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do you matter

Do You Matter?


“I am Kelly-Sue Oberle. I live at [address]. I belong to someone, and I matter.”

These are the words on the slip of paper that Kelly-Sue Oberle places under her pillow every night. The note isn’t an affirmation. It isn’t a self-help exercise. It is a link to her existence, a literal reminder to her future self of who she is in case she wakes up one day and forgets.

On June 23, 2022, I was at the Citizen’s Hearing organized by the Canadian Covid Care Alliance on the 16th floor of a skyscraper in Toronto’s financial district, listening to story after story of the harms of the government’s COVID-19 response, including many whose lives were impacted by vaccine injury. Kelly-Sue’s testimony leaves me shaken even now. 

In 2021, Kelly-Sue was an active 68-year-old with a busy work schedule. She walked 10 miles a day and worked 72 hours a week for the charity she founded. She was a typical A-type overachiever and was looking forward to retirement. She initially took the Pfizer COVID shot as a manager of 700 volunteers tasked with feeding over 800 children on weekends and holidays to “stay open for them.” After her first shot she experienced pain in her calf and foot and went to a vascular surgeon who informed her she had blood clots in her femoral artery. 

By the time of her diagnosis, Kelly-Sue had already taken the second shot, which left her suffering from a chain of strokes and Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs). One stroke left her unsure of who she was after awakening from a nap. She is now blind in one eye. In her testimony, Kelly-Sue described her doctors as impatient and gruff, one advising her not to return unless she suffered a catastrophic stroke. “Correlation is not causation,” she is repeatedly told. But she refuses to be a number. She refuses to be silenced, to be made invisible. She has to remind herself every day of who she is and that her life matters.

At some point over the last two years, you probably wondered if you matter. Maybe you felt like a misfit, a foreigner within a new operating system in which silence is golden, conformity is the social currency, and doing your part is the mark of a good 21st century citizen. 

For most, the stigma and bother of questioning this system is too risky, too inconvenient. But for you, it’s conformity that is too costly, and the need to question and, possibly resist, too hard to ignore.

I know this operating system well. It is the one that singled me out, expressed its intolerance for my nonconformist ways, and ultimately tried to string me up in the proverbial public square

In September 2021, I faced what felt like the supreme ethical test: comply with my university’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate or refuse and likely lose my job. For better or for worse, I chose the latter. I was quickly and efficiently terminated “with cause.” I had spectacularly failed the test according to my colleagues, our public health officials, the Toronto Star, the National Post, the CBC, and the New York University bioethics professor who said “I wouldn’t pass her in my class.”

By all measures, the public health response to COVID by every major world government was an unprecedented catastrophe. We saw the colossal failure of “Zero-COVID,” and the effects of waves of masking orders and mandates for employment, education, travel and entertainment. We saw the vaccine program rolled out across all continents, in all age groups, and its effects on all-cause mortality.

We saw the power of gaslighting, backpedaling, and narrative spin as the science changed. We saw our deputy prime minister, among many others, insist on the vaccines’ ability to prevent transmission and then a Pfizer Executive admit to the European Parliament in October 2022 that they never tested the vaccine’s ability to prevent transmission. (A number of fact-checking articles then emerged to show why it wasn’t news that the vaccines didn’t perform as advertised.)

We learned that the federal government has a $105 million contract with the World Economic Forum for the Known Traveler Digital ID, and that China locked down the cities of Wuhan, Huanggang and Ezhou in January 2020 against the recommendation of the World Health Organization.

There is no doubt that the government response to COVID-19 is the largest public health disaster in modern history. 

But what most interests and worries me is not that the authorities demanded our compliance, but that we submitted so freely, that we were so easily seduced by the assurance of safety over freedom. What shocks me still is that so few fight back. 

And so the question that keeps me up at night is, how did we get to this place? Why didn’t we know?

I think part of the answer, the part that is hard to process, is that we did know. 

In 2009, Pfizer (the company we are told cares about our welfare) received a record-setting $2.3 billion fine for illegally marketing its painkiller Bextra and for paying kickbacks to compliant doctors. At the time, associate US attorney general Tom Perrelli said the case was a victory for the public over “those who seek to earn a profit through fraud.” 

Well, yesterday’s victory is today’s conspiracy theory. And, unfortunately, Pfizer’s misstep is not a moral anomaly in the pharmaceutical industry. 

Those familiar with the history of psychopharmacology will know of the drug industry’s profile of collusion and regulatory capture: the Thalidomide disaster of the 1950s and 1960s, the Opioid epidemic of the 1980s, the SSRI crisis of the 1990s, Anthony Fauci’s mismanagement of the AIDS epidemic, and that just scratches the surface. The fact that drug companies are not moral saints should not surprise us.

So why didn’t that knowledge get the traction it deserved? How did we get to the point where our blind adherence to “follow the science” ideology led us to be more unscientific than arguably any other moment in history?

Do you know the parable of the camel?

On a cold night in the desert, a man is sleeping in his tent, having tied his camel outside. As the night grows colder, the camel asks his master if he can put his head in the tent for warmth. “By all means,” says the man; and the camel stretches his head into the tent. A little while later, the camel asks if he may also bring his neck and front legs inside. Again, the master agrees.

Finally, the camel, who is now half in, half out, says “I’m letting cold air in. May I not come inside?” With pity, the master welcomes him into the warm tent. But once inside, the camel says. “I think that there is not room for both of us here. It will be best for you to stand outside, as you are the smaller. And with that the man is forced outside of his tent.

How does this happen?

Well, it seems, you can get people to do just about anything if you break the unreasonable down into a series of smaller, seemingly reasonable ‘asks.’ Wear the arm-band, show your papers, pack a suitcase, move to the ghetto, get on the train. “Arbeit Macht Frei” until you find yourself in a lineup for the gas chamber.

Isn’t this what we’ve seen over the last two years?

It’s been a master class in how to influence a person’s behaviour one step at a time by encroaching a tiny bit, pausing, then starting from this new place and encroaching again all the while transferring what really protects us to those who are coercing us.

As British epidemiologist Neil Ferguson said in defence of his decision to enforce lockdowns:

“I think people’s sense of what is possible in terms of control changed quite dramatically between January and March… We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought…. And then Italy did it. And we realized we could.” 

We got to this point because we consented to tiny encroachments that we never should have consented to, not because of the size but the nature of the ask. When we were first asked to lock down but had questions, we should have refused. Today’s physicians who are ordered to follow the CPSO’s guideline to prescribe psycho-pharmaceuticals and psychotherapy for vaccine hesitant patients should object.

We got to this point not because we consider autonomy to be a reasonable sacrifice for the public good (although some surely do). We got to this point because of our “moral blindness,” because temporary pressures (like a coercive medical body or a myopic obsession to “do our part”) make us unable to see the harms we do.

So how do we cure this blindness? How do we wake up to the harms of what we are doing?

I don’t think reason is going to do it. The last two years have proven Hume right, that “Reason is and ought only to be a slave of the passions.” 

I have yet to hear of a case of someone being convinced of the absurdity of the COVID narrative on the basis of reason or evidence alone. I worked for months to provide evidence-based information about COVID-19 but I didn’t see any real effect until I made a viral video in which I cried. 

In saying that, I don’t mean to disparage the importance of rigorous scientific evidence or to elevate careless rhetoric. But what I have learned from speaking with thousands of you at events and protests, in interviews and over countless emails is that my video had resonance not because of any particular thing I said but because you felt my emotion: “I cried with you,” you said. “You spoke to my heart.” 

Why did you cry when you saw that video? Why do tears well up when we meet in the grocery store? Because, I think, none of this is about data and evidence and reason; it’s about feelings, good or bad. Feelings that justify our purity culture, feelings that motivate our virtue signals, feelings that we don’t matter.

You were responding not to my reasons but to my humanity. You saw in me another person embracing what you felt, reaching out across the gulf to connect with the meaning we all share. The lesson we can learn is a confirmation of Mattias Desmet’s exhortation to keep reaching for what we all deeply crave: meaning, common ground, connecting with the humanity in others. And that’s how we have to continue to fight.

Do facts matter? Of course they do. But facts, alone, will not answer the questions we really care about. The real ammunition of the COVID war is not information. It’s not a battle over what is true, what counts as misinformation, what it means to #followthescience. It’s a battle over what our lives mean and, ultimately, whether we matter.

Kelly-Sue Oberle needs to tell herself that she matters at a time when the world won’t listen. She needs to testify to her own story until it registers on our cultural radar. She needs to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.

And so do we. 

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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  • Julie Ponesse

    Dr. Julie Ponesse, 2023 Brownstone Fellow, is a professor of ethics who has taught at Ontario’s Huron University College for 20 years. She was placed on leave and banned from accessing her campus due to the vaccine mandate. She presented at the The Faith and Democracy Series on 22, 2021. Dr. Ponesse has now taken on a new role with The Democracy Fund, a registered Canadian charity aimed at advancing civil liberties, where she serves as the pandemic ethics scholar.

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