For the second time, I'm being shown the door at Canonical. Well, technically, this time it was me who handed over my resignation, but that was only after I was told in very clear terms that I would eventually be fired. No timeframe was given, but since I don't particularly enjoy the feeling of checking my e-mail every morning to find out whether this is the day when I'm being fired, I decided to take the initiative and leave myself.
The reason? Those who know me well might suspect that it's related to some complications with that fact that I'm living in Russia, or maybe with some remarks I might have made about the war in Ukraine or about other current events, since I tent to be quite outspoken and provocative. Nothing of all that: it's about my refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19; unfortunately, it has now become apparent that I'm not the only one leaving, and other employees who have refused either to get vaccinated or to disclose their vaccination status are also being shown the door (including people who have been in the company for more than 10 years). This has sparked some internal discussions in the company, and several different point of views have been voiced: from those who welcome this policy and would like to see it extended to flu vaccinations (which makes a lot of sense, since once you've accepted to renounce your freedom in order to protect the weak, you should accept it for all transmissible diseases), to those who voiced concerns about the legality of this move, or would have found this reasonable one year ago but not in the current situation as restrictions are getting lifted and the current variants are less scary than the previous ones; those who pointed out that being vaccinated has little impact on transmissibility of the virus; that we are mostly a remote company and we could instead have exceptions to allow unvaccinated people (or people with a weak immune system) to remotely attend the few in-person meetings we have; that as long as there are no vaccination mandates for plane flights and other guests attending the same hotel premises where we meet, mandating employees to get vaccinated might not help a lot; and whether this is a decision that a company should make, or shouldn't it rather lobby the politics to have it mandated at state level. I think there's merit to all these arguments, but I'm personally not particularly interested in discussing any of them, since my point is another.
Before talking about that, though, let me clearly set one thing straight: I hate lies, and Canonical's management is lying about this matter. The vaccination mandate measure is being justified on the grounds that it allows employees to travel (something that I've been able to do as unvaccinated throughout the last two years, even when restrictions were at their peak) and, most importantly, to protect our weaker colleagues. This is what I find most disgusting: using genuine feelings like love and compassion to justify repressive measures. No, dear Canonical, this has nothing to do with protecting the weak; not only because a vaccinated person can still spread the virus (and our employees know this from first-hand experience), but also because, if this was the real reason, then you'd accept people who have recently recovered from COVID-19, since immunisation after recovery is not worse than that of vaccination; but you don't, as I was explicitly told by HR that any previous infection is irrelevant. It's also significant that you didn't establish clear rules about how often one needs to get vaccinated, since all recent scientific literature on vaccine efficacy shows that this is not a minor detail. Why not just be honest with ourselves, and admit it's just for business? Being open about the fact that having a fully vaccinated workforce can grant us access to more business deals would not change a lot in the practical life of the (ex-)employees, but at least we won't feel that the company is treating us as fools while embellishing its image with fake care and compassion. Or, if there are other reasons, state them, because these ones don't stand up to logic scrutiny.
Another thing that doesn't match (though maybe this is a timing issue, so I cannot for sure call it out as a lie) is the fact that HR claims to have an exemption process through which one could opt-out of the vaccination for religious beliefs. Well, I was explicitly told in very clear terms by HR that no exceptions would be made on either moral or religious grounds. But maybe this has changed since the time I was told this (mid October) and now?
Here, finally, let me state why I believe that such a mandate is wrong. The first thing I want to put on the table is that even though I see very little reason for this mandate (given all what we know about the virus mutability and infectiousness, the shortcomings of the vaccines, etc. — by the way, if you are into science I suggest reading this article which raises some questions you won't hear in mainstream media and has a comprehensive bibliography for further study), I recognize that in principle there are very solid reasons for vaccination mandates, for example in the case where a virus is extremely lethal, its symptoms otherwise uncurable and the vaccine is 100% safe and highly effective. But even in that case, while getting vaccinated myself, I would still oppose a mandate. Why? Because of freedom, which trumps everything. The choice is never between a healthy life and freedom: if there's no freedom, there's no life worth living. Even if some decision has very solid reasons behind it, this doesn't automatically make it a good decision.
Let me make a few examples: if a company (I'm talking about companies here, but the reasoning could be extended to states as well) decided that smokers will be fired, or that those who drink alcoholics will be fired, or that you cannot eat meat, or that you must take a pill whenever your head aches, or that transgender people must undergo gender reassignment surgery, or that everyone should wear a black band on their arm whenever a relative of a colleague dies, or that employees' households must use the product made by the employer, or that they have to excercise sports for at least two hours per week, etc.; I would be categorically opposed to every single of these impositions, despite recognising that there are reasons behind each of them, and that I even dream of a world in which some of their goals are attained (could we just all be fit and healthy?!). Because I think that personal freedom is more important. You can always find good reasons to justify this or that action; surely, if we think back at the fascist and totalitarian regimes of the first half of last century, we must acknowledge that they were supported by the (overwhelming?) majority of the population. An effective propaganda machine could convince the population on this and that matter, but ultimately it's the population who reasoned and accepted that storytelling. Nowadays the situation is different, but the mechanisms are the same, except that propaganda has become way more effective (or have we become dumber?) and aligned over the same direction, thanks to the globalisation process.
I'm well aware that societies are made of rules and therefore inevitably restrict personal freedom: Western societies, for example, forbid nudity in public places, and that's something I accept because it's part of my culture; it's a rule deeply entrenched in our history, and I don't feel it as a burden. I'm convinced, however, that the evolution of human society should be that, as we become more conscious, we should be moving towards more free societies, with fewer rules and more tolerant for diversity.