I scroll through facebook and see many, many stories about how people are not vaccinating their kids, and how those people are stupid. Facebook is maybe the strongest link I have back to America, and I love the tide of arguments and topics that swirl up every so often. Facebook has become a public forum, much like the Greek agora, but without togas or lots of people selling pots of olive oil.
[When in Greece (we took a brief trip to greece last week) we bought kalamata olives out of the back of someone's truck on a Thessaloniki city street, and they tasted exactly like olive oil, made solid. They were outstanding. They had a pleasant texture. This is sort of unrelated, but I thought I'd share it anyways. I like olives.]
So anyways. The waxing topic right now is vaccines. Though I find myself surprised that people don’t vaccinate their kids, what’s going on in America that I see it all the time on my feed? It’s strange living abroad, seeing what people are talking about and not at all understanding the context. Maybe there’s like a measles outbreak, and that several normally preventable diseases have come back. Something like that.
The idea of "vaccines" got linked to "THE GOVERNMENT is FORCING people to DO a THING" and the idea of "it has ~~*t*o*X**i**N**z**~~" and these together I think fuel the pistons of the anti-vaccine movement. Right? [Again, you guys have to correct me. I live in a country where going outside with wet hair will cause you to get sick, and doctors are unquestionably trusted, yet prescribe penicillin like it's Pez.] There’s also the fear like, what if my baby has an allergy to the vaccine and drops dead? Which though unlikely could actually happen, and it would be nice if there were some way to take for instance a lil sample of baby fingernail and put it in the magical science washing machine on "spin cycle" and then the doctors can read the little receipt that squirts out the side, and say, "well shit! he’s got the measles-vaccine-death allergy! Sorry mom, we can’t vaccinate your baby!" and then mom would say, "crap! now I will invest in my neighborhood witch doctor, Florence, who will sell me many wonderful talismans." This mom will go off and buy six different kind of maraca carved from hollowed-out oak root and filled with rice from the Dollar Store, and have a little party, shaking maracas in her happy Santa Cruz home, and maybe buy some balloons for the baby’s witch doctor maraca party. Florence comes over for some cake, and they talk about Obama and how he’s Truly Out Of Fucks To Give!! or something. <–anyways. no such machine exists, so parents are still asked to risk allergic reaction and guarantee their baby won’t measle out at age 7. That’s pretty reasonable, right? It’s like the I-hope-a-helicopter-doesn’t-fall-on-my-head-today logic. That sort of anxiety just sort of pulses beneath normal human life and you just gotta feel it and move on, or go nuts.
But if the people who don’t vaccinate their children are as intransigent as I am, we have ourselves a standoff. This is a particular American freedom. Call it, "the right of the individual to know better."
I went through this phase in high school (and, to be brutally honest with myself, at least half of college) where I was convinced that everyone else was wrong and only I had a clear perception of the truth, and thus the path to winning arguments was convincing other people that they were wrong. It was a useful fiction for awhile, until I was given a moment of objectivity and realized I’m an egoistic schmuck who just has this burning need to be right all the time. (There is no getting over this need. It’s a recurring part of who I am.) Doing Facebook arguments is a favorite way of mine to feed the ego, i.e. yelling at strangers on the internet.** It feels great to be right.
Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any connection between feeling right and convincing people to vaccinate their children, or whatever. Feeling right is what caused this problem in the first place.
America is in a bit of a weird spot. There is no universally trustworthy source of expert information anymore. Should you choose, you can live your entire life surrounded by news that only confirms your point of view. On the right, Fox news spreads fear-based paranoia and attaches concepts like patriotism or liberty to things they like, and sneakiness and cowardice to things they don’t. The left has MSNBC and Bill Maher and Jon Stewart* and the concept of rationality, and uses the intellect as a weapon to produce a consensus.
I guarantee you, the people who don’t vaccinate their children feel like they’re brave and rebellious for standing up to a vocal majority calling them stupid, they feel as if they have some evidence that proves them right. It doesn’t matter that the autism/vaccine link is bunk. I really, really, really wish it did matter, but we live in a media-saturated world where nobody has a permanent bead on the truth.
Your homework is to think on the question: Why do we Americans love consensus so much? Then, find one person who you think is really stupid and do your best to empathize with them–do your best to understand why they believe what they do, and justify their belief in that thing. Endure a non-consensus. Remember that we are all just large dogs, driving cars and running in the park and living in big dog houses in the suburbs and barking at each other. I will also do this and tell you about it.
*(Of course, I vastly prefer Jon Stewart, because I love it and I agree with most of what he has to say so I want to soften any criticism of him because he is a thoughtful and careful individual, who is also really fucking funny. But I do see a clip from Jon Stewart posted as a chip in an argument occasionally. Bill Maher on the other hand is a smug little shit.)
**additionally, Facebook might be one of the last few places which serve as a genuine platform of non-consensus, an online Greek agora. Living in media bubbles as we do, and never really discussing hard things in public, this leaves the impersonality of just writing things to people who are different over the internet. This shit is vital for democracy.