I was thinking again about the vaccine issues and wondering how we arrived at this junction in which our vaccination rate is lower than many other nations, including Third World nations. Frankly, I have decided that it was a perfect storm. It was a mixture of misguided libertarianism (not all libertarianism is misguided, I have a certain affinity to various libertarian viewpoints), a failure by conservative Christians to support science due to the fights over evolution, and the type of hubris found among well-educated upper-class parents that allows them to believe that they can judge everything, even when they do not have a background in it.
At its best libertarianism reminds us that government is not a necessary part of every facet of our lives, and that individual freedoms should have a high priority. At its worst, libertarianism has an unthinking antipathy toward government that blinds them to those areas in which government has an almost necessary part in any modern society. In the area of vaccines, the unthinking part of libertarianism has spent too much time saying that it is an individual’s right to refuse vaccination for them and for their children. Unfortunately, when it comes to vaccines, herd immunity is the way in which society best protects itself from epidemics of preventable diseases. The failure of that type of libertarian to recognize that this is an area in which society needs to take a certain precedence over the individual has led them to support a stance that almost guarantees what has begun to happen, an epidemic.
At its best, conservative Christianity bears the Word of God and gives witness to it by word, sacrament, and behavior. It points out that science has limitations and that the experimental method used in science cannot speak to every facet of human existence. At its worst, conservative Christianity can misspend so much time pointing out possible gaps and possible illogical statements by science that they end up promoting an anti-science attitude. Every conservative Christian apologist I have read points out that science does have a realm in which it functions well. However, in practice, that realm is never clearly defined. Rather, the scorched earth approach of the Young Earth Creationists, and the takeover of Intelligent Design by them in the 1990’s clearly left the impression among many Christians that science is not to be trusted. By failing to clearly support science in the realms in which science does provide a valuable service to society, those type of conservative Christians weakened support for the type of scientific studies that have continued to show the importance of continued vaccination of the society and the low low rate of side-effects by modern vaccines.
At its best well-educated (often upper-class) people can provide a pool of readily available talent that is important to society. There clearly are talented people in other groups. However, their talent is often not readily available, as they may be mired in poverty, or not have access to good schools, etc. Our society needs to fix that problem. However, the problem with upper-class people is often the hubris they develop that allows them to see themselves as more important than other parts of society. With that hubris goes the idea that they have a right to pass judgment on nearly any subject. Being educated, one would think that they would recognize those areas in which they are not educated. But the hubris is that advanced education in one area makes them fit to pronounce in all areas. Among this group are some of the lowest vaccination rates in America.
Between the three groups, a perfect storm has come up. From the libertarians comes the push for the individual right to refuse your children’s vaccinations, from the conservative Christians comes the mistrust of science that leads one to disbelieve even the most soundly founded theories, from the often-liberal well-educated upper-class groups comes the hubris that my judgment on science is on a par with the judgment of trained peer-reviewed scientists.
p align=”justify”>That perfect storm is just beginning to play out in the USA. Measles will not be the last epidemic. It is merely the first.