This post explores the question, “Should you get vaccinated?” And there are different ways I could approach this question.
For example, I could pummel you with facts for and against getting the vaccine. Or I could try to use all sorts of compelling arguments to force you to believe a certain way. And perhaps that might be effective for some people.
But I assume that whatever you currently believe about this issue, you have reasons for why you believe what you do. And I assume you have examined at least some facts and arguments about the issue. I assume that your examination has led you to believe the way you do.
I, too, believe certain things about the vaccine and whether people should get it. And I’m not sure that people pummeling me with facts and arguments would cause me to change my mind.
And since I don’t know what you believe about the vaccine, I want to take a different approach. Rather than pummel you with more facts and arguments, in this post I want to focus on common thinking errors that we all fall prey to if we are not careful.
And in fact, we are more likely to fall into such errors when we feel strongly about something.
Before I examine such thinking errors, let me tell you some assumptions I have about you, which I hope are reasonable.
I assume that you are a reasonable person and believe that you should have good reasons for why you believe what you do.
And I also assume that you care about morals and know your choices often carry serious consequences for both yourself and other people. Therefore, you try to act according to basic moral principles.
Lastly, I assume you know that you are an imperfect human being. As such, you know that you can make mistakes, even when you try hard to avoid them. So you are willing to consider that you might be wrong, especially in matters that could greatly impact other people.
Given these assumptions, here are eight common thinking errors it would be good to be aware of as you consider whether you should get vaccinated.
Error One: Confirmation Bias—We (people, in general) have a natural tendency to seek out information that confirms the beliefs we already possess. By the same token, we tend to ignore evidence that counteracts our personal view. After all, evidence that counters our own cherished view can threaten our ego and make us feel insecure.
The tendency to focus on evidence that confirms our view and downplay evidence that contradicts it is confirmation bias, which you can read more about here. I know I have suffered from confirmation bias before.
One of the ways you can determine if you suffer from confirmation bias is to test your willingness to suspend your opinion temporarily and to consider opinions opposite from the one you currently hold. If you are completely unable or have a really hard time doing this, you likely suffer from confirmation bias.
And if you are anything like me, you may explain away your aversion to examining the opposite side of a matter.
For instance, you may say that you care so much about the truth that it really bothers you to examine false ideas, etc.
And there is some merit in such a position.
But the truth has nothing to fear from an honest examination of various sides of the issue. It is important to remember this because we often automatically equate our strong opinions with the truth. In fact, the stronger we feel about something, the more we believe it is true. But we all know that there are a lot of people in the world who feel very strongly about their incorrect beliefs. We could be one of these people and not know it.
Therefore, it is important to remember that the whole truth is always bigger than you and me. In addition, the truth is never threatened by questions and honest investigation.
So, regarding the vaccine, you may have very strong opinions about the vaccine, which is fine. But you and the truth have nothing to fear from examining the evidence for the other side. And in fact, the more you are willing to do this, the more informed your opinion becomes.
And by the way, you might be thinking right now, “I know a bunch of people who need to read this.” Fair enough. But start with yourself. Make sure you are willing to examine the other side first. And worry about other people later.
Error Two: Ad hominem Attacks—We just examined confirmation bias, which is a psychological bias that unconsciously affects our thinking. Ad hominem attacks, on the other hand, are a type of reasoning error (a logical fallacy). Ad hominem is a Latin phrase meaning “at the man”. When we commit ad hominem attacks, we attack the person making the argument, rather than their actual argument.
In the partisan culture we live in, you are likely very familiar with ad hominem attacks. One of the most common ways these attacks occur is when a person dismisses another person’s belief simply because they are liberal or conservative.
But an argument is never wrong simply because the person making it is liberal or conservative. An argument is wrong only if its evidence is false or does not adequately support the conclusion.
Here is an example that illustrates the weakness (and absurdity) of ad hominem arguments.
Imagine you are sitting in a classroom and that someone runs in and shouts, “The building’s on fire! You’ve got to get out!”
It would be silly to ask this person, “Are you a liberal or conservative?” You would either ask how they know the building is on fire; or, more likely, you would exit the building immediately to ascertain if their report was true.
And the reason you would do this is because you know that a person’s politics has nothing to do with the truth of the person’s claim, “The building is on fire”. The only thing that matters in this situation is whether the building is on fire. And it would be wise for you to figure this out based on the evidence.
And when it comes to vaccines, the issue is not whether vaccination is a conservative or liberal policy.
The question is whether, referring to my last example, the building is on fire. Or in the case of this post, the question is whether getting vaccinated will protect us from significant danger and is a wise public policy. And that question, rather than people’s political views, should be foremost in your mind as you research issues pertaining to the vaccine.
Picture by Ivan Diaz, courtesy of Unsplash
Error Three: Anecdotal Thinking
And as you research, remember that one example (an anecdote) never proves a point. For example, you would not want to base your vaccine decision on what happened to one or two (or a handful of) people. Rather, you want to look at general trends occurring in large and varied populations.
Giving greater weight to trends than to single occurrences is wise because you can find anecdotes that disprove any general rule. For example, evidence suggests that smoking cigarettes is generally bad for your health. However, there are people that smoke a lot every day and live to be a hundred years old. But these instances are anomalies (exceptions), not the general rule.
You wouldn’t want to take up smoking because of these anecdotes.
As anther example, the evidence suggests that falling off a ten-story building onto concrete is fatal. However, there are people who, miraculously, survive such falls with nary a scratch. But these instances are anomalies, not the general rule. Therefore, you wouldn’t want to start jumping off buildings based on the survival rates of these anomalous people.
The point is that you want to base decisions on general trends in large populations, rather than basing your decisions on surprising anomalies. If you base your thinking on anomalies, you fall into the thinking error of anecdotal thinking.
And while you are researching, remember that it is not only you that matters in the vaccine issue. Other people matter as well. To understand this, let’s examine some mistaken views of freedom and individualism.
Error Four: A Mistaken View of Freedom
Some people believe that freedom is being able to do whatever you want. But that view of freedom is a shallow, largely unhelpful view of freedom. For example, if you believe that freedom is the ability to do whatever you want, you would consider the ability to punch anyone in the face whenever you want freedom.
But this is a silly view of freedom. And, in fact, we would consider people who use their freedom to go around punching people in the face whenever they want as unfree in many ways. For example, we would likely consider them governed by impulse and lacking a moral compass, states of being which lack freedom.
That is because a deep and meaningful freedom always entails freedom for something. And that something is always a higher good like pursuing happiness; moral principles; the ability to follow conscience; or the ability speak the truth.
Higher goods bring good into our own life, as well as the life of others.
And if a deep and meaningful view of freedom entails freedom for something, such freedom also entails being willing to give up things that interfere with this goal. For example, if you want freedom to pursue happiness, you give up behaviors and thoughts that destroy happiness. And if you want freedom to follow your conscience, you give up things that destroy your ability to listen to your conscience. And lastly, if you want freedom to speak the truth, you give up falsehood.
The point is that true freedom is not the ability to do whatever you want. True freedom is freedom for a higher good. And this freedom sometimes entails that we give other things up that interfere with it.
Unfortunately, there are some people in the U.S. (and the world) who believe that true freedom is the freedom to do whatever they want. Therefore, they rebel against any rule as hindering their freedom.
This view of freedom becomes especially problematic when it goes along with a belief in hyper-individualism, a thinking error I will examine next.
Error Six: Hyper-Individualism
When people fall into hyper-individualism, they focus on what is good for them or their immediate tribe (like groups to which they belong). As a corollary, they often do not consider the welfare of people besides themselves or their tribe.
Hyper-individualism is especially common in the United States because of the pioneer spirit which was highly influential in the founding of our country. Early pioneers were self-sufficient, enterprising individuals. They thrived because they were able to pursue their own interest without the interference of paternalistic governments.
This freedom from interference was very influential in the founding of the United States. So, many people in the U.S. still possess strong values of self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and individualism.
And these values can certainly promote virtuous ways of thinking and living.
They can, however, become a problem when individualism blinds people to the way in which human existence carries unavoidable communal aspects.
For example, what people do with their trash certainly affects their neighbors. How people drive affects other drivers on the roads. And how people handle various weapons can seriously affect other people.
Therefore, people have the freedom to generate trash, to drive, and to possess certain weapons. But various states also legislate the way in which people can do these things. Such laws limit people’s freedom. They do so to prevent people from exercising their freedom in a way that hinders other people’s freedom.
For example, all states prevent people from driving while intoxicated. Such laws do so because intoxicated drivers run a high chance of harming other drivers. Therefore, states limit the freedom to drive while intoxicated to preserve the freedom of driving safety, which is a higher good.
To criticize laws against intoxicated driving as interfering with freedom would be to confuse freedom for something with the freedom to do whatever you want. And as we have seen, that is an impoverished view of freedom.
How does freedom and hyper-individualism relate to vaccines?
There might be good reasons at times for people not to get vaccinated. (For example, if they are children or have had a serious reaction to a previous vaccine.) However, if people refuse to get vaccinated simply because they want to be free, they likely confuse true freedom with the freedom to do anything they want.
Or they may be getting stuck in hyper-individualism. Neither of these views are helpful, as we have examined above. (And you can read more about this here.)
In fact, all moral systems call us to exercise freedom for our good, as well as the good of others. And morality belongs in all areas of life, including the way we practice health, as well as the way we practice politics. (You can read more about this here.)
But, you may argue, people are too quick to do whatever the government tells them to do. They behave like lemmings or like sheeple. Isn’t this a problem?
Well, certainly. Whenever adults blindly follow other people without exercising their own logical and moral reasoning, that is a problem. It is an abdication of personal responsibility.
But let’s explore two ways people act like sheeple. And I think the second one might surprise you.
The first way people act like sheeple is when they commit the fallacy of appeal to majority.
Error Seven: Appeal to Majority
Appeal to Majority is a fallacy people fall into when they believe or do something simply because the majority does so. It’s important to note that something is never right or good to do simply because the majority does it. In fact, history is fully of instances in which the majority condoned very bad things. 
So, the fact that most people do something is not sufficient evidence to indicate it is the right thing to do. Something is right to do only if there are sound logical and moral reasons for doing it. And we are always responsible personally for determining that in each situation. Unfortunately, people are prone to abdicate their logical and moral reasoning and to follow along with what everyone else does.
Because of this, there is often good reason to rebel against the crowd. The crowd often does stupid things, as almost anyone who has attended middle or high school can confirm.
But we should note that just as something is not right simply because the majority does it, neither is it wrong merely because the majority does it. And, in fact, rejecting a belief or action merely because the majority affirms it leads to another common thinking problem: snob appeal.
When people commit snob appeal, they also act like sheeple.
Error Eight: Snob Appeal: When people fall into the fallacy of snob appeal, they think or do something because it gives them an elite status, rather than because there are good reasons for doing or believing it. For example, sometimes people follow a certain diet, hold a certain opinion, or listen to a certain kind of music. And they do so merely because it is what the smart, cool, rebel, or “with-it” people do, rather than because the diet, opinion, or music itself has merit.
There is an understandable psychological reason we do this.
Most of us want to feel like we are special and unique in some way. We want to feel like we stand out from the crowd. Sometimes we accomplish this goal by rebelling against what everyone else does. And we purposefully behave in a unique or unusual way. Now sometimes we do this for good reasons. For example, sometimes we hold a minority opinion because we have researched it carefully and believe it is the best opinion. Or, sometimes we follow a certain diet, unusual as it is, because we discover that it best meets our physical needs.
These are perfectly good reasons for doing something unusual.
Somehow, however, we become so obsessed with being special that we do things merely because they are different or rebellious. As you can imagine, just as doing something because everyone else is doing it is unwise, so is not doing something because everyone else is doing it.
And if you and me and our little group do something (or refuse to do something) simply because it is rebellious, we are being sheeple, too. Our sheeple group is just smaller and more eccentric than the typical sheeple group.
So, regarding the vaccine, of course people should not get the vaccine just because everyone else is doing it. Neither, however, should people refuse to get the vaccine simply because most people get it.
To explore the question, “Should you get vaccinated?”, I’ve examined common thinking errors we might commit while making this important decision.
There is so much information out there right now about the vaccine, and you can easily find it if you look. Please remember that your decision to get the vaccine (or not) affects other people, as well as yourself. So, it is very wise for you to follow good thinking practices in your decision-making process:
Make sure that you examine both sides of the issue thoroughly and carefully and do so with a desire to pursue the truth, rather than prove your own view.
And remember that it does not matter what democrats and republicans think about the vaccine. What matters is what the evidence from a wide variety of credible sources indicates.
Look for general patterns rather than surprising instances or anecdotes.
And remember that while freedom is certainly important, true freedom is always for a higher moral good. It is not simply the ability to do whatever you want, or not do what you don’t want to do.
Please remember that your decision in this matter inevitably affects other people.
And while you shouldn’t do something merely because everyone else does it, neither should you refuse to do something just because most people do it.
If you want to be extraordinary, unique, or rebellious, do so in the way you love yourself and other people. Do so in the way you bring more joy, creativity, grace, playfulness, and integrity into the world.
Such behavior is truly extraordinary.
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By the way, I write and teach about logical thinking and fallacies, and I love to teach people how to think well. You might like to read my book Everyday Debate, which you can find here.