The Covid-cautious are hungriest for war
There's a strong correlation between a fear of Covid and a desire for open conflict
Risk calculus is a funny thing. According to a new poll, the Canadians most cautious about the risk of catching Covid-19 are also the most likely to support open war between Russia and the United States.
It wasn’t a big sample, but the results were stark. Ekos Politics polled a random sample of around 1000 Canadians, and stratified the results by vaccination status. This revealed that whereas 56% of unvaccinated Canadians oppose the idea of NATO imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, an even greater number of the triple-vaccinated — 59% — support doing so.
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On the face of it this makes no sense. Why would the most Covid risk-averse be the most enthusiastic about a policy that would, as 79 foreign policy experts from across America’s political spectrum put it in an open letter recently, “would mean going to war with Russia”? Well, if you hold (as I do) that humans are not actually very rational, it’s possible that what is in evidence here is less a lack of understanding impeding rational choice than a further iteration in the tribal clustering of political alignments.
Vaccination has been acutely politicised in Canada, where non-compliance has been rewarded with punitive measures such as restrictions on travel and shopping and additional taxes. In turn, vaxx refusal has begun to coalesce with other forms of political dissent, culminating in the Canadian truckers’ protest, supported by many whose grievances reached well beyond vaccination mandates. In this wider context, being triple-vaccinated has wider resonances than healthcare; it’s also a crude proxy for ideological alignment.
Humans have probably always clustered by belief, to an extent. But it’s been evident since at least 2016 that social media greatly accelerates the intensity of this dynamic by unmooring it from material life. I can’t very well ‘cancel’ my local butcher if we disagree about vaccines or Ukraine, at least not if I want to buy a steak off him tomorrow. But if I do my grocery shopping online, I can demonise and expel to my heart’s content.
Lockdowns scaled this up radically by forcing as much as possible of our common life away from in-person interactions to the internet. Unsurprisingly, this has radically intensified ideological clustering and tribalisation. Accordingly, since 2020 we’ve seen BLM emojis sweep over social media bios, only to be replaced (or augmented) with vaccine emojis and, more recently, with an efflorescence of Ukrainian flags.
This is of course not to say that these causes have no material correlate in the world outside our screens. We haven’t seen the fourth Horseman yet, but war, death and pestilence are all real and cause immense suffering. And anyone who’s dipped even briefly into the sucking void of Q-Anon will see that credulousness is by no means limited to those whose emoji colouration tells the world “I support the current thing.”
But the internet-mediated intensity, changeability and mutability of this almost entirely dematerialised and tribal support for/opposition to ‘the current thing’ has a number of implications. When public opinion is this labile and tribalized, for example, how responsive should political decision-making be to it — especially where those decisions will have serious material ramifications (such as nuclear war)?
Much has been made of the threat Putin poses to “democracy”. But, unsettlingly, recent years have revealed our pundit class to be as radically adrift as everyone else on the tides of moral fashion. In that light we should, perhaps, consider whether the digital tools we’ve embraced and that now serve to consolidate our sense of ourselves as a ‘demos’ are not, themselves, radically undermining confidence in that demos as a repository of political wisdom.
The common factor seems to me to be expectation of authoritarianism from government I.e. government must protect us from covid and government must go to war to protect ‘democracy’.
Maybe true, but I would put it slightly differently. If you by and large believe in the current democratic system and trust the main information outlets, you would tend to get vaccinated, and to rally around the efforts to stop Putin and protect democracy. If you think both government and media are the enemy and anything they say is likely to be a lie, you would flock to the contrary opinion, anti-vaxx and pro-Putin. It certainly seems like a lot of people who either distribute or consume outrage go that way.
Of course, supporting a reckless step like a no-fly zone is very much one step further.
Expectation may be related to extent of trust in governments and other influential entities. However in this case, the governments, including the Canadian one are strongly endorsing the need for vaccinations; on the other hand there may be factions supporting a no fly zone but I am not sure that western governments, even the Canadian one are pushing strongly for a no fly zone are they ? Please correct me if I’m wrong.
I just want to add that I Don’t see this as a polarised matter of principle as to whether big government is good ot bad. Rather I see this as a legitimate debate of judgment about how principled, effective or risky etc specific government interventions are likely to be in the real world.
Your comment regarding matters medical and scientific, namely “if you believe in the current democratic system and trust the main information outlets, you would tend to get vaccinated…” while true illustrates a very problematic point. When it comes to reporting matters scientific and medical, journalists, including science journalists, almost always fail to get things right. And I’m not simply referring to the pages of the Times, Guardian, Telegraph, NYT or WaPo, but also to the News& Views Sections in premier scientific journals such as Nature and the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Only a couple of weeks ago, for example, there was a news feature in PNAS on structural biology (discussing the deep learning structure prediction program alphafold), a field I’m intimately familiar with, and there were major howlers which basically invalidated most of what the writer was saying in the article. That is why it’s so important to read widely when it comes to things like Covid or Ukraine and be skeptical of all sides, as the truth often lies somewhere in the middle.
In the context of Ukraine, I have been accused in the comments section of being a shill forPutin. yet I’m certainly not pro-Putin. nevertheless I can see that the situation is complicated and there are several sides to this story. an interesting perspective is provided by a recent article in the AsianTimes which puts the current situation and how Ukraine got there into context: https://asiatimes.com/2022/03/the-tragedy-of-zelensky/
Well worth reading.
Thank you I will read it
Structural biology, eh? I wonder if I know you under your real name (shudder). Anyway, not to prove anything, I’d be curious to see a link to that PNAS paper.
A lot of people who write get a lot of things wrong. You just need to apply some judgement. Speaking of which, I find your AsianTimes article wholly unreliable. For a, start it is a deliberate smear job – just look at the language (“a novice politician and former television comedian“, “That was his first mistake” etc.). Second, it blames Zelensky for “refusing to take seriously the terms of the draft treaty issued by Russia in mid-December“. That was the treaty that proposed giving Russia a veto over NATO extensions and military deployments without offering anything in return, which was widely believed to be written deliberately to be unacceptable to NATO. Third, it claims without any evidence that Zelensky was on the way to a sensible peace deal with Russia, but is in hock to unspecified ‘far-right ultras’. Fourth it takes exception to the idea of banning political parties in the middle of a civil war as undemocratic – I wonder how the author feels about new Russian laws criminalising publishing information that differs from the government version – or the ban on the Italian Fascist party after WWII.
If you have the pre-conceived idea that there is a sensible peace deal with Russia there for the asking, and only criminal stupidity from Ukraine and NATO has prevented them from accepting it – then this article will confirm your beliefs and probably make sense. If you regard this as an open question, this article is just propaganda and special pleading. Personally my best guess is that Russia has a firm goal of putting Ukraine under complete Russian control, and nothing less would satisfy them. And that no representative Ukrainian president, peace candidate or not, ‘far right factions’ or not, could possibly accept any offer along those lines.
With regard to your last paragraph, how about we wait a month or two for the outcome.
As for the PNAS paper it’s not a paper but a news feature. I suspect it’s freely downloadable so you can just search for AlphaFold and you’ll find it.
Looks like we are in our usual position. I think it is reasonable to expect that if people insist someone has chosen the wrong alternative, they can explain what the right alternative is. And that if people point to an interesting article they are willing to show which one they mean instead of saying ‘Google’.
I wonder if it is your natural manners, or if you are just afraid you would be unable to defend your position if people knew too clearly what it was built on.
In case you are interested, this article (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/ukraine/2022-03-23/what-if-russia-makes-deal?) gives a good account of the positions, actions and motivations of all sides. And you do not even have to Google to get it.
A good contribution.
But what I suspect is missing in this Post is any discussion of the comparative ages of the “no war – no vaccine” crowd and the “vaccinated and stand up to aggression” crowd.
(Obvious ridiculous simplification, but that seems to be the way these poll results are tabulated.)
I suggest that the job of Government is to protect the integrity of the State and to provide conditions for business to operate, protect the genuinely vulnerable, educate kids etc.
It is not the job of the State to be a super authoritarian Nanny.
As I have several “co-morbidities” (old white male with diabetes), I decided to get the experimental jabs, not least because it seemed conceivable that the Government would be less interested in buggering up the lives of the young.
OK, they fooled me.
So far as my personal prospects are concerned, I don’t have as much to loose as someone half, or a tenth of my age.
But I well remember Suez, the Cuba Missile crisis and much more. And I understand that feeding a crocodile with buns is fine until you are clean out of buns.
That is a very brief explanation of my perspective. I come from a foreign land – the past.
Younger people will, must, have different perspectives. But I hope their healthy scepticism about Big Pharma doesn’t translate somehow into trusting that Putin is a misunderstood nice guy.
I think Putin is much more clever than the contemptible buffoons who lead us.
Another long reply that got swallowed up by the graphite and heavy water. Let us hope it comes back, I cannot keep rewriting this. What ails this site???
Another common feature is that of signalling one’s virtue and being seen to be on the right side of the argument, whether that be standing with Ukraine, kneeling with BLM, or supporting net zero and lockdown. Of course once reality hits and the body bags start coming home, or the inflated energy bills start popping through the letter box, people change their views pretty quickly.
Spot on Mary. It’s also very evident in the comments section of Unherd!
Perhaps the correlation is with virtue signalers being the most visible in terms of COVID theater and lack of critical thinking, as well as the most hungry for war where they can sit comfortably in their living rooms, on their computers without fear of suffering the consequences and the very real horrors of war.
I wondered if it might have a lot to do with trust in government/media/institutional messaging?
Perhaps a hypothesis would be:
Vaxxed People = Higher level of trust in government/media/institutional messaging, hence supporting the ‘narratives’ around this topic being put forward via these avenues
Unvaxxed People = Lower level of trust in government/media/institutional messaging, and therefore withholding support for the course of action that it seems this power block is pushing for
Especially as this poll asked what Canadians thought America should do.
Great article. I think Ryan Long was in on “supporting the current thing” for a while, his skit on how to be a professional protester sums it up nicely – “I’ve dedicated my life to smashing the system, which system, you tell me, I’m there.”
Ryan Long is the genius of anti-woke comedy.
Along with JP Sears
Yes we in Canada are fixing for war. And we have a dozen or so 35 year old F18s held together with duct tape and chewing gum to contribute to the cause! To say nothing of our 3 frigate navy and our army that still uses WW1 enfield rifles. What Canada has in spades is righteousness – and the Russians will cower in the face of our mean tweets!
Jim, i understand your humor but don’t sell your people short. Canadian military actions have proven themselves above and beyond tge call for Valor and bravery. Bosnia,Normandy and WW1. And the old Enfield, though outdated, I’ve found is a powerful and accurate rifle to this day!
There was another poll very recently that nearly 40% of Americans wouldn’t fight for their country in the event of war, but would flee instead, and I’m interested in the coincident sets with the Covid cautious and the war bellicose. I seem to recall a very large proportion of those who would not want to fight in the poll were Democrat voters. I am curious if a similar left-right split also operates in the UK and Europe. And my other question is, of those who are most bellicose about provoking a real war with Putin, seemingly many Covid cautious, left leaning voters, would any of them actually see through the consequences of what they are so keen to start, or would they run having lit the blue touchpaper?
In Sweden, the military is handling record numbers of sign ups, people who are getting the training in, in case we end up in war. They are from all of the political parties — it doesn’t appear to be a political thing.
That’s interesting, thanks for that Laura
That makes sense. I’m very much against war, but if it comes my way, I’d rather have a gun in my hand and some basic training in what to do with it, than not.
Well it’s nice to hear at least the Swedes have their heads screwed on enough to take a sane and realistic approach.
I recall it was 68% of Republicans would stay and fight (v. flee) while 40% (or so) of Democrats would stay and the rest would flee.
I don’t see fear but control; there’s a cohort who think we can control the temperature of earth, change men into women, stop a virus and force Putin to stop being a madman.
It’s all consistent if nothing else.
In the MSM Matrix most people exist in, all of these things can be controlled. In the Matrix, Covid was stopped by masks and lockdowns, global warming is prevented by cutting down forests and burning them for ‘green’ renewable energy, men become women because they say so and Putin is losing a war that he will surely win. Putin looks at us and scratches his head – how is it democracy when opinions (and therefore votes) are literally being manufactured by state and corporate media? Who are we fooling but ourselves?
I am sure that you are right that the invention of social media has exacerbated the tendency for people to follow their crowd, but it is the combination of social media with the somewhat older innovation of film reporting from war zones that is proving so lethal. We could read about the atrocities committed in Aleppo and Grozny, and perhaps see the odd picture, but we couldn’t share footage across Facebook in order to whip up a righteous frenzy. This is the first occasion that I feel truly bombarded by what feels like an assault upon my senses, to the extent that my ability to reason is being warped. We are visual creatures before we are rational creatures.
Query: what is the understanding of respondents when they answer the question?
Do those supporting a no-fly zone believe that it will increase the probability of expanding hostilities (pro-war), or do they think it will constrain Russia’s military activity (anti-war).
In other words, two people answering the question the same way might be expecting opposing results.
I don’t think the relationship between ‘fear of covid’ and ‘being vaccinated’ is as simple as Mary Harrington assumes. There are plenty of people in Canada who were never particularly afraid of covid, but got vaccinated anyway because it was the thing to do, or because they thought it benefited others who were at risk for serious outcomes, back in the days when the Canadian government was telling people that getting vaccinated would stop transmission. I’d bet money that they were in the majority.
On the other side, the unvaccinated include a large number of people who think they are too sick or frail to handle either vaccination or covid. My father, who lives in Toronto, knows several very elderly people who are members of his church in this group. They’re *still* choosing to lock themselves up in their houses and apartments.
(and why, pray tell, did this note go into moderation?)
(and why, pray tell, did this note go into moderation?) My best guess is an ill-judged automatic mechanism. It happens all the time. Make a copy and repost.
Ultimately i view it as the final rise to total power of a global technocracy. People now worship ‘the experts’ in a manner akin to the political theory of interwar fascists like Mosley. The polarisation comes about because you are on one side of a firm divide- do you worship the manager-bureaucracy or distrust it? The middle ground between the two is evaporating.
This poll was just a small sample but, if it’s at all representative, maybe it shows that people who refused to accept the experimental jabs are also better able to make their own rational decisions about the war than those who were more easily manipulated by the “psychological operations” shenanigans of these past two years.
‘repository of political wisdom.’ Interesting; wisdom is not a word much used and probably speaks to its absence. Political opinion is more to the fore. Opinion allows anyone to express a view; wisdom is the fruit of experience and years. It intrigues me how many political commentators are scarcely 30 – you can’t accrue too much wisdom by that age in our welfare world.
Social media demonstrates how much we are like sheep. If you’ve ever looked after them you know how they just follow whichever is at the front in a brainless fashion. Original thinking is becoming a rare commodity: almost as valuable as wisdom!
As a card carrying member of the “70 somethings”, I was asked once what the difference is between knowledge and wisdom (I was an older consultant at the time, competing with the “20 something” B-school grads). My answer: knowledge is the ability to tell what you could do out of all possibilities. Wisdom was the ability to tell you what you absolutely should not do.
My observation is that wisdom doesn’t play well in the current social milieu. It is perceived as parental and negative. Wisdom too often doesn’t approve of what I want to do, so screw it. Because, after all, I just want to do it.
What you describe sounds exactly like Higher Education.
An interesting correlation but I would be wary of reading so much into it. Are people who readily get vaccinated and support a no flight zone frightened of Covid but not atom bombs or do they just see them as the best way to bring order to the world? Are people who are against vaccines and a no flight zone frightened of vaccines and atom bombs or do they just believe people should be left alone to do what they want? Does the existence of information on the internet change these opinions or just bring them more readily to our attention?
I thinks this pinpoints it (and the issue Eagleton was discussing a day or so ago). And social media are kind of acting like a giant centrifuge, pushing us all (or those on social media anyway) to the two extremes of order / control and chaos / liberty. Ironic that a war is seen to be a way to restore order (by Putin and the vaccinated, apparently) when it seems more likely to be a direct line to hell.
One possible connection is that the vaccinated were encouraged to bully and shame the unvaccinated into compliance. Some of these people went into full blown hatred of the unvaccinated. But hatred, like most sins, is hard to renounce. If you hate Putin and the Russians enough, only a war will satisfy your emotional need.
This problem may be worse in Canada and other places that have hitherto prided themselves on being reasonable and not emotional. People who don’t have a lot of experience in dealing with severe emotional excess, have a harder time getting over their excesses when they do happen.
Propaganda wouldn’t be called propaganda if it didn’t have effects such as the one described in this short article. Social media just runs with it around the world, while the truth is still putting its shoes on.
The key point is that opinion polls are notoriously unreliable. Is this difference statistically significant? Even if it is, does it actually signify anything? Why even write this article? Isn’t it yet another example of expressing an opinion on the basis of minimal knowledge? Isn’t that what most trolls do?
Good stuff here.
Clicking through to the original polling, however, it seems pretty clear that the heavily-vaccinated mainly just think Russia is the Great Satan and any action against it is justified.
The non-vaxxed are moderately more pro-Russian, or less willing to state a clear opinion about things.
It’s all about where one gets one’s news, or more accurately, one’s “truth”. I believe most people settle on an outlet that reinforces rather than challenges their preconceptions…
Not having time to read the article yet, authoritarians are authoritarians.
Ah, but are the triple-vaxxed ENLISTING in greater numbers?
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