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Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, we talked about COVID denialists: people who refuse to get vaccinated because they’ve bought into the huge vat of misinformation about the virus and its preventives. Many of those denialists are getting very sick and dying lately. In response to this trending topic, a Duke University ethics professor, Amy Laura Hall, wants to tell us not to ‘gloat’ about those people’s fates or that we’re vaccinated. Recently, she wrote a post for Religion News that contains a number of alarming fallacies and mistakes. One of her biggest mistakes might be how she views COVID denialists themselves. They are, in essence, griefers. And ignoring griefers does not make them go away.

the answer is yes
The answer is yes.

What Griefers Are.

Griefers are players in games who actively seek to ruin other players’ fun somehow. Often, griefers take advantage of poorly-written code, lax administrators/moderators, or unclear rules in the game to do it.

In the classic gaming-ethics essay, “A Rape in Cyberspace,” the person committing those deeds was an early example of a die-hard griefer. Normally, everything a player does comes from their own keyboard. But this player figured out a way to attach computer code to a prop in the game that allowed him to make it look like other people were saying and doing things that they hadn’t written themselves. Often, his faked words involved the players’ characters doing things they wouldn’t ever want to do or say.

He (or rather they, since a number of young men turned out to be involved) thought it was funny, but it sure wasn’t funny to the people whose autonomy he violated. He and his friends were having some sick fun at other people’s expense without asking them if they wanted to play along. They were, in short, griefing those players. They were griefers.

Griefers exist in almost every game. Smart coders and admins do their best to make it difficult for griefers to find ways to abuse other players for jollies.

But there’s just something awful in terrible people that draws them to this behavior.

Griefers don’t want to play the game itself as it was intended by its creators. And they don’t care if their behavior bothers others — in fact, that’s the goal. Thus, they enter the game as bad-faith players.

COVID Deniers as Griefers.

We’ve talked about evangelicals as griefers before. Just as gaming griefers do, Christian griefers reveal the flaws in their system. They reveal the shortcomings in its poorly written source code (the Bible), its inept and/or helpless administrators (decent-hearted Christian leaders), and vague rules that bad-faith players can easily skirt or ignore (the social rules that govern evangelical groups).

A bad-faith Christian can enter an evangelical group, pretend to play by its rules and to take its ideology totally seriously, and easily rise to positions of power. From there, that Christian can wreak absolute havoc on the group and its members, especially those lower on the ladder of power.

And they do, all the time.

In similar ways, evangelicals have behaved shamefully from the very start of the COVID-19 pandemic. From the very get-go, they used it as a way to cheat other Christians, spread lunatic conspiracy theories about the virus and its cures and preventives, and stomp all over other people’s health and lives. As we saw yesterday, one evangelical has realized that their behavior is going to cost them dearly in recruitment and retention going forward. But they don’t care.

So yes, COVID denialists are griefers. They’re out to get jollies at other people’s expense. If those people get upset about their antics, well, that’s kinda the point. They want their victims to be upset.

Ignore the Griefers, Says This Ethics Professor.

However, an ethics professor writing for Religion News Service has officially shaken her finger at us for talking about COVID denialists getting sick and dying. Amy Laura Hall, who teaches at Duke University, wrote this post a couple of days ago. She titles it:

Stop gloating over COVID-19 deniers falling ill. Focus on the miracles of kindness.
Those of us who are vaccinated should not be so proud as to declare ourselves such.

I’m still not sure exactly what she demands we do.

At first, she seems to be telling us: Quit talking about all these denialists dying of COVID at all. Instead, y’all need to talk about all the nice stuff happening instead! That’s what yesterday’s post covered.

Then, it seemed like she was trying to make some point about systemic bias against the working class. This bias, she implies in the post, makes it harder for them to access healthcare. That includes getting a vaccine. In other words: Quit talking about all these idiot denialists dying of COVID, because so many unvaccinated people are totally virtuous. Instead, let’s talk about making it easier to get the vaccine!

She doesn’t actually talk much about gloating, though. It’s more about posturing about how we’re all really kinda at fault here, aren’t we now?

Either way, she doesn’t like to see people mocking COVID denialists who get sick, or to see anyone using memes to communicate their frustration at the denialists.

covid griefers be like
In honor of being scolded over COVID denial memes, we will now have COVID DENIAL MEMES.

The Claims About Unvaccinated People.

Here is how Amy Laura Hall describes unvaccinated people:

Now I am back in Bubba Land [WTF] to help my parents through the surge of 2021. I do not know personally anyone gloating over someone who has contracted COVID-19 after resisting or missing the vaccine.

She names a few groups she thinks haven’t gotten vaccinated yet:

  • People who don’t have sick leave
  • Those afraid of deportation
  • Those who literally work around the clock

And then, she tells us this:

We think we know who is not getting vaccinated, but a Venn diagram of people who suspect the federal government and the pharmaceutical industry may not have their best interests in mind includes veterans, immigrants, people who’ve encountered the school-to-prison pipeline and, yes, some women who take Blythe Danner’s daughter seriously.

This is almost completely false, and it’s really unsettling that a professor didn’t take the time to learn about the people who have chosen not to be vaccinated.

Her one concession to COVID denialists is done in a way to make them sound like a silly, absurd, tiny little subgroup of nutbars who maybe take 80s TV stars a wee bit too seriously.

COVID griefers are something of scientists themselves
It’s true.

The Reality of Unvaccinated People.

Recently, a poll discovered something truly unsettling:

Among American adults who have not yet received a vaccine, 35% say they probably will not, and 45% say they definitely will not, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Just 3% say they definitely will get the shots, though another 16% say they probably will.

What’s more, 64% of unvaccinated Americans have little to no confidence the shots are effective against variants — including the delta variant that officials say is responsible for 83% of new cases in the U.S. — despite evidence that they offer strong protection.

The poll also discovered the usual stuff regarding religious, educational, and political fault lines, some of which we talked about yesterday.

These findings are echoed repeatedly in recent surveys and polls. Vox has some really good info there.

The takeaway: yes, some few eligible people do indeed suffer from lack of access or time to do it.

But most unvaccinated eligible adults don’t fall into those virtuous categories.

And Amy Laura Hall, our Duke University ethics professor, could have figured that out with about two minutes in a search engine before piously declaring that there’s some huge systemic injustice stopping almost half of our country’s eligible adults from getting their jabs.

tell me another one
Tell me another one.

Ignoring Griefers Doesn’t Make Them Go Away.

Then, Amy Laura Hall chides us:

Mocking such a complicated situation with memes is a distraction.

Unfortunately, as a society we need to talk about COVID denialists’ ignorance and hostility. We need to combat the authoritarian dogma and tribalistic belligerence that creates that hostility and perpetuates it.

The people Amy Laura Hall wants us to quit criticizing actively refuse to get vaccinations, actively and enthusiastically spread misinformation about the pandemic and its prevention and safety measures, and actively mock and mistreat the people who embrace the science involved here.

They don’t care if people mock them. Nor do they care if people don’t mock them. I mean that sincerely. I’ve lurked their spaces. They regard it as a badge of pride that their tribal enemies think they’re science deniers, troglodytes, and disease vectors. They wish only harm upon the rest of us for rejecting their nonstop control-grabs.

Yes, mockery reinforces their tribalistic thinking and willful ignorance.

But if mockery doesn’t provide that reinforcement, they’ll get it regardless from any other source they can. Griefing itself reinforces tribalism and ignorance.

it's also true
Also true.

What Stops Griefers…

Griefers always try to get their jollies.

They don’t stop just because other people ignore them or decide to talk about only happy-feel-good stories of generosity and kindness. In fact, that behavior just provides them more cover in which to operate.

And worse, once one set of griefers invades a game, that encourages other griefers to show up.

They can smell a permissive gameboard from miles away.

All that stops griefers is an outside force they can’t negotiate with, sidestep, or ignore.

And worse, they are the people actively putting systemic barricades in the way of getting more people vaccinated and protected. I mean, if Amy Laura Hall wants to talk about systemic injustice, perhaps she can take a look at what Republicans — still pandering to the hypocritical evangelicals in their fanbase — have done to make COVID far worse than it ever needed to be.

please just stay tf home
Seriously. Just stay home.

… And What Griefs the Griefers.

If society turns wholesale against griefers, if we do manage to convince Republican panderers to take the pandemic seriously, COVID denialists will complain and gripe and moan nonstop about how meeeeeeeeeeean we are to them. In fact, they already do. And of course they will. Their griefing got interrupted! But these same people found ways to grief us before the pandemic, and they’ll certainly find other ways to do it afterward.

No, I’m not worried about griefers being deprived of opportunities.

I just don’t want them to hurt innocent bystanders as they beat their chests and bellow their tribalistic demands.

In short, focusing on happy feel-good stories and refusing to engage with COVID denialists won’t do anything to address the COVID griefers actively trying to wreck our country and our lives.

We’re allowed to defend ourselves, and we will — and should — continue to do so wherever we please. And if that defense involves memes, well, there’s a reason for that.

not a complete list
Absolutely not a complete list.

NEXT UP: LSP! Then: If Amy Laura Hall has not seen something, then it does not exist. (And she went there twice in her essay.) See you tomorrow!

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...