The tendency for society to exert pressure on its members to conform to certain behavioral norms is nothing new. It’s easy to see how, in the earliest human societies where basic survival was precarious at best, the nonconformist might represent a threat to group stability, and would therefore be discouraged by whatever means necessary.
Today, the instinct to hate and fear those who behave differently survives, even when it makes little sense for the health of the community, and as with so many of our instincts, it is incumbent upon us to use reason and self-control to rise above our more primitive tendencies which, if not mastered, can easily lead to persecution and cruelty towards our fellow man.
There are many ways in which conformity continues to be demanded by the powers that be, but of particular interest in the age of COVID-19 is the push for obedience to a medical establishment represented by political appointees. Asking citizens to get vaccinated against a dangerous virus may be reasonable, but what is less so is the pitched hostility towards any solution other than the “official” one promoted by the Biden Administration and its lapdog media.
Discussions of natural immunity as an alternative to vaccination risk getting censored by social media platforms, as do explorations of alternative treatments for the disease such as Ivermectin or Hydroxychloroquine. Let me add the requisite disclaimer here that I am not promoting any of these drugs, nor making any claims about their efficacy. It is merely worth noting that the search for effective treatment options, a search that if successful would benefit all mankind, is apparently of less interest to the political class than simply getting everyone to fall in line and obey orders.
Thus, the medical nonconformist finds himself in a difficult spot. In addition to being tarnished with names ranging from “flat-Earther” to “murderer”, many who choose not to jab themselves with the vaccine are being denied basic services, and even losing their jobs as a result of their medical decisions. In Colorado, a hospital system has announced that it will deny organ transplants to unvaccinated patients, and thousands of health care workers—who you’d think would be kind of important at a time when hospital overcrowding continues to be a concern—are losing their jobs for refusing to take the shot.
That the medical nonconformist is having a particularly difficult time of it right now is merely an extension, however, of a long history of persecution directed towards those who fail to fit neatly into the narrowly-defined box of medical “normality”. In my new book, Conform or Be Cast Out: The (Literal) Demonization of Nonconformists, I devote a chapter to the ways in which medicine has been used not to heal, but rather to cudgel into submission people who are already suffering.
The most common manifestation of this phenomenon by far has been to revile and demonize those who exhibit symptoms of disease which appear strange or inexplicable to society at large. Warts and crooked noses are associated with witches and other evildoers. The infamous witch-hunting manual, Malleus Maleficarum, adds the inability to produce tears as a sure sign of a pact with the devil, a medical symptom more likely to be associated with vitamin deficiencies that would have been common in the 15th century when that monstrous text was written.
Terror-inspiring myths such as the vampire or werewolf may be explained by poorly understood diseases such as porphyria, whose symptoms include sensitivity to light, unusual hairiness, jaundiced skin, and a reddening of the teeth, all of which map neatly onto a medieval vision of nocturnal bloodsuckers. For others who suffered spasms, tics, and loss of muscular coordination, demonic possession was likely to be blamed, with the patient himself sharing a portion of the blame for his affliction.
For more modern examples, the debunked pseudoscience of phrenology and physiognomy gave doctors an excuse to persecute those with abnormal features or deformities. The belief that it was possible to deduce criminality based simply on physical appearance created an environment of considerable danger for any person whose anatomy failed to conform to the way people were “supposed” to look.
These ideas and similar ones were carried forward even into the twentieth century, when the American government forcibly sterilized tens of thousands of its citizens based on the eugenic theory that “bad genes” needed to be stamped out of the population, by force if necessary, in order to improve the race for the future. It was only after familiarity with Nazi techniques along the same lines that the American public acquired a distaste for this kind of human engineering.
The persecution of medical nonconformity was not limited to the physical. If anything, mental and behavioral symptoms have a history of even more severe reactions. Few people realize that as late as 1987, homosexuality appeared in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association as a mental illness, whose diagnosis justified involuntary treatments ranging from confinement, to drugging, to electroshock therapy.
Before that, the psychiatrist’s toolkit included techniques such as insulin shock therapy and lobotomy, both of which involved the deliberate destruction of parts of the brain in the quest to rid the world of anything abnormal. Thankfully, involuntary treatment for mental patients has been greatly reduced in recent years, but the practice of coerced drugging still continues, troublingly, with children, whose failure to adhere to behavioral norms imposed from above is frequently regarded as a medical, rather than or behavioral or, more likely, a societal problem.
I recently stumbled across a reference to mandatory vaccination in a 1905 essay entitled “How I Became a Socialist” by Jack London. London explains that he was forcibly injected by a medical student during a period of incarceration for vagrancy, and cites the incident as part of a long list of grievances against how the poor are treated.
I strayed into Niagara Falls, was nabbed by a fee-hunting constable, denied the right to plead guilty or not guilty, sentenced out of hand to thirty days’ imprisonment for having no fixed abode and no visible means of support, handcuffed and chained to a bunch of men similarly circumstanced, carted down country to Buffalo, registered at the Erie County Penitentiary, had my head clipped and my budding mustache shaved, was dressed in convict stripes, compulsorily vaccinated by a medical student who practised on such as we, made to march the lock-step, and put to work under the eyes of guards armed with Winchester rifles–all for adventuring in blond-beastly fashion.
The anecdote is a revealing one, given that London was an adamant advocate for socialism, and given the relative positions of America’s political parties today with respect to coercive medicine.
It is often quipped that a society ought to be judged by how it treats its poorest citizens. It should also be judged by how it treats those who look, think, and behave differently from the norm, as it is only the willingness to be different that makes progress possible. History shows quite clearly that the medical field can and does make mistakes, mistakes which have the potential to be disastrous when adopted on a large scale.
From the promotion of the birth defect-causing Thalidomide as a safe drug, to the infamous Radium Girls, who were steadily and unknowingly poisoned by a radioactive substance deemed so harmless that it was put in toothpaste, medical science has proved itself to be far from infallible.
This is why we need the freedom to make our own decisions on matters of personal health and safety. Otherwise, those who are so certain that their opinion is the correct one that they are willing to use coercive force to impose it on others run the risk of looking as foolish (and evil) as the witch hunters and eugenicists of generations past.