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“Rationality” and “reasonableness” are notoriously difficult words to define, because they rely on circular reasoning. Rationality requires, well, “being agreeable to reason” or “common sense.” Fair enough. But this only raises more questions. In a society as divided as ours, who exactly decides what is held in common or what is sensible? Reason itself cannot answer such a question; only power can—the power to decide and to impose a particular understanding on society through pressure or coercion.
Take anti-vax sentiment. Should we tolerate it? What if anti-vaxxers are actually crazy or suffering under mass psychosis? Even if it were true—which I don’t believe—it would suggest a dead end. It would also suggest viewing 30 to 45 percent of our fellow Americans as beyond the pale. I just can’t get behind that, and, more importantly, I wouldn’t want to. It is unclear how a pluralistic society survives if we insist on seeing a particular current of society as dumb, deplorable, and dangerous, all at once. Our rationality—expressed through appeals to The Science—is wielded as a political cudgel, stifling debate in the process and enforcing something akin to clerical authority.
The problem is that we’re all irrational but in different ways. People are crazy—in the colloquial rather than medical sense—and they always have been. Is it rational for someone who’s triple-vaxxed to descend into panic and let Omicron upend their life? If you counter that at least they’re not hurting anyone with their weirdness, that’s not quite true either, certainly not on the aggregate level. COVID-alarmism has profound societal effects. Overzealous school closures affect millions of Americans in very tangible ways, leading to learning gaps that can have long-lasting effects. Not being able to experience childhood, see friends for long stretches, or even bury the dead are harder to quantify, but they are destructive nonetheless.