Anti-vaccination sentiment remained more of a theoretical problem when there was not enough coronavirus vaccine to go around. The problem has become somewhat more practical by now, even though it is to be believed most people who remain unvaccinated are lazy and careless rather than anti-vaccination zealots. However, as public health and the common good require immunization coverage of 70 percent, every soul, or rather body, counts.
Stories of anti-vaccers who either regret their choices on their deathbed or – far more often – continue to rail against vaccines and deny the epidemic even exists to the last are coming to light in America. What to do with them? Some urge ruthless repressions and putting them in the pillory, while others see them as victims and propose efforts to convince or respect their “freedoms.”
But what would really work? Sociologist Brooke Harrington recently harked back on social media to social psychologist Erving Goffman’s take on con victims. Fraud is big business in the States taking in millions of people every year.
In 1952, Goffman published an article titled, “On Cooling the Mark Out: Some Aspects of Adaptation to Failure.”
According to Goffman, victims of fraud eventually understand that they’ve been had, while they almost never raise the alarm or file a complaint. They feel ashamed and degraded. We very seldom hear of widows who have transferred their life savings to the account of a charming retired admiral or gentlemen who have invested their assets in Romanian or local savings and loan associations’ real estate projects.
For most people, letting others know they have been taken for a ride equals social suicide where one’s physical body survives while the social self is destroyed – along the lines of what recently happened to a certain writer associated with pedophilia.
However, unlike in other cases of social death, a victim of fraud can continue to stubbornly deny they were duped. Unfortunately, this facilitates the scheme. It has been measured since Goffman how often cheatees decide to deny falling victim at the expense of potential future victims.
The same goes for coronavirus deniers and anti-vaccers. They could face the truth and unmask the deniers’ con to save lives upon reaching the ICU at the latest. But they mostly don’t.
According to Harrington, there are two ways to combat this behavior. First, to allow stubborn con victims to experience social death: stay away from such acquaintances and tell them why instead of feeling for them etc. The other, more difficult but also more effective strategy is to recruit “coolers” or people the cheated trust.
Only people with a high enough status in the eyes of the conned can reconcile them with their humiliation and reconnect them to society without endangering others. The condemnation or encouragement of random acquaintances is ineffective and only efforts to convince from a higher authority have any chance of succeeding.
Only “coolers” can offer the conned ways to excuse their gullibility and shake the corresponding shame. However, becoming a “cooler” requires considerable courage from authority figures as clashing with the beliefs of the “control group,” they risk losing their authority altogether.
I wonder who has the potential to cool off victims of the anti-vaccination hoax in Estonia. While I believe I know a few, naming them would effectively end their cooling potential.
Allow me to close with a memory. In the early 1990s, a handsome young man I knew was tasked with supplying an establishment’s buffet and, therefore, regularly popped in for a conversation with the Russian ladies working at the local wholesale warehouse. The latter spent their time listening to Radio Nadezhda – the Intermovement’s mouthpiece. And every time, he was forced to listen to the ladies’ sympathetic sermons and sincerely remorseful bewilderment at how such a nice lad has fallen for the Popular Front and nationalists’ false propaganda.
In short, the question of who is conning whom is not always as straightforward as it is in the case of the coronavirus.