What’s To Be Done about the Vaccine Hesitant?
Deconstructing the Power of Spell Words
It’s on the lips of world leaders and public health officials across the globe. Wherever one turns, the corporate news media pontificates and agonizes over the question: What’s to be done about the Vaccine Hesitant?
The public officials and media figures all seem to agree. Vaccine hesitancy is a problem, and the goal is clear. It must be done away with. The only question is how to do it.
In what is proving to be a vanishingly rare phenomenon, I actually agree with them. Vaccine hesitancy ought to be done away with. But my suggestion on how to do away with it is a little bit different than the standard proffered solutions of vaccine mandates, vaccine passports, more propaganda, more censorship, and instituting a segregated society. My solution offers several beneficial features: it costs nothing to implement, it is non-coercive; it will unify the people rather than divide us, and it respects the cherished values of a free society, including the rights to speech, privacy, bodily autonomy, and freedom from discrimination.
“How can this be done?” I hear you ask. The answer is quite simple. Stop using the terms vaccine hesitant and vaccine hesitancy entirely.
To explain why this would be a good idea, I’d like to take a closer look at the terms. I actually don’t remember ever hearing either one of them until I was introduced to the New Normal lexicon that came into fashion in 2020. This suggests that the term “vaccine hesitant” was fabricated and deployed pursuant to prevailing public policy. One can’t help but admire the elegant nature of this cleverly constructed propaganda term. It accomplishes multiple objectives in two simple words.
As a gentler alternative to the derogatory “anti-vaxxer,” it provides a subtle encouragement for people to think of themselves or others as vaccine hesitant instead of anti-vax. This creates a good-cop/bad-cop dynamic, or a Hegelian dialectic, guiding the mind to frame the issue as follows: Those who do not choose the jab can be divided between the bad people (anti-vax) or the good people (vaccine hesitant), with a spectrum in between.
The word hesitant implies that someone is moving toward a destination, but they've just hesitated on the way there. So the next subtle implication is that the vaccine hesitant will eventually take the vax—they’re just a little scared or nervous or something, so they’ve been delayed. In contrast, if someone affirmatively chooses not to do something, they are not hesitant. They’re just never going to do the thing. For instance, if I've paid to go bungee jumping and I'm strapped in at the edge of the chasm, I'm hesitant if I don't jump right away. But if I don't want to go bungee jumping at all, there's no hesitation—I'm just not going to do it. I won’t pay for it, and you’ll never find me standing by the cliff in the first place.
We don't call people who haven't gone bungee jumping "bungee hesitant" nor do we call them "anti-bungee." There is no need for a category. It's just something some people decide to do, and some people don't. “Vaccine hesitant” sets up a Hegelian dialectic that implicitly assumes the regular thing for people to do is to take a vaccine. As such, we need words to describe those who don't, because they're so peculiar. The mere existence of the word “vaccine hesitant” creates and reifies an entire reality about what people are supposed to do or are expected to do.
We could disrupt this dynamic by adding categories for those who do choose to take the vaccine such as "vaccine credulous" or "vaccine obedient." But even that would still play into the narrative warfare in a number of ways:
1. It would centralize vaccination as the clarifying issue that not only defines you as a person, it tells you what kind of person you are—rather than just representing one out of millions of different choices someone might or might not make in their lives.
2. It would normalize the idea that taking a medication is no longer an issue of strict medical privacy as was the previous norm, and would continue shifting us into a place where we now expect and demand this decision become publicly available information for everyone to know.
3. It would amplify the identity-politics trend where people are not individuals with unique lives, backgrounds, and personal sovereignty, but become a collection of categories. Under this paradigm, I know who you are by the boxes and labels assigned to you. This collection of identities, from race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so forth (now including "vaccine status") reduces individuals into objects to be classified.
All of this is an example of how a coordinated mass culture, propagated by mass media, creates realities in people's minds and experiences according to the designs of those with control over the mass media mechanisms. This principle was made very clear with the example of New-Speak in George Orwell’s 1984. By altering the language, the very world people construct and understand themselves to live in becomes transformed.
The advent of “vaccine hesitancy” as a concept is an insidious device, one of many we are currently bombarded with to separate us as people into groups—to focus our attention on what we're supposed to consider important, to divide us against each other, and to undermine our sovereignty. It subtly gaslights us with implied nudges from an external authority instructing us about what we ought to do. This contravenes our free will to take action according to free choice. It subverts our internal knowing and wisdom of what is good for us and what isn't.
The phenomenal power to alter reality through language is captured in the concept of “spell words.” These are words which cast a spell on the mind, shutting down the process of critical thinking and activating a conditioned behavioral response and belief system. Vaccine hesitancy is a spell word that accomplishes the objectives outlined above. Anti-vax is also a spell word. By casting the spell of “anti-vaxxer” on someone, that person loses their humanity. They become some kind of goblin or bugbear—a noxious vermin to be eradicated. When the words “anti-vax” enter one’s ears, it is automatically understood that the anti-vaxxer is not to be listened to, understood, considered, or in any way engaged with. The only appropriate response is to shun, banish, excommunicate, and cancel the offending enemy. As Joseph Campbell eloquently described it, when war is declared it becomes the task of the propagandists to convert members of the opposing side from a “thou” into an “it.” In the history of my country, the United States, we can observe the lamentable record of such terms from previous wars: redcoats, rebs, yankees, krauts, japs, reds, commies, pinkos, gooks, and towelheads: spell words all.
Spell words are not always pejorative. As described above, the term vaccine hesitant represents a paternalistic chiding—backed up by a stern threat. Lose your hesitancy and get the jab, or suffer the consequences of demotion to the dreaded “it” of the anti-vaxxer. But both terms are grounded in a very powerful spell word laden with positive connotations: “vaccine.”
The spell cast by the word vaccine carries the following understandings: Vaccines are always less risky than chancing an infection from the pathogen they are meant to protect against. Vaccines protect you, and they also protect others from you. Vaccines are something everyone should get as a civic duty. Good people get vaccines, and bad people shirk their duty. If everyone followed their duty and took vaccines as instructed, infectious diseases would be eradicated.
The power of the spell is such that anything labeled a vaccine is automatically regarded as carrying all the properties listed above. But who decides what gets to be called a vaccine? Prior to 2015, the CDC defined vaccination as follows: “Injection of a killed or weakened infectious organism in order to prevent the disease.” The CDC then changed the definition, and from 2015-2021 the definition read like this: “The act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce immunity to a specific disease.” As of September 2021, the CDC has adopted a new revision: “The act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce protection from a specific disease.”
The original definition of vaccination included a reference to what a vaccine was: “a killed or weakened infectious organism.” With the first revision, the definition became circular—vaccination was now defined as introducing a vaccine, with no reference to what a vaccine is. Only the goal of the vaccine remained: “to produce immunity to a specific disease.” But with the most recent revision, vaccines no longer prevent disease, and no longer provide immunity either. They now only provide “protection.” It doesn’t say how much protection. Taken literally, the protection offered by a vaccine might range from providing full immunity and disease prevention to providing only the slightest boost to the immune system that wears off in a matter of weeks.
The original understanding of what a vaccine was and what it did largely contributed to how it became such a powerful spell word. In recognition of the power attached to the word vaccine, the changed definition enables the new covid mRNA shots to benefit from the power of that original spell—even though these shots would not fit the original definition that generated the spell. The new injections do not contain killed or weakened infectious organisms, and they do not provide immunity or prevent the disease in question.
Under the original definition, the mRNA shots would not be considered vaccines. They would be considered pharmaceutical products. Another word for a pharmaceutical product that has since acquired a different kind of spell power is the word “drug.” Imagine for a moment how it would go over if our current propaganda drive talked about the need for drug compliance, drug mandates, and drug passports, with attendant slogans such as “drugs save lives.” Imagine politicians and media personalities talking about the need to reduce “drug hesitancy” and the threat presented by the “anti-drug movement” and the “anti-druggers.”
I can still remember when convenience stores with pharmacies in them were called “drug stores.” Since then, decades of propaganda invested the word “drug” with a spell of fear and menace through the War on Drugs. This was accompanied by slogans like “Just say no to drugs” and images frying eggs attached to the warning “this is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” Through the power of spell, the word vaccine has been transformed into a pharmaceutical product that should and must be taken, whereas the word drug has been transformed into a pharmaceutical product (or herb) that should not and must not be taken. The presence of the spell is indicated by the absence of independent thought that goes into the decision to take or not take the product. The spell word itself carries the command. Accordingly, command of the mind is achieved by acquiring the ability to label something a drug or vaccine in the mass consciousness.
Where does the authority to apply these definitions originate? Through another spell word: “The Science.” Insertion of the simple article “the” achieves this infusion of authoritative spell power. The word “the” lets us know there is only one. In this case, there is only one scientific truth, and it is authoritatively and finally known. That’s why we hear about how the need to “trust the science” and “follow the science,” and we don’t hear about how we need to “trust science” or “follow science.” There is a good reason for this. Science is a discipline grounded in the scientific method. When following science and the scientific method, knowledge is attained by proposing and challenging disprovable hypotheses. Each hypothesis welcomes as much scrutiny and challenge as possible. The more challenges a hypothesis sustains without being disproven, the stronger it becomes.
When following the scientific method, phrases such as “the science is settled” are anathema. There is also no place for pejorative spell words such as “climate denier” or “covid denier.” Hypotheses are challenged, not denied. Religious doctrines are denied. Religious doctrines are settled. Science is a method of inquiry. “The Science” is a spell word of authoritative compliance, wielded by those who operate the mechanisms of finance, governance, and mass media. Like a priesthood, The Science has the power to invest words like vaccine and drug with spells of command, belief, and compliance. Such spells are alien to science and the scientific method.
Spells of Taboo and Prohibition
Pejorative spell words of discreditation such as “anti-vax” are more commonly encountered than their sanctifying counterparts such as “vaccine” and “the science.” It is usually easier to destroy than create. Consider a word like “extremist.” This is a highly effective spell word that banishes critiques of the ruling order from public discourse. It implicitly invests the ruling order with the virtues of moderation, reasonableness, and normalcy—at the center of acceptable opinion. The very concept of extremism creates a world in which we can basically trust whoever has managed to acquire the powers of governance and dissemination of mass media narratives. Such people will obviously never describe themselves as extremists. Extremists are defined by the degree of distance between their beliefs and the beliefs propagated by those holding power. As with all pejorative spell words, the concept of extremism is imbued with fear, anger, and disgust. The more someone disagrees with those who hold power, the more reprehensible they become. The power of this spell is brilliant in its simplicity and self-reinforcing capacity.
A related spell word that has become increasingly important in recent years is “conspiracy theory.” This term is used to erect a wall of ignorance around any accusation or suggestion of official state corruption. It erects the same wall around accusations or suggestions of unstated agendas underlying public policy. The spell cast by this word asserts that whenever the corporate media and government agree something is true, there can be no possibility that their assertion is false. Any insistence to the contrary is automatically defined as a conspiracy theory.
Perhaps the best definition of conspiracy theory I’ve ever heard comes courtesy of Mark Crispin Miller: “something that if true, you couldn’t handle it.” The reason you couldn’t handle it is because it is too dispiriting for most of us to integrate. If true, it means that the government and the corporate press have been colluding together against the public interest on a number of issues for a very long time. This represents a heavy psychological burden.
As such, the spell word of conspiracy theory provides us with convenient encouragement to remain comfortably tucked into the version of reality constructed for us by the official narrative. As with the spell words of anti-vaxxer and extremist, we are provided with instructions to isolate ourselves from anyone labeled as a conspiracy theorist and anything labeled as a conspiracy theory. Consequently, the very concept of “conspiracy theory” provides the government and the financial interests that control the corporate media free license to weave reality into any desired shape.
Prior to the promulgation of this spell, the proper word for what is now called “conspiracy theory” would have been “investigative journalism.” Investigative journalism seeks to uncover hidden truths and official corruption in order to expose the powerful and inform the public. The spell power of conspiracy theory ensures that investigative journalism into certain forbidden areas will never be conducted by corporate or state actors. It will thus carry the stigma of illegitimacy or fringe “extremism.” This is an incredible boon to the free-handed exercise of official power in ways the public would otherwise object to.
The first word, “conspiracy,” evokes a mood of paranoia. It summons the image of someone suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, erratic and isolated, prone to delusions and unhealthy behavior. Imagine instead that the word “corruption” were substituted for conspiracy. The paranoia dissolves away. We are all aware that corruption is real and very present, and that the rich and powerful engage in it regularly. That’s how most of them got there.
The second word, “theory,” carries the implicit assumption that the accusation is speculative and has not been proven. Since a conspiracy theory is defined by governmental and mass media agreement that it is not true, a circular, self-reifying loop is created. As long as both the government and the corporate press both agree that something is not true, it is automatically confined to the realm of speculation as a matter of definition. No amount of evidence or reasoning can ever shift the accusation from the realm of theory to the realm of fact, regardless of how strong that evidence and reasoning may be. It is defined as non-factual by the spell word itself. As with the previously mentioned spell words, the ability to apply the label “conspiracy theory” is wielded by the media figures and public officials who hold societal power.
Imagine instead that the word “theory” was replaced by the word “investigation.” The connotation shifts immediately. A theory is something a cranky recluse concocts from his armchair at home, letting the imagination run wild. An investigation is a sober analysis of facts and evidence that seeks to uncover a hidden truth. Now put them together: “conspiracy theory” becomes “corruption investigation.” Imagine your public officials or media personalities deriding something as a corruption investigation. “There are wild and rampant corruption investigations going around! We need to put a stop to these reckless and dangerous corruption investigations!”
Or imagine replacing the predictable denouncements of someone as a conspiracy theorist with the term corruption investigator. “Don’t talk to me about the JFK assassination or 911. You’re just a corruption investigator!” In the absence of the spell that adheres to the term “conspiracy theorist,” public discourse would look very different. We would have a plethora of corruption investigations on our hands, conducted by a growing number of corruption investigators. Rather than nervously laughing and dismissing these investigations out of hand, and saying things like “I don’t believe in corruption investigations,” we would probably start demanding official inquiries, hearings, and prosecutions, and we would also insist that our corporate news outlets conduct honest investigations into these matters themselves. The power of the spell word cannot be underestimated.
The final spell word I’d like to explore is “privileged.” This one is also a pejorative word, weaponized to discredit its target, but it differs from the previous examples in that it is not used by the ruling class against those who threaten the ruling power. Instead it is used by members of the ruled class to discredit and dehumanize one another. The ultimate effect is the same, however. The weaponization of “privileged” as a spell word serves to solidify and entrench ruling class interests.
The concept of “privileged” is meant to shed light on power dynamics that have often been invisible in our culture, and this is a worthy objective. However, like other spell words, the implications of the word reveal various unintended and toxic consequences. For instance, let’s take the example of “white privilege.” It might be pointed out that a white person is in a privileged position relative to a black person in various ways. For instance, the white person will be less likely to be pulled over by police while driving, or subjected to a stop-and-frisk while walking down the street. It’s important to point out this disparity.
The problem comes in the use of “privilege” as the word to capture this disparity. The connotation of “privilege” implies that the regular state of affairs is to be stopped by police for no reason other than one’s skin color. Since the white person rarely or never experiences this, she is said to have white privilege. In contrast, a different framework holds that the regular state of affairs is to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, as enshrined by the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. When the black person is stopped and searched by the police due to racial profiling, her rights are actually being violated. The problem is not that the white person is privileged, the problem is that the black person’s constitutional rights are not being respected due to race.
The privilege perspective implies that someone has been given something extra. If that something extra was an unearned privilege, that person is now burdened with moral stain. He is duty-bound to repair this inequity through sacrifice or activism. In the example given above, the white person is meant to feel guilty for not having her rights violated. She will need to give something up in order to try and equalize things, or take some kind of action on behalf of black people. From a rights perspective, the focus is instead on the violation committed against the black person. Knowing that racial bias and profiling is a reality in policing, the solution is to return to the letter of the Fourth Amendment and actually abide by it. Stop-and-frisk must be held as unconstitutional, which it clearly is. Traffic stops without clear cause must also be understood as unconstitutional. If these are not recognized as unconstitutional by the courts, then legislators must be held accountable to pass local laws that uphold these constitutional principles of equal rights and due process instead.
The result of a rights perspective is to respect and protect the natural rights of people against the government. The result of the privilege perspective is to weaponize guilt against the white person to shame and coerce her into trying to do something for black people, or else just feel bad. At least that way she will be harmed a little and there will be less disparity between the level of harm done to her relative to her black counterpart. The rights perspective tries to increase the amount of good in the world to make things more equal. The privilege perspective tries to increase harm in the world to make things more equal.
On a deeper, more subtle level, the privilege perspective assumes that people don’t actually have natural rights. They have privileges granted to them by the state or by society. Rights are not really rights at all. They are just privileges. The right to grant or deny privileges is held by the state. We transform our conception of ourselves from that of a free people with natural rights to that of a bonded people—wards of the state. Instead of a state that exists to protect our rights and liberties, and which must be held accountable to guard against corruption, we have a state with the power to give or take away privileges. The remedy that flows from this perspective is to encourage the state to take privileges away from some and award them to others based on racial categories (and other categories such as vaccine status).
The implications run deeper still. Under a privilege perspective, a person who successfully lives a conformist lifestyle is viewed as privileged, perhaps rewarded by the societal system with a nicer home, a disposable income, and a safer neighborhood. Rising to the level of professional managerial class and serving the system in that role is seen as the realization of privilege. Personal dignity, self-respect, and freedom over one’s choices and body are not part of this equation. The material comforts defined as privileges are primarily accessed through obedience and service to the power structure. The equity complaint regarding identity-based privilege is that white people, men, straight people, etc. can more easily achieve rewarded positions of fealty to the power structure than people of color, women, queer people, etc.
This framework places all of us in a servant mentality. The ruling class that operates the power structure is untouched by all of this. In fact, they are strengthened. Instead of a ruled class that sees itself as composed of free people who hold the powerful accountable, they are gifted with a ruled class that identifies as servants jockeying for position and comforts as middle-managers in the system that oppresses them. Better still, the servants are encouraged to identify according to racial, sexual, and ethnic categories that separate them from each other. The servants are divided against each other in identity categories, angry about who has gotten a better shake in acquiring privileges from the ruling class.
It’s often the case in privilege narratives that the ability to live an oblivious, vapid life is deemed to be a great privilege. When “privileged” is cast as a spell word to induce shame, it often is encoded in the following kind of construction: “You’re so privileged that you don’t even have to think about or realize what’s really going on. You’re so privileged that you can hang out in your house watching Netflix and playing video games every evening, and not get involved.”
In more advanced constructions of the privilege narrative, gifts that actually contribute to a full and vibrant experience of life are also recognized as privileges. If someone is a great artist, they are privileged that they inherited their talent. If they trained extensively to develop their gifts, they are privileged that they had the opportunity to do so. If they are well-liked and have a good community, they are privileged to have natural social graces or a loving family that helped them to grow up confident and outgoing. If they are beautiful they have beauty privilege. If thin, they have thin privilege, and so on. Always, the spell attached to the word “privileged” implies that a person should feel guilty or ashamed for their privileges, knowing that so many people have it worse or harder than them. Rather than feeling loving and grateful for their blessings, or proud of their achievements, they are urged to ruminate on how unfair and unjust the world is, and how they have never done enough to make up for their privilege by struggling for justice and equity. Rather than shine their light as bright as they can, they are encouraged to dim their light to give someone else a chance to shine.
The privilege spell turns us against ourselves and against each other. It encourages us to never believe that anything good in our lives came from us, but came from outside ourselves at someone else’s expense. This spell represents a psychological attack on humanity. It reduces us to shells of what we could be. It is a recent manifestation of a much older spell, one that keeps us from stepping into the true potential of who we could be.
All of the spell words discussed above are rooted in a larger spell—they keep us from trusting ourselves, keep us reliant on leaders and authorities to provide us with our lives and beliefs, always doubting ourselves, always curtailing our own power, always envying the others and hating ourselves for the envy. The only time we can truly be at peace when under the yoke of this spell is when we are thoroughly entrenched in our victimhood, resigned to our failures, knowing that in a world where nothing comes from within and everything bestowed from without—it’s not our fault. And at least when our lives are miserable, mired in depression, anxiety and addiction, we know that we haven’t unjustly taken any light from someone else. We can finally be held blameless.
I propose a counter spell. A spell of healing and generation. A protective spell of love and truth. From within this spell, we recognize that each and every one of us is a beacon of light gifted to this world—that this source of light is infinite—there is no possibility of reducing another’s light by shining our own. From within this spell, we find the courage to love ourselves unconditionally, and we discover that this love is true. From the truth of this love we can see that truly loving ourselves does not and cannot diminish our love for others. In fact, it nourishes our ability to love others. Our love for others and for the world becomes possible through loving and trusting ourselves.
The essence of this spell is captured in a single word: dispel. This spell is not so much a spell as it is a dispelling of illusion, revealing the light of truth. This is how to solve the problem of vaccine hesitancy. Dispel. We recognize the presence of the spell word and dispel it. We recognize the character of a spell word that tells us we can’t trust ourselves—that we can’t trust others to trust themselves. Each of us knows whether or not a pharmaceutical is good for us or not. We can trust our choices. We can trust our guidance.
When we trust ourselves, we don’t require the spell of doctrine from The Science or any other religion. If a religion seems good to us, we will know it, and we will trust that others will know if a religion is good for them or not. We will never seek to impose a doctrine or belief on another. We will not require a spell to tell us if our beliefs are acceptable, extremist, or conspiratorial. We will know the goodness we are, and that it comes from within—it is not granted to us from without as a privilege. We see the spell, we see through the spell, and we dispel.
We dispel. The light of truth and love that we are is revealed. We hold our heads high with confidence and the joy of being. We dispel. And we shine.
Wow, this is an absolute tour de force. I've been posting regularly over the last year on these same "spell words" and how they are used to frame how we view consensus reality, but you've really taken it to the next level. Such an outstanding and crucial piece of writing to be shared widely! Thank you for deconstructing the "spell" that our technocratic elites are spinning...
Excellent article yet again, Raelle - thank you! I especially got a lot out of your discussion of privilege. Yes - it is time to dispel those terms and underlying messages that do not serve us, learn to trust and empower ourselves, and shine!