In Orange County, California, Deputy District Attorney Kelly Ernby recently passed away due to complications from COVID. Ernby had been a vocal critic of government vaccination mandates and was herself unvaccinated according to her family and friends. This led to the predictable, ghoulish end-zone dancing on social media that we regularly hear from supporters of mandates and immunity passports. While most people in the media are compassionate enough (or at least politically sensible enough) to condemn such callous behavior, the Los Angeles times managed to find someone to take the opposite position. Michael Hitzik penned a column which is currently titled, “Mocking anti-vaxxers’ deaths is ghoulish, yes — but may be necessary.”
How should we react to the deaths of the unvaccinated?
On the one hand, a hallmark of civilized thought is the sense that every life is precious.
On the other, those who have deliberately flouted sober medical advice by refusing a vaccine known to reduce the risk of serious disease from the virus, including the risk to others, and end up in the hospital or the grave can be viewed as receiving their just deserts.
Column: Mocking anti-vaxxers' deaths is ghoulish, yes — but necessary https://t.co/ge7NveMjVq
— Michael Hiltzik (@hiltzikm) January 10, 2022
The column goes on at length to discuss how evil the unvaccinated are, along with those who are themselves vaccinated but oppose vaccination mandates. All of these people are lumped into the same category of “receiving their just desserts” if they succumb to the disease. They are selfish and present a danger to everyone else. To support this contention, the author points to Reddit communities and other websites specifically set up to mock the recently deceased.
The reason that, in the opening paragraph, I pointed out the “current” title of Hitzik’s column is that it has changed at least twice since the original submission. At the time of this writing, the title suggests that mocking anti-vaxxers “may be necessary.” The original column that I saved last simply read, “- but necessary.” You can see that version in the author’s tweet inserted above. That one wasn’t even the worst of the lot, however. If you look at the embedded URL you can see the original title, which read, “Why shouldn’t we dance on the graves of anti-vaxxers?”
What we’re witnessing here is only the latest, though perhaps an over-the-top example of a phenomenon we’ve been warning about and tracking from the start of the pandemic. The government (at most levels) has done an amazing job of dividing the nation yet again into two warring camps. It’s not enough to simply hold a public debate over the legal and practical ramifications of mandates for vaccines and face masks. It has to be all-out warfare. The opposing side can’t simply be seen as having a differing opinion or even as being incorrect. They have to be portrayed as genuinely evil and seeking the destruction of society.
Even if this divisiveness leads to public figures such as Hitzik violating one of the longest-standing social covenants (speaking ill of the dead when their body is barely cold), excuses can be found to justify their actions. The author clearly had no trouble mounting a defense.
And, of course, all of these arguments are being constructed on a foundation created from fallacies. The total number of people who have died from COVID since the beginning of the pandemic is a tragedy, just as all significant losses of life are. But Kelly Ernby was an outlier in the trends we have observed. According to another, considerably more charitable article published in the same paper several days earlier, Ernby was 46 years old and considered to be in otherwise good health. She was not in one of the high-risk demographic groups when it comes to COVID and people in her situation rarely die or even require intensive hospital care. Most survive and develop their own antibodies as a result. But there are always exceptions to every rule and Kelly Ernby was apparently one of them.
So does that make it excusable to mock her or, as the LA Times originally considered phrasing it, “dance on her grave?” Well, we still live in a society that recognizes the right to free speech (at least for now, anyway), so you can say what you like. But you’re still going to be seen as a pretty awful human being in many circles.