Novak Djokovic, and the new puritanism

Here’s a statement of fact: There is nobody rational, on the whole planet, who seriously believes that tennis player Novak Djokovic poses any kind of health threat to the people of Australia. He is, after all, the defending Australian Open Champion. He was actually in Australia, last year, at the height of a more serious wave of covid, while nobody was vaccinated, and won the tournament. Without doing any harm to anybody.

A year on, we do not know whether or not Mr. Djokovic is vaccinated against Covid 19. We do know a few things, though: We know that he has previously expressed opposition to being vaccinated, and we know that he could not satisfy the entry requirements to clear border security in Australia. Both of these facts would suggest that he has not taken a covid vaccine.

There are, of course, two sides to this story: On the one hand, the law of Australia is very clear. You need a covid vaccine to enter their country. This rule does not apply only to Mr. Djokovic, but to ordinary Australians, or anybody else, who wishes to enter Australia. It would, of course, be offensive and absurd if Mr. Djokovic was allowed to evade the law, but some grandmother attempting to visit her grandchildren in Perth was deported. Unless a law applies to everybody, famous, or otherwise, the law will have no credibility.

But on the other hand, cases like this do tend to expose the complete absurdity of the law. Novak Djokovic is 34 years old. On the whole planet, there are only a handful of people fitter, or in better physical condition, than he is. All of the statistics about covid which we have collected over the past two and a half years suggest that were he to become infected with Covid 19, he would suffer a very mild, cold-like illness.

What’s more, all the statistics and figures we have collected about the covid 19 vaccines suggest that even if he were vaccinated, there remains a strong likelihood that he could contract, and transmit, covid 19. The more we learn about these vaccines, the more obvious it becomes that their primary benefit comes after covid has been contracted: They will reduce the severity of your illness. They will not prevent you from passing it on to others. If they did, we would not still be wearing facemasks. We all know this.

And so, what we have here is a law that was explicitly designed to protect the Australian people that was written based on a number of assumptions that reality has shown to be false.

Ask yourself: What is the logical reason to limit access to a country to vaccinated people only? The obvious answer is to prevent them bringing covid 19 into the country with them. The laws were written on the basis that the vaccine would prevent people getting, and passing on, the virus.

The problem is that, as time has gone on, Covid 19 has made a mockery of those assumptions. That is why, as the opening line of this piece states, there is nobody remotely serious who can construct any kind of argument that there is any kind of public health benefit to keeping Novak Djokovic out of Australia.

So, then, what is the point?

The point is that this law, and many like it, around the world, are no longer really about covid safety or suppressing a virus at all. They’re more akin to a collective projection of cultural values. Novak Djokovic isn’t being sent home because he is a threat to Australians, but because there is a niggling fear in Australia that the existence of people like Novak Djokovic, out in the wild, and unpunished, might undermine what good, progressive, people believe. Good people take their vaccines, bad, irresponsible people do not.

We are not, here, actually talking about public health, but instead about cultural conformity. Novak Djokovic is being held up as an example of the law being applied equally, but he’s actually an example of how dumb the law is.

Laws, as a general rule, should be based on reality. Liberals and progressives used to call this “reality based legislating”. They would cite the importance of the laws aligning with how people really lived. For example, they would argue, bans on divorce or abortion ignored the reality that people get divorced, and get abortions, all the time. They make the same arguments about things like prostitution: Legalise, and regulate, they say. Those arguments appeal to people because they say “morality is one thing, but the state should recognise how people actually live, and make provision for the facts on the ground”.

Now, that argument might be right, or it might be wrong. But what is interesting is that when it comes to the issue of covid vaccines, it has gone out the window: The reality on the ground, the real world facts, bear no relationship to the law. The covid vaccine requirements for travel are every bit as much an attempt to legislate morality into existence as any law banning divorce is. The vaccine simply is not working at a population level to prevent the spread of covid. It works at an individual level, to keep people out of ICU units.

Yet, we have laws restricting the movement and activity of people who have decided, for whatever reason, that they do not personally need to take a vaccine. That is not a law based on science, but a law based on a majority demanding that a minority adopt their moral choices.

It’s dumb. And when we think about it, in this case, we all know it’s dumb. Novak Djokovic posed no threat, whatever, to Australia, or her people. They sent him home because he doesn’t agree with them about whether he personally needs a vaccine. That’s not about public health: It’s about enforcing your will on other people. Progressives used to profess to hate that kind of law.

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