Epicurus, the justified social anger and the anti-vax movement

Summary

Epicurus is probably the antiquity’s most important philosopher, but he also is the first important victim of propaganda fake news. Throughout the centuries, the majority of people have a completely distorted view of his teachings; interestingly though, it is Epicurus’ teachings which explain the general feeling of lack of trust and anger, which gave birth to the anti-vax movement.

On October 28th, Greece celebrates a national day; in essence, it is about the launch of the war between two fascist regimes, the one of Mussolini in Italy and the one of Metaxas in Greece. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers from Greece fought this war, resulting to the first allied victory over Axis forces in Europe. Did that make them Metaxa’s supporters? Doubtlessly no.

Similarly, then, don’t buy-into the anti-vax propaganda. Many of our governments are indeed notoriously inefficient and, not rarely, corrupted. Being angry with them is just natural. Getting, however, the vaccine does not make you a government supporter; it makes you a logical and reasonable human being.

Last but not least, as proven by the virality (!) of the anti-vax movement, the risk of fascism ignited by propaganda and fake news is here and is higher than ever before. Many smart and well-informed people have fallen into the trap, exactly like it happened in Germany and Italy in the 1930s.

Investment in education for All and in providing equal rights and opportunities to All, is also more important than ever before, being the single means we have available for effectively fighting the root causes of fascism.

In more detail

Epicurus has probably been the most important — and definitely the most influential — philosopher of the ancient Greek world. In the Hellenistic Period, one which can be considered as a kind of the ‘first globalization’, at least in the western world, Epicurus’ ideas inspired human beings to find true meaning in their lives, overcoming the fear of death — an objective which still is next to impossible for most of us in the modern world.

Epicurus, however, has been one of the first victims of fake-news and propaganda. This is how religions and the oligarchy tried to deal with his inspiring philosophy, which is incredibly human-centered. If one searches online for “Epicurean Meal”, will most likely get a response like the following: “Epicurean food is of very good quality, especially unusual or rare food”.

Nothing, however could be more distant from reality. According to various sources, Epicurus had said that ‘’he was prepared to compete with Zeus in happiness, as long as he had a barley cake and some water’’. According to the philosopher, ‘excessive accumulation of goods (money, power, etc) is among the primary sources of stress and unhappiness’.

How’s all that relevant to today’s world?

In quite many ways. “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling, an outstanding international public health expert, proves that the world is indeed becoming a much better place based on objective measurements. More and more people have a good quality of living, fewer people are victims of violence, education is improving steadily as it also happens with healthcare.

Why, then, so many people are unhappy?

The answer probably can be found in the Epicurean thinking. Accumulation of goods, after a certain, point doesn’t make you happy. Meaning is what makes a life worth-living.

What has happened is that a wide sense of unfairness and injustice is established. This is happening both because of real reasons (the top 1% is indeed becoming unbelievably rich, which doubtlessly feels unfair and unjust to the rest 99%), and because of the fake-news industry and the propaganda 2.0. The latter is heavily used by neo-fascist groups all around the world, promoting division and hatred over convergence (and policies for convergence, historically, have been the only ones that lead to true progress).

All around the World, the vast majority of people feel the need to resist, though it remains rather unclear what to resist to. The enemy is unclear.

The political elites are very often far less capable than what can be reasonably expected (Europe offers so many examples of weak leadership…) and because of the influence of the top-1%, trust to institutions is arguably very low.

It just happens, then, that millions of people are ready to follow anyone with attractive, anti-establishment rhetoric, even if that person supports completely unreasonable and illogical positions.

Does this ring a bell?

This is exactly the case with the anti-vax movement: Governments in the western world had not done the right investments in the healthcare system for many decades; in several countries, healthcare was going in auto-pilot, largely left to its fate. Then, often-unreasonably imposed lockdowns (as proven by the case of Sweden), were used as a political instrument against anti-government protests and constitutional rights were waived just too easily. All this generated even fear and made the societal ground even more fertile for fascism-inspired tactics.

At the end of the day, fascists have always loved the combination of widespread stress, fear and anger in the society.

When the coronavirus vaccines became available in such a record-time (which is a true scientific miracle!), the populists thought that it doesn’t matter to consider them ‘a thing from the corrupted elites’ and to ignite the anti-vax movement all around the world.

They are of course playing with fire: They don’t care if millions of avoidable deaths will actually take place; they just need an ‘anti-establishment’ movement, so the ‘anti-vaxxers’ were born.

There is of course great responsibility for this development among members of the scientific community who unfortunately played a political game throughout the pandemic, for their own interest. For example, the recording of vaccinations’ side effect (which of course exist) ranges from weak to non-existing. This is very sad, as a scientist should first and foremost respect the very nature of science.

I would like to conclude this post with two simple messages:

1 — In case you are not vaccinated already, please do so as soon as possible.

Vaccines work. Of course, a vaccinated person may still contract the virus and may well transmit it. However, the chances of serious illness or death are so significantly lowered, that getting vaccinated is a no-brainer.

You may still have doubts. You are really fed-up with governments and the establishment at large, and there’s a multitude of good reasons for feeling so. A brief historical example might help with understanding why you and your loved-ones must be vaccinated:

In 1936 a fascist named Ioannis Metaxas led a coup d’état which installed a fascist regime in Greece which was nothing but a brutal dictatorship, largely inspired by the Nazis in Germany and the fascists in Italy. On October 28th 1940, the fascist regime that was controlling Italy, decided to annex Greece.

The Mussolini fascists were expecting something similar to what happened in Austria and Denmark, when they were annexed by Nazi-Germany. For various geopolitical reasons, the Greek fascist dictator could follow his heart, so the Greek-Italian war started (which thankfully was the beginning of the end for “il partito fascista” and the awful “camicia nera”).

Try to think as an anti-fascist soldier of the Greek army in the 1940s. This soldier was indeed fighting for an army commanded by a brutal dictator. Was that making this person a fascist? Should perhaps this soldier deny fighting, because the request was also coming from a fascist regime, the one of Metaxas? Apparently, no.

History did prove that the people of Greece massively joined the military effort, even if the very vast majority hated the Metaxas regime. The first allied victory over Axis forces in Europe was indeed the one of this small army in the mountains of Epirus and Albania.

Sometimes in our lives we have to choose between two enemies. Many of us are very angry and frustrated with anything coming from and promoted by our governments. Again, there’s often good reason to feel so. Yet, the coronavirus is a far more important enemy. Very similarly to Mussolini being a far more important enemy than Metaxas. And the way to win over this enemy is to get vaccinated. Don’t hesitate to do the right thing.

2 — Beware of fascism in modern society.

As proven by the virality (!) of the anti-vax movement, the risk of fascism ignited by propaganda and fake news is here and is higher than ever before. Many smart and well-informed people have fallen into the trap, exactly like it happened in Germany and Italy in the 1930s.

Investment in education for All and in providing equal rights and opportunities to All, is also more important than ever before, being the single means we have available for effectively fighting the root causes of fascism.

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Dimitris Tsingos

Dimitris Tsingos

Entrepreneur at Starttech Ventures