Michael Hiltzik writing for LA Times titled his latest piece "Mocking anti-vaxxers death is ghoulish - but necessary."
On the other, those who have deliberately flouted sober medical advice by refusing a vaccine known to reduce the risk of serious disease from the virus, including the risk to others, and end up in the hospital or the grave can be viewed as receiving their just deserts.
It may be not a little ghoulish to celebrate or exult in the deaths of vaccine opponents. And it may be proper to express sympathy and solicitude to those they leave behind.
But mockery is not necessarily the wrong reaction to those who publicly mocked anti-COVID measures and encouraged others to follow suit, before they perished of the disease the dangers of which they belittled.
Nor is it wrong to deny them our sympathy and solicitude, or to make sure it’s known when their deaths are marked that they had stood fast against measures that might have protected themselves and others from the fate they succumbed to.
There may be no other way to make sure that the lessons of these teachable moments are heard.
Michael's main justification for mocking people who have passed away is that it'll convince others with similar views to change their minds.
There are a few issues with this way of thinking, firstly this is the tactic a bully would use. He is essentially advocating bullying someone (or people like them) into changing their minds. Perhaps his belief is that it's alright to bully someone if you're doing it for the right reasons - which is to make them better people thus improving society. However, anyone can take this position if they believe the person being bullied is wrong or immoral, it's giving permission for bullies to find righteousness in their actions.
Michael does try to soften his position by stating we show sympathy to the relatives they've left behind but mock the dead. I would question how you show sympathy to the child, spouse, partners, parents of a dead person by mocking their loved ones, especially if done in public. Would it not also encourage others to mock the ones left behind?
Finally, and here's the most important point, there is strong evidence to show that Michael's justification for mocking the dead doesn't work, if anything it actually does the opposite and pushes those people further into their bubble.
Michael Karson (Ph.D.) writing for Psychology Today reviewed lab experiments based on the impact of punishment, he concludes that,
The reliability of this phenomenon demonstrates that punishment does not change the tendency to engage in the behaviour that was punished. Instead, it makes the person or the rat want to avoid the source of punishment.
Mocking, bullying people into changing their minds is a form of punishment, you want them or people like them to feel shame, feel ostracised and in response they don't change their view, they only avoid you or people like you, choosing instead to associate with groups that will accept them or at the very least not shame them. And when those who use non-physical forms of bullying realise it doesn't work, What's the next step?
So why do we feel the need to mock and bully those we feel are doing wrong. Michael Karson says,
We punish because we are angry at them. Anger is the emotional state of finding damage to the object of one’s anger reinforcing...we fool ourselves into thinking that we are not angry, that we are merely instructing them, and we then get to enjoy hurting them with punishments without feeling bad about recognising what we are enjoying.
There's a pleasure that comes from 'knowing' you are right, feeling better than someone who you see as immoral, and when you believe their immoral actions have come back to bite them, enjoying that victory. Especially if we can share our victory with like-minded groups.
But for all those who think bullying is an effective way to get people to change minds, it might be worth considering that we tend to look for 'facts' that support the narratives we have and once we find those 'facts' we add it to our collection of belief and protect it from harm like we would a family member. And when the mob (from their perspective) comes for you, tries to bully you into changing your mind, you feel like the victim, the hero fighting against lies and injustices, you fight to defend your truth like you would a family member.
So, how do you get people to change their minds? In my opinion, it takes time, a lot of patience and respect. These aren't things we want to give the opposition especially in politics or social issues. Why would you respect a selfish anti-vaxxer? or give them your time, and patience?
I would suggest that if you really want to change the world in a way you believe is for the good, then you might need to, regardless of the topic. because if you really do believe the world would be a better place if everyone subscribed to a particular idea, then dunking on them or acting in a manner that pushes them further from doing so makes things worse. And then the question becomes, what is the alternative? Especially when you consider that many more than you would imagine are willing to suffer or even die for their beliefs.
Changing minds isn't something you can do in a few sentences on Twitter or by 'dunking' on them publicly. It takes a long time, you need to respect their views, perhaps even accept you might be wrong on some of yours.
People can't be persuaded by someone else, they have to persuade themselves, I would suggest asking questions, highlighting gaps in their logic (respectfully), and being willing to compromise when you genuinely feel there is room to do so.
As a final note, it's easy to fall into the trap of doing bad things for the right reasons. But I would suggest many of our issues arise from this thought. With billions of people in the world, we are never going to agree on what is good or evil. Most people want good, but defining what good is or how it is applied varies in so many different ways, it can be affected by your background, culture, nationality religion and those are just a few factors. However, I would hope that most of us can at least come to an agreement on how we try to convince others to see things our way, because if we believe we are justified in doing anything for the sake of goodness and love, then what stops someone you disagree with from doing anything for the sake of what they believe is goodness and love.
As George R.R Martin said,
Nobody is a villain in their own story. We’re all the heroes of our own stories.
Mocking the dead for not taking vaccines is akin to mocking the obese for having heart attacks or any of the other health conditions linked to obesity.