Dear Charles —
First off, I’m a fan. For years, I’ve listened to your interviews, followed your articles, read your book Sacred Economics, and more. I admire your thoughtfulness, the way you envision new ways of being in the world.
Like you, I’m disillusioned with current systems in wealthy countries, particularly the pharmaceutical industry. It’s horrific, for instance, that the Covid-19 vaccine amassed billions for a handful of pharma execs. It’s disgusting that the industry pours millions into lobbying, ensuring that they keep making enormous profits.
The American healthcare system is sick. Labyrinthine billing systems, soulless hospital design. I can’t stand it.
So when you’re writing and speaking against the status quo generally, I’m there.
I’ve found your writings about the Covid-19 pandemic unpersuasive. They’ve caused me to revisit your past work with a more skeptical eye.
And I say that as someone who remains open to any number of arguments, including from those who, like you, say that the various Covid-19 vaccines are a net negative.
I was initially so uncertain of the mRNA vaccines, in fact, that when they were first available I opted for the Johnson & Johnson instead. Then, a few days after I got it, came the reports of side effects and heart problems. And roughly four weeks after that, I started feeling a slight pinch near my heart.
Worried, I visited a doctor who ran an analysis and ruled out myocarditis and pericarditis. He said it was likely costochondritis, which when the cartilage that connects the rib to the chest bone becomes inflamed — usually because of a virus or physical strain.
I did a number of stretches specifically for that problem and the pain went away days later and hasn’t returned, making me think it was unlikely related to the vaccine. But again, I’m not certain.
All of which is to say that I’m open to the idea that the side effects of the Covid-19 vaccines are understated and that these vaccines may prove to be a net negative. And yet I’m still ultimately unpersuaded by arguments, like yours, against the Covid-19 vaccines.
It feels urgent to get this right, given that this debate has implications for the future (including the possibility of billions of booster shots down the road).
In that light, here are two things you could do to persuade me.
1. Put the vaccine side effects in context.
In your latest essay, you give several links to personal stories from people who’ve had the vaccine and experienced negative effects afterward.
But for every anecdote about the downsides of the vaccine, there are many more anecdotes about the downsides of Covid.
A former coworker of mine and Utah state representative contracted the disease early on in the pandemic and was hospitalized before hovering on the cusp of death and going unconscious for 23 days.
And I’ve been haunted by journalist Brian Beutler’s story “My Life After Covid” wherein he describes having a mild case of Covid and then suffering for the next year with blood clots and fatigue. “My last pre-sickness run was four continuous miles,” he writes. “My first run post-sickness was two blocks.” It got worse. “My blood desaturated five times in six minutes,” he writes. “Two nurses looking on, counting my laps, became alarmed and readied an oxygen tank.” His story is the stuff of nightmares.
And those are just stories of people — men roughly our age—who survived Covid.
Then there’s the data, which, from what I’ve seen, indicates that every concern people have about the Covid vaccine is far more pronounced in those who get Covid.
- You’re 16 times more likely to get myocarditis if you contract Covid-19 than if you don’t contract it, according to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
- You’re 8–10 times more likely to get blood clots in the brain from Covid-19 than from the vaccine, according to an Oxford study of 500,000+ people
- Unvaccinated people are 20 times more likely to die from Covid (a rather negative side effect!) than vaccinated people, according to Texas Health Services
- You’re 5.5 times more likely to contract Covid if you’ve had it once before than if you’re fully vaccinated, according to a study of nine states
Whether it’s fatigue, brain fog, or loss of smell and taste, the bulk of the research I’ve seen indicates that every side effect of Covid is far worse than the side effects of the vaccine, as real as they are.
So, if you want to persuade people that the Covid vaccines are a net negative, show that. Compare apples to apples.
2. Put natural solutions in their proper context.
Time and again you imply that the true solutions to Covid-19 are natural.
“The future of medicine is not high-tech,” you write. “Technology has its place (for example in emergency medicine), but it has usurped the place of other powers: the hand, the herb, the mind, the water, the soil, the sound, and the light.”
Then you add, “No authority during Covid has said, ‘People are sick, they need more time outdoors. People are sick, they need more touch. People are sick, they need healthy gut flora. People are sick, they need pure water. People are sick, they need less electromagnetic pollution. People are sick, they need less chemicals in food. People are sick, let’s put diabetes warnings on soda pop. People are sick, let’s encourage them to meditate and pray more. People are sick, let’s get them in the garden. People are sick, let’s make our cities walkable. People are sick, let’s clean the air. People are sick, let’s provide free mold remediation on all dwellings. People are sick, let’s promote education about local herbs. People are sick, let’s make the best supplements and practices of the biohackers and health gurus available to all. People are sick, let’s heal our agricultural soils.’”
Again, I agree with your general principle here. People do need these natural solutions.
But you haven’t put these solutions in context.
And the context is this:
Some 90% of indigenous populations in the Americas were killed off by diseases spread by colonizers. Then smallpox cases dropped from 100,000+ a year to 0 in the 1980s.
It should go without saying that indigenous populations spent time outdoors, drank pure water, ate fewer chemicals in their food, etc. But none of those things protected them from cataclysmic diseases—diseases with death rates of 90%.
What is natural is not always best. Sometimes what is best—particularly in an emergency, as you say—is technology.
And Covid is an emergency. Millions dead and millions more suffering from long-term symptoms. That’s why, along with ten thousand stories and data points, I believe the Covid vaccines are a net positive and are urgently needed, even as we work to reform our corrosive systems.
What if I’m wrong?
To return to the beginning of this essay: I could be wrong about all of this. Nothing has humbled me like trying to make sense of the world during this pandemic. I find the whole topic endlessly confusing and disorienting.
If I’m wrong, I’m desperate to know and will change my mind. After all, I will likely get another booster shot down the road if things continue as they have been. If these booster vaccines are a net negative, I’d rather know before I’m injected. If I’m wrong, I’d love to know. I just don’t see you making the case yet.