Vaccine protests and yellow stars
November 22, 2021 8:33 AM   Subscribe

I’m used to, not to put too fine a point on it, Gentile nonsense about the Holocaust, fetishization and minimization at once, the ways Holocaust deniers at once erase the existence of history and long for it to recur. But I am, despite myself, angry. Yes, it’s the puffery, the self-righteousness of antivaxxers who are straining empathy across the nation to the point where even health-care workers find their reserves sapped. ... But it’s also the specific perversity of this comparison—the comparison of efforts to stop a disease with a genocide in which disease played such a crucial and central role. Talia Bracha Lavin writes on vaccine protests, yellow stars, and an inoculation of historical reality (including Nazi experiments and the brave individuals who tried to fight typhus among the Jews).
posted by Bella Donna (39 comments total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is so well organized, so well worth the read. It's been something steaming me for quite a while too, but I think this writer has basically said it all better than I could anyway. There's not a whole lot else to add except: They're 100% correct in the way they feel about this issue.
posted by deadaluspark at 8:48 AM on November 22 [5 favorites]


Not only is this well written and very well said, but it also highlights an aspect of Holocaust history that I was not aware of, in terms of the development of a typhoid vaccine. That part of the tale and its impact on Jews in the Holocaust and the Nazi war effort just ads to the infuriating idiocy and deliberate antisemitism of using yellow stars to symbolize the "victimhood" of the anti-vax movement. I can usually summon some empathy for even the worst of people but I have none left for these folks.
posted by dellsolace at 9:08 AM on November 22 [18 favorites]


This article does a lot of work. Thanks for this.
posted by elkevelvet at 9:09 AM on November 22 [3 favorites]


YES perverse and disgusting. And knowing, the disgust and outrage is the point.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 9:13 AM on November 22 [5 favorites]


holy shit. i guess i'm glad to know these are out there, in the wild, because if I came upon one unawares I would absolutely do an immediate violence to the person wearing it.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:14 AM on November 22 [9 favorites]


Please don't do immediate violence, although I understand the impulse. I posted this because I had never heard of Doctor Rudolf Weigl and I'm old. That fact horrifies me; everyone should know about his work. Also, I enjoy Talia Bracha Lavin's newsletter. The Sword and the Sandwich covers the rightwing (in particular, evangelical corporal punishment, among other things) and, also, sandwiches. For real. I understand that the newsletter craze may be short-lived, but I hope not. I love Lavin's unexpected pairing of topics and enjoy her writing generally.
posted by Bella Donna at 9:16 AM on November 22 [9 favorites]


One of the lessons I am taking away from the pandemic is that education in reading comprehension, media literacy, math (stats), science, and history should be top, top priorities for a functioning society.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:24 AM on November 22 [48 favorites]


and history should be top, top priorities for a functioning society.

The worst is that hiding history and propagandizing your citizens to not know history seems to be the rule as opposed to the exception.
posted by deadaluspark at 9:36 AM on November 22 [16 favorites]


wow, that is quite a read. I was not familiar with Talia Bracha Lavin before this but will keep my eye out for her name in the future.

I had not understood the extent to which the antivax movement had co-opted the yellow stars, themselves, not just using words of victimhood comparing themselves to the targets of genocide. it is something so far beyond vile I really do not have the words to express it.
posted by supermedusa at 9:42 AM on November 22 [7 favorites]


The antivaxxers are incredibly stupid. I know and love some people who are stupid, and they mix things up in their heads in the most incurably offensive manner you can imagine. I don't get angry about that.

What I do get angry about is the way idiocy has been mainstreamed. 25 years ago, journalists, commentators, politicians and researchers would look at society and say: 20-25 % of any populations are morons and susceptible to conspiracy theories and all sorts of other dumb shit. We need to improve education and make sure that some statements are unacceptable in polite society. Now, the same people (and their kids) look at the same demographic and say: we need to figure out how we can engage with the morons, never mind the consequences.

Before you get all heated up, I know that there have always been populists and inciters, even after WW2. Reagan was one, and he was president 40 years ago. But he restrained himself, compared to what we see now. I'm not nostalgic for Reagan, I'd spit on his grave any day. I am nostalgic for a time where nazis as a minimum didn't appropriate the Holocaust.

OK, maybe I have to revisit this thread when my anger has settled a bit, so I can make more sense...
posted by mumimor at 9:44 AM on November 22 [28 favorites]


Please don't do immediate violence, although I understand the impulse.

No believe me I am relieved to have this heads-up, because now that I know this exists I can prepare myself to somehow encounter one of these absolute shitstains upon the shorts of humanity without doing them physical harm. It would legit not have been up to me anymore to make a decision if I had come across one unawares.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:49 AM on November 22 [12 favorites]


I’ve wondered how much of this is an attempt to avoid contemplation by people who might not consider themselves anti-Semitic but are increasingly spending time in at least closely-adjacent spaces of the conspiracy world. One way to avoid having to have the “are we the baddies?” internal debate is to tell yourself you can’t be because you think the holocaust was wrong and besides the Nazis were socialists, it says so in the name! Some of the antivax theories are suspiciously close to anti-Semitic tropes and a preemptive attack is one way to distract attention from why.
posted by adamsc at 9:57 AM on November 22 [18 favorites]


OK, maybe I have to revisit this thread when my anger has settled a bit, so I can make more sense...

Well, when you come back, might you be up to providing a definition of "idiocy"? I'm always hearing people complain about things like "idiocy," "stupidity," and "dumbing down," and it's not always clear to me what they mean. (Of course, sometimes it is.)
posted by cinchona at 10:03 AM on November 22 [1 favorite]


^ I am not the OP, but your posts in other topics raise doubt as to the sincerity of your question.

And if you are "always hearing people complain" about idiocy, well. I'll just leave that there.
posted by elkevelvet at 10:17 AM on November 22 [16 favorites]


Her twitter is amazing too
posted by lalochezia at 10:25 AM on November 22 [6 favorites]


What I do get angry about is the way idiocy has been mainstreamed. 25 years ago, journalists, commentators, politicians and researchers would look at society and say: 20-25 % of any populations are morons and susceptible to conspiracy theories and all sorts of other dumb shit. We need to improve education and make sure that some statements are unacceptable in polite society. Now, the same people (and their kids) look at the same demographic and say: we need to figure out how we can engage with the morons, never mind the consequences.

Two points:

First, we've been doing this for decades. "The answer to bad speech is more/better speech" has been a canard for decades now, and has always been false from the get-go.

Second, this isn't about "stupidity", and acting as if it is makes it harder to fight. Calling people drawn into conspiracy theories "idiots" (instead of addressing the reasons why people get drawn into conspiracy theories) might make you feel superior, but it does nothing to actually address the issue.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:26 AM on November 22 [16 favorites]


Talia Lavin's Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy (excerpt, BookForum) is worth reading.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:35 AM on November 22 [14 favorites]


The back history of the vaccine work is amazing
posted by lalochezia at 10:39 AM on November 22 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. A history I did not know and a valuable one to learn about.
posted by hippybear at 10:55 AM on November 22 [2 favorites]


A quote from the link to Lavin's writing on white supremacy posted by MonkeyToes above has it exactly right: "[T]he effect of these ideas when they are aired out is much like Zyklon B."
posted by riverlife at 11:01 AM on November 22 [3 favorites]


First, that is some righteous anger.

Second
I’ve wondered how much of this is an attempt to avoid contemplation by people who might not consider themselves anti-Semitic but are increasingly spending time in at least closely-adjacent spaces of the conspiracy world.

It’s important to remember that there are, functionally, no conspiracy theories in the West that are not anti-semitism adjacent; it it the bedrock they are built on, and I don’t think anti-semitism and conspiracy thinking can be separated any more.

Third, I think there are a lot of white Protestants who are just desperate to be persecuted, just without, you know, the actual persecution. It’s terrible theology, but there are a lot of people who wouldn’t know their sect’s theology if it bit them on the face.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:11 AM on November 22 [57 favorites]


It’s terrible theology, but there are a lot of people who wouldn’t know their sect’s theology if it bit them on the face.

True for even churches of one if not truer.
posted by y2karl at 11:16 AM on November 22 [1 favorite]


I would join the Church of Leopards Eating Faces

but seriously yes, the anti-Semitism is built in from the ground up, as it the racism and fondness for capitalist exploitation. we live in a deeply diseased society.
posted by supermedusa at 12:23 PM on November 22 [2 favorites]


I love this video from last year of a security guard quitting on the spot at an anti-mask anti-lockdown demonstration when the speaker started to compare herself to White Rose activist Sophie Scholl. So many times in my life I realize later what I should have said or done. This guy knew right then.
posted by sy at 12:39 PM on November 22 [39 favorites]


I would join the Church of Leopards Eating Faces

Research their sacraments first.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:45 PM on November 22 [8 favorites]


It’s important to remember that there are, functionally, no conspiracy theories in the West that are not anti-semitism adjacent

I'm not well across conspiracy theories, but I am hesitant to try just googling this, so do you have more explanation or suggestions of something good to read on this?
posted by bashing rocks together at 12:47 PM on November 22


I had never heard of the typhus vaccine history either. That's an astounding story.

Thank you for posting this.
posted by jquinby at 12:48 PM on November 22 [2 favorites]


bashing rocks together - large-scale conspiracy theories tend to locate the causes of otherwise inexplicable things in the agenda of some hidden, elite, sinister, group (or individual). This tendency has an extremely long history and almost always included - if not centered on - Jews as that group.
posted by jquinby at 12:54 PM on November 22 [10 favorites]


It’s important to remember that there are, functionally, no conspiracy theories in the West that are not anti-semitism adjacent; it it the bedrock they are built on, and I don’t think anti-semitism and conspiracy thinking can be separated any more.
I was thinking along the lines of degrees of distance: the stuff about an international conspiracy controlling banks/government is pretty obvious, the blood libel retellings similarly so, but I think a lot of people have found a market in things which are enough removed to be safer to say in public & easier for recruiting.
posted by adamsc at 1:08 PM on November 22 [5 favorites]


I knew about the typhus epidemics in the ghettos and the camps (for all the attention the gas chambers got, the Nazis outsourced a lot of their extermination work to squalor and disease), but I'd never heard about Weigl and Fleck's remarkable work and how many they saved from that fate.
posted by jackbishop at 2:07 PM on November 22 [4 favorites]


I also came to realize conspiracy theories almost always lead to this garbage before social media. It used to be kind of fun to read about different conspiracies and see if there was any hint of truth in things. I enjoyed reading Robert Anton Wilson, and the Disinformation books, stuff written by people with some real journalism credentials.

Once I moved to other sources, it got toxic. Over and over again, elites, /secret government/controllers would be linked to Jews and I just gave up. Also, lots of pleas to subscribe to Super Secret Knowledge emails, magazines, food buckets, etc. Awful shit, unless you are very paranoid and reactionary.

It is definitely part of the need to feel persecuted and special b/c other people dont know their place anymore . I re-read this Long Con mailing list article a lot.
posted by Freecola at 2:18 PM on November 22 [10 favorites]


I was thinking along the lines of degrees of distance:

The thing is, there is no distance. They all blend into each other with antisemitism as the dark core they orbit. You wouldn’t think flat earth was inherently antisemetic, but but it’s not even a step between them. In the West, all conspires point to the Jews. I guess if you want to see this discussed, you could do worse than reading Will Eisner’s graphic novel The Plot: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which starts and ends with antisemitism, obviously, but it shows a bit how, once the idea is introduced, it won’t be shaken.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:13 PM on November 22 [8 favorites]


Anti-vaxxers comparing themselves to Jews in the Holocaust is so far beyond wrong, there isn’t even a word for it in English. I am not a physically violent person, but that comparison really pushes my buttons, to the point that I lose all sympathy for them.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 3:15 PM on November 22 [6 favorites]


Orac (David Gorski) at Respectful Insolence has been writing about this for years.
posted by kathrynm at 5:04 PM on November 22 [4 favorites]


We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese, it's oddly comforting to see someone else say that, actually. I...am honestly too angry to talk about this in any remotely meaningful or constructive way. But I have a genuine terror of ever seeing this in person, because I do not know what I would do. I do not know that I would not rip off that fucking star and make them eat it, and I am a small crippled potato and that could possibly end with me dead.
It's not all that likely that I'll run into this in meatspace, thank g-d, but I have actually considered how to guard against a reflexive rage response that could get me arrested and/or hurt.
posted by BlueNorther at 5:39 PM on November 22 [11 favorites]


I feel like there has been a good-faith attempt at liberal, universalist moral education that encouraged [the majority’s] emotional empathy with the victims of prejudice and atrocity; but this has somehow turned into an emotional co-opting of the horrors experienced by particular people, and I wish we could figure out how to actually make it work.

And regarding Boenhoeffer above, it became clear to me a few years ago that my entire theological education as a teenage Lutheran was meant to inoculate us from becoming Nazis (from a strictly theological point of view, not a universalist-humanist one), yet this was never explicitly acknowledged. Because encouraging people to think of themselves as possible victims is considered morally neutral-to-positive, but encouraging people to think of themselves as possible oppressors is completely taboo.
posted by Hypatia at 6:42 PM on November 22 [9 favorites]


I'm from Wisconsin. When the horrible Waukesha incident went down yesterday evening, I did a thing that I don't enjoy, but feel obliged as a sociologist by trade to do now: I went and scrolled through the Twitter recent posts. You do get to see news unfolding there to some degree--the suspect was being identified on Twitter hours before he was named by reputable media (though lots of accusations were also made against others). But what you see more of are the hot takes and raw reactions, and, in this day and age, all the tweets from troll farm posters and their bot agents trying to set the narrative. And I feel I need be aware of that happening.

In the 12 hours after the tragic vehicular-mass-death, the majority of the tweets--by a small margin--were from people sending thoughts and especially prayers. But not far behind that total were posts calling the event a terrorist attack. In the very first hours, there were some rumors being spread that the driver was Muslim, or claiming that the event was a false flag fake aimed at drawing news attention away from some Trump-election-related (non)story that was set to break. But many more posts asserted that they were sure this was a terrorist attack by a BLM individual or group retaliating against the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse. Once the suspect was identified (on Twitter, that is, not in the news), this narrative quickly became ubiquitous.

And the reason I bring this all up is this: a common refrain reiterated in tweet after tweet (often by accounts with zero friends or followers, or existing for only a month or two--i.e. likely troll farm accounts) was that this was proof that the enemies of "American Patriots" want to commit genocide against white people. Biden, and/or Harris, and/or AOC, and/or Congressional Democratic legislators, and/or CNN and MSNBC, and/or "devilcrats"/"demonrats" strive to empower Black criminals/terrorists to kill off white "patriots". They are importing Black and brown immigrants for that purpose. Democrats are celebrating the Waukesha event because that is what they want to happen everywhere. The driver supported BLM, proving once and for all that BLM is a violent terrorist organization out to kill white people, gleefully abetted by Democrat politicians and media, whose only love is for criminals and pedophiles.

It's patently ludicrous, and one would like to believe that very few people could take this claim that the left is seeking white genocide seriously. But of course, we have learned that people can take the most wild of claims seriously. And this precept of a desire for white genocide was used in some tweets to justify resegregating the U.S., or calls for all (white) "patriots" to arm themselves, or, in a small but scary proportion of the tweets, to claim that "the race war" has finally started, or civil war begun, and to come to Waukesha and start shooting. What was particularly scary about this last set of tweets is that they didn't seem to come from the troll farm accounts, but from those of actual American QAnon sorts.

Oh, and many of the actual longterm Twitter users posting this horrible stuff had antivax or anti-mask account names.

So, I totally agree with the posters above that this use of the yellow Star of David by antivaxxers relates to a desire to frame Trumpists as the real victims of hate in America today. But I see something scarier involved beyond mere symbolic claims to victimhood. And that's the framing of all rightwing white people as justified in violence against everyone else. If the left is out to kill you, then you have the right to stand your ground and start shooting. This is noble, akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany and violently resisting being sent to a concentration camp.

And given all the many armed III-percenters I've seen driving around Wisconsin since 2020, that is something that causes me great concern.

I'm also Jewish, and lost a lot of family in my grandparents' generation in the Holocaust. And what rolls around in my mind is the fact that Nazi propaganda always framed the situation as one in which "true Aryan German citizens" were being oppressed by wealthy Jews, sickened by diseased Jews, burdened by lazy Jews, and under threat of "race suicide" by sneaky attractive passing Jews intermarrying with Aryans and causing "racial degeration." It was framed as imperative for Aryans to fight back fiercely and save the nation. And that sounds frighteningly similar to what I was looking at on Twitter in the past 24 hours.
posted by DrMew at 9:41 PM on November 22 [40 favorites]


Wow. And here I was, naively thinking that the yellow star-wearing antivaxxers are only a thing here in the Netherlands. This is even more disgusting than I thought.
That's disheartening, but it's good to know.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:52 AM on November 23 [3 favorites]


Thank you, sy, for turning me on to Sophia Magdalena Scholl, her brother, and White Rose. Had never heard of them before either. Such bravery and wisdom!
posted by Bella Donna at 1:16 PM on November 23 [4 favorites]


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