"Freedom" is the only argument that might work with vaccine holdouts

What Greene is offering—and what her supporters are buying—is not an alternative theory but rather freedom: the freedom to disregard acknowledged authorities like Anthony Fauci, and the freedom to come to your own conclusions. Although we tend to think of conspiracy theories as dark, paranoid, and unsettling, for the conspiracist they can be quite liberating, because they free you from having to accept things you don’t want to believe.

Writing about rumor and urban legend in America, the sociologists Gary Alan Fine and Patricia A. Turner borrow a phrase from the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, who has said that some ideas are simply “good to think.” That is, we subscribe to some ideas not necessarily because they’re true (or defensible) but because the simple act of believing them brings a kind of reassurance and pleasure. As Fine and Turner note, urban legends and conspiracy theories are good to think because “they connect to a powerful ‘cultural logic’ that makes sense to narrators and audiences. Plausibility is key. Rumor permits us to project our emotional fantasies on events that we can claim ‘really did happen,’ protecting ourselves from the implications of our beliefs.” By rejecting the dominant narrative without providing a substantive replacement, Greene offers her audience the freedom to cherry-pick sources and devise a narrative that best fits their biases, disregarding anything that collides with their worldview.

The historian Philip Deloria once described Americanness as “a particular working out of a desire to preserve stability and truth while enjoying absolute, anarchic freedom.” It is this impulse for irresponsible freedom—embedded within the framework of a stable social-service net—that Greene and her cohorts crave. They want the freedom to not wear a mask with the assurance that they’ll be well taken care of at a hospital if they do get sick.