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Anti-vax, Anti-mask 

Taking a Gander: Utahns are an endangered species

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It has been many, many years since Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species. Many of Christendom's zealots immediately condemned Darwin's theory of natural selection, screaming how creation occurred in a mere six days, that God did all the creating, and that mankind and the creatures of our earth certainly didn't originate from what one Mormon apostle described as the "scum of the sea." To say the least, Darwin's idea of evolution was considered heretical by most devout Christians.

Despite the furor that followed, science has made a great case for evolution, demonstrating that, not only is it real, but that it is still occurring at this very moment. Similarly, the fossil remains of creatures long-lost to our world—which have turned up with remarkable frequency—have allowed science to document the gradual changes that have affected virtually every animal and plant species.

Darwin's concept is beautifully simple: The creatures and plants that are able to evade their enemies, survive reproductive competition, outsmart others in the quest for nourishment, and adapt to changes in their environments are the ones that survive and perpetuate their species. Those which are unable to adapt eventually fizzle and disappear. That's why both creatures and plants become more successful survivors over time.

My own mother, bless her heart, was one of the most vocal of the naysayers, even claiming that scientists were creating their own fossil skeletons in order to promote an understanding that the world was far older than theologians wished to acknowledge. Dinosaurs? She didn't believe they had even existed.

During my earliest childhood, I accepted what Mother said, and came to believe that science was a mortal enemy of both religion and solid academics. Because of her, I came to understand that religious people were more likely to embrace conspiracy theories and disavow academia. Mother had been Phi Beta Kappa, so it wasn't that she was intellectually challenged.

As you may have guessed, I had both respect and criticism for my mother's zealotry and her inclination to believe blindly and make every issue a battleground between right and wrong. I loved her dearly, but our minds worked very differently. I saw very few questions as examples of good-versus-evil. Instead, I was inclined to spurn superstition and put my faith in science, medicine, and objective observation and research.

I was raised in an era wherein both children and adults were facing the horror of polio and where most believed that the Salk Vaccine was a godsend. Luckily, my mother had enough maternal instinct to have her children vaccinated.

Okay. Let's roll forward about 70 years. Today we're facing another scourge. After 1½ years, the COVID-19 virus has not been brought to its knees, largely because of the ignorance that seems to go hand-in-hand with religious and political affiliation. Sadly, our own state is not among those with the highest vaccination rates, and many of its communities decline the use of masks. Right now, Utah's vaccination rate stands at only about 50%, and the anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers come, predictably, from those counties that have the highest percentage of Mormublicans. Surprisingly, even their prophet's words—to be responsible citizens and get the vaccine—have fallen on selectively deaf ears.

Well folks, the problem should be obvious. If Utah's religious hard-right get it wrong, survival of the fittest—and smartest—will be controlling which genetic lines continue and those which simply cease to exist. The problem is so bad here—like in a handful of other staunch Republican hard-right states—that natural selection is likely to result in a smarter Utah. To say it a bit more bluntly, those who are smart enough to protect and immunize themselves and their families may be the only ones who survive. Extinction isn't a word that applies only to dinosaurs.

It's time for Utahns to get real. We need to be smart. We need to stop listening to idiotic conspiracy theories. We need to turn off Fox Television and Tucker Carlson. We need to make our health and survival more important than politics, fanaticism and our tendency to mindlessly cling to the idea that exhibiting our egotistical autonomy is more important than living. There's no question about it, we're on the endangered species list and anyone who sees this as a matter of tribal identity and warfare is sorely wrong.

Let's not allow Utahns to be added to the list of the extinct. When it's all said and done, survival of the fittest is what it's all about.

The author is a retired businessman, novelist, columnist, and former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog.

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