Unthinkable: Lack of access to democratic processes can fuel distrust, says Dr Katherine Furman
The Irish Times
Coronavirus conspiracy theories may have started out as a joke, but they now threaten to derail the global fight against the pandemic. Vaccine hesitancy is identified by the World Health Organisation as one of the top 10 threats to public health, and resistance to the new Covid-19 jabs risks undermining the efficacy of Europe’s vaccination rollout plan.
UK scientific advisers last month voiced concern at data showing 72 per cent of black people saying they were unlikely to have the jab. Historical issues of unethical healthcare research and institutional racism were cited as key reasons for lower levels of trust, an expert report found. Other research shows conspiracy theories tend to flourish in communities that have traditionally felt the brunt of economic hardship and political neglect.
For this reason, argues Dr Katherine Furman, we need to understand Covid policy dissidents and vaccine refuseniks rather than demonise them. Furman, a philosopher and public policy researcher based at the University of Liverpool, is one of the speakers at a conference in Dublin next week on how a democracy should deal with conscientious objectors. In advance, she sets out her stall for the Irish Times Unthinkable philosophy column.
[Questions addressed in the column]
- How does one distinguish between a conscientious objector and a mere law-breaker?
- To what extent can a liberal democracy allow for conscientious objectors to public health measures?
- What is an appropriate punishment for people who – in the form of political protest – break Covid rules on mask-wearing or breach lockdown restrictions?
- The conscientious objectors we tend to respect from history are those devoid of self-pity – those, like the pacifist philosopher Bertrand Russell, who preferred to go to prison rather than cross a moral red line. Is punishment something conscientious objectors should stoically accept as the price for living in a state that decides its laws democratically?