In Portugal, where I live, if you’ve had covid, you can get a recovery certificate that lasts six months and entitles you to all the privileges of the fully vaxxed. You could, alternatively, get a booster to acquire the same privileges. And by “privileges,” I mean things we used to consider basic rights, like eating out and traveling. Even though I qualify, I will not be availing myself of these “privileges” because doing so validates the idea one’s rights to do these things depend on government approval of one’s antibody state. In other words, even though it would be advantageous for me to go along, the cost is an implicit transfer of power from people like me to politicians, bureaucrats and the corporate interests that pull their strings.
Forget for a moment the moral arguments against discrimination on the basis of antibody status or coercing people to take medicine — and there are many. I would prefer instead to focus on the game theory aspect of one’s decision to avail oneself of such privileges, whether by proof of recovery or booster shot. It can be looked at as a variation of The Prisoner’s Dilemma, but with a clear optimal choice for everyone.
The optimal scenario is of course perpetual freedom to travel that is not conditioned upon the whims of corporations and bureaucrats, i.e., the state of affairs most people born in western democracies have enjoyed for the last 75 years. The second best scenario (from a narrow-minded privileges standpoint) is to have conditional (temporary) permission to travel while meeting those conditions. The worst scenario is to have the state determine what conditions need to be met, while not meeting those conditions.
Many people with whom I speak have no fear of covid, or have already recovered from it, and are choosing the second scenario over the third. They figure, while these restrictions are in place, they might as well enjoy their fabulous lives skiing in the Alps or dining out at nice restaurants. It never occurs to them that by choosing two, they are disempowering themselves in the future and making it increasingly likely governments will impose ever more conditions on their attainment of the privileges once considered rights. They are also throwing under the bus everyone who does not want to comply by validating the government’s incursion into their autonomy and making it ever less likely that those who resist will prevail. This is a cost they are apparently willing to pay to get from scenario three to scenario two. And that calculus is one on which the politicians, bureaucrats and their corporate sponsors count.
Of course, if no one complied, we’d be at the optimal scenario for everyone in short order. If no one registered themselves for the recovery certificate or vax pass, restaurants and airlines would stop requiring them, things would go back to pre-2020, and the government would lose its recently-augmented powers. You could travel or eat wherever you liked without having to prove your antibody compliance. Moreover, you would avoid the grave risk that newly-empowered governments would make the rules even more stringent — make scenario three even worse, and scenario two even more onerous with which to comply. Choosing two therefore is not only suboptimal, but it risks scenario four: where scenarios two and three decline precipitously to a level foreseen in dystopian novels like Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World. But fiction aside, we already know from history what happens when governments are given increasing and eventually absolute power over their citizens.
So not only are those who choose Scenario 2 ignoring all the moral considerations in validating such a system, they are also making a suboptimal choice in the present for themselves and others, while behaving short-sightedly given the potentially catastrophic implications of overly empowering their governments.
How then can one persuade a person whose decisions are driven by “the fabulous life” rather than principles, by what’s convenient in the short term for them at the expense of the liberal democracies for which their ancestors died? This is the question with which I am occupied, as though our fates, including that of my soon-to-be 10-year-old daughter, depended on it.