HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » nashville_brook » Journal
Page: 1


Profile Information

Gender: Do not display
Hometown: Florida
Current location: Orlando
Member since: Wed Nov 10, 2004, 09:49 AM
Number of posts: 20,958

Journal Archives

Anti-vaxxers are not the enemy: Science, politics and the crisis of authority -- SALON

This is perhaps the best thing I've seen written on the underpinnings of the vaccine controversy. What we're experiencing in this debate is the outcome of the "crisis of authority." No more no less. Today it expresses itself in the realm of vaccination -- tomorrow it will express itself elsewhere -- perhaps we'll be asked to accept a new war. Who knows.

A "crisis of authority" can lead in one of two directions depending on the programming of the people who are dealing with it at the time. If the population is leaning toward authoritarianism, it will lead to more authoritarianism. If the population is leaning is leaning toward enlightenment forms of culture, then the outcome will be better, more efficient problem solving. We've seen this repeated in history, and we're seeing it now in the Middle East.

Vaccines just happen to be a stage where Americans today are declaring their fealty to authority. Tomorrow it will be something else. I wonder what that will be. The TRUTH is that we are lied to ALL THE FREAKING TIME. Why should vaccines (or financial instruments, or the next war, or internet privacy) be any different?

What is for sure is that this is not a scientific argument, and you can tell it's not a scientific argument b/c the one thing that science does that political rhetoric/ideology doesn't do is question itself. That's the whole purpose of science. I find it ironic that those who are on the side of "science" are by definition siding with "faith" on this issue. "Have faith in science" they say.

Well, read on, and see how that might not be entirely rational.


Anti-vaxxers are not the enemy: Science, politics and the crisis of authority

One of the central characteristics of our age Ė which those of us with fancy educations often call the postmodern era, although even that term is starting to feel old Ė is a widespread crisis of authority. It isnít quite true that nobody believes in anything and nobody trusts the experts, as in the rootless world of moral relativism feared by conservatives. Itís more that everybody gets to pick their own beliefs, their own experts and their own evidence...Itís entirely expected for somebody with my media platform to rage against right-wing kooks on television ó or right-wing kooks in elected office, for that matter ó who claim that climate change is a hoax or that vaccinating children against preventable diseases is dangerous and unnecessary. I agree that those people are deluded or misinformed, and in the case of climate denial they are serving as the agents of larger and darker powers. But those issues are not the same, no matter how closely they have become linked in the liberal and conservative hive-minds. For one thing, anti-vaccine sentiment is found across the political spectrum, although itís most common among the libertarian-minded right and the anarchist-minded or New Agey quadrants of the left. Attempts to cram the vaccine issue into the binary discourse of partisan politics or the ďculture warĒ are intellectually lazy, and misrepresent its true significance. Furthermore, the dangers of climate denialism are many orders of magnitude worse than the dangers of anti-vaxxer hysteria, which feels like one of those sideshow issues in American politics thatís really about something else.


Science, properly speaking, does not ďbelieveĒ in itself. Any ethical scientist will tell you that the history of science is a history of doubt and mistakes and accidental discoveries. What is demanded here is not faith in people with white coats and prestigious degrees, who are just as likely to be evil and corrupt as anyone else, but critical thinking (which, by the way, is at the core of the scientific method). I specifically mean the ability to follow the threads of ideas back to their sources, and the ability to ask who benefits and who loses when a certain idea wins out. Thatís a skill that can be learned by anyone, and one that is effectively suppressed in our current educational economy. Itís also the only possible way out of the American impasse around science, and the feedback loop created by the crisis of authority.

Let me try to forestall a few of the angry comments: I am not covertly agreeing with anti-vaxxers, I donít want to give up my smartphone or undo the elimination of smallpox, and I donít assert, after the style of 1970s French philosophy, that there is no such thing as objective reality and that itís all a game of language and ideology. Still, the crisis of authority is a cultural phenomenon, meaning that it really is about language and ideology more than verifiable facts. To insist that ďour sideĒ has access to true facts and legitimate authority, while the other side relies on quacks and charlatans, is not much different from saying that our God is great and yours is a filthy donkey. We may be correct (in either instance), but the case is inherently unprovable in any terms the other side is ever likely to accept.

For the past half-century and more it has largely been the left that has challenged social, cultural and political orthodoxy on white supremacy, the Vietnam War, nuclear power, the oppression of women and LGBT people and the destruction of the environment for profit, among many other things. Until recently, American conservatives saw themselves first and foremost as defenders of authority and moral order, buttresses around a fortress of shared values that was buffeted by a corrosive tide.


Trust in science, my ass. Questioning science is an urgent and necessary aspect of contemporary critical thinking, and the questions that anti-vaxxers start with are entirely legitimate: What are you putting in my kidís body? Is it safe, and is it necessary? Whoís making money off this, and what do we know about them? And even beyond that: Can I trust that you are telling me the truth? My kids have had all their shots, and I believe that people who refuse vaccination are putting together shreds of old anecdote and flawed evidence and conspiratorial ideology to reach a faulty conclusion. As we have recently discovered, this can have unfortunate public health consequences. But I speak for many parents when I say that I donít begrudge those people their doubts, because I have shared them. That last question, which lies at the heart of both the vaccine issue and the entire crisis of authority ó ďWhy should I trust you, after all the lies Iíve been told?Ē ó still gives me a twinge sometimes.
Posted by nashville_brook | Fri Feb 13, 2015, 12:30 PM (90 replies)
Go to Page: 1