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Traffic Lights

Front of a smashed car wedged between two parallel concrete walls.

David Walsh

Posted on Thursday 2 September 2021

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Memo from David Walsh to staff, about vaccination at Mona, 2 September 2021

A society with unlimited rights is incapable of standing to adversity.
—Alexander Solzhenitsyn

What happens when we want to undertake a journey, but a government-mandated intervention delays it, because, they say, it serves the greater good? Is that an infringement on our rights?

I’m talking about traffic lights. Today, while taking the kids to school, I had to wait for a total of six minutes while cars went somewhere else. Of course I could have ignored those dastardly traffic lights, but ignoring them, potentially, has consequences. I might get in trouble with the very authorities that I’m resisting. Is running those lights a legitimate protest? Perhaps I should protest by making things worse (I could stand in the middle of the intersection, at great risk to myself to enhance the risk to others—that’d work). I might kill myself. But I’ve got a fancy car that’ll protect me. Perhaps I should run those lights, window down, arm out, middle finger extended. But if I run those lights, others might suffer. Most times, though, I’ll get through unscathed, and cause no diminishment to others. Am I feeling lucky, punk? And anyway, aren’t we a bunch of self-interested, greed-is-good, motherfucking capitalists? Why should I look after others?

But I stopped at the red lights. So did everybody else. If traffic lights are a part of a global conspiracy to turn us all into pawns of the government, or Bill Gates, or 5G, then I’m a government tool. Or just a tool. And so is everybody else.

I’m going to make vaccination mandatory for staff at Mona. If that makes you see red (lights) despite the previous three paragraphs let me, briefly, talk about the nature of risk. Some types of risk are additive (every time you take a bath, there’s a small chance it’ll kill you: but there is no chance it’ll kill anyone else). When you go to work unvaccinated there’s a small chance you’ll get COVID and an even smaller chance you’ll die. But each time you take that risk there is a small chance you’ll kill someone else (it’s multiplicative). That’s not okay. In a perfect world the vaccine would never kill you (a very small risk, but additive, like a bath), and it’d protect you and others completely. It doesn’t give perfect protection. Sometimes traffic lights fail. But we don’t turn them off. That’d kill more people. We keep them on, because mostly, inefficiently and grudgingly, we serve the greater good.

We’ll give you a decent interval to get vaccinated, and if necessary we’ll help you make an appointment.

We used to have co-leaders who could cruise through amber. One has gone to greener pastures (congrats). Patrick will now be our CEO solo. Ably assisted by Liz and Philippa and hundreds of others… you, if you get vaccinated. Patrick has proved he is very wise—these days, he always stops at red lights.

I wrote the above for the staff of Mona. But Emily, who mediates between me and the media, wanted to release it to everyone. ‘Transparency, and anyway, there’ll be leaks, and that’ll cause confusion.’ So I’m telling everyone that’s interested. At Mona we’ll be mandating COVID vaccinations for staff. Most of Mona’s staff are exposed to the public (although, at the moment, we don’t really have a public). Most people who visit Mona are nice, friendly, and respectful. But there’s a small chance that each of them is a reservoir for that beastly COVID virus. I’d like to mandate vaccines for the public, too, but that’d be unfair to, for example, kids. We like kids at Mona. And we like risk at Mona. But we like our staff more.

A few staff might think we are trampling on their rights, but the one right they think we are restricting doesn’t exist. Our staff don’t have the right to trample on the rights of their colleagues. Yes, it’s harsh to deprive someone of their livelihood for the good of others. And it’s harsh to deprive someone of their licence for running red lights. Harsh, but necessary.


Header image: Engpass, 2000–11, Roman Signer