relegated to history.

Why? Because our common humanity recognized the common threat and responded compassionately and intelligently. We saw science as our ally in stopping the horrible diseases of polio, tuberculosis, measles and more.

What has shifted since those days? I might suggest that it has in part to do with our political, ideological, fear-filled attachments. Most Republicans have clearly adopted an ideology in which “alternative facts” are always both present and viable. 

In philosophy, we learn early that something cannot be both “A” and “not A.” The vaccines are a proven, scientific, factual beneficial source of better health for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear the data. The facts are abundantly clear for those with an open mind, unattached to self-referencing ideologies. The fact is that hospitals are now overflowing primarily due to unvaccinated individuals who refused to look at the facts, and are suffering the consequences. 

What we hear so often is that vaccine mandates are a violation of our individual rights and liberty. This is a gross confusion about the nature of liberty. 

Any individual who craves liberty ought to remember that all individuals long for liberty. Has an unvaccinated individual who transmits the death-dealing disease of COVID-19 to another person violated that person’s liberty? Liberty destroys itself when its motivation is unintelligent, unwilling to look at the facts. 

True liberty is indeed a function of “facts,” of knowledge garnered by the discipline that addresses facts, science. The very institution of science has been called into question by Republicans and members of the former presidential administration when talking about this pandemic, and also when talking about climate change, and also when talking about the roots of social unrest. 

Liberty is nonexistent apart from a proper appraisal of the “facts.” What is most disappointing is the unwillingness to have honest and respectful dialogue about such matters.

Unbridled self-will to the neglectful disdain of our common humanity equals unmitigated selfishness.

The ill-tempered self-expression witnessed Jan. 6 is a clear demonstration of such selfishness. Selfishness, whether it is personal, familial selfishness, nepotism, provincialism or nationalism has been the bane of civilization. 

The 20th century witnessed the merciless slaughter of over 100 million people, mostly civilians, due to such selfishness, nationalism. Peace will not come until we lay down our selfishness and embrace our common humanity, by facing the facts with both a heart and a mind of compassion.Purely self-referencing liberty is a conceptual illusion, a cruel deception. Personal license parading as liberty is the forerunner of abject bondage, of tyranny. 

True liberty is the associate of genuine self-respect and respect for others; false liberty is the consort of narcissism. True liberty is the fruit of self-control; false liberty, the associate of self-assertion. Self-control leads to a regard for the rights of others; self-admiration tends toward the exploitation of others for selfish gain. 

The Golden Rule, found in every culture, cries out against all such fraud, unfairness and selfishness.

As neo-classical economics and politics, based upon assumptions of selfishness, crumble before our eyes, can we open our eyes to the impulse that Darwin himself identified as a source of resiliency and stability in the evolutionary adventure, compassion?

Do you as a politician, as a member of clergy, as a citizen espousing democracy believe the Golden Rule of fairness? 

If you do, then “walk the talk.” If liberty is desirable, then each person must affirm the intrinsic value of all other human beings and humbly follow the facts where they lead. 

Compassion is not only the goal, it is the path.

Gard Jameson, Ph.D., is a philosophy professor at UNLV.