Every few weeks my Facebook feed revisits another report from a nutty niche website of a study that definitively proves the debilitating evils of infant, child, and pregnant mother vaccinations. The studies cited are usually recycled from the previous unpersuasive iteration, and Simcha Fisher is usually a reliable antidote to them. The issue usually then boils down to journalistic self-reporting by parents who reject vaccinations, which too often is given a polite pass.*
I’m very sad to report that, as unsavoury as it sounds, testimonial and anecdotal personal experience is the exact opposite of large scale scientific experiment and replication. Those who decide to, in matters of modern medicine, rely on the former instead of the latter are risking a great deal of harm for absolutely unfounded reasons. We need not be scientivists, but in matters of basic biology (yes, this includes evolutionary biology) there is no good reason to oppose a developed line of research with populist nuttery.
In other words, in some affairs it is actually important to diminish one’s personal experience as a parent or whathaveyou. It may sound cold, because it is: this cold attitude is exactly what is needed to understand things of this sort. Our intuitions at a scale of “me and my kiddos” is not a sufficient reason to throw out large scale studies and the devastatingly reliable results of herd immunity and so on.
The most grave and serious problem here, however, is not necessarily scientific. It is the sort of atomistic and individualist creed that could lead otherwise well-intended people to assume that they and their children exist in some sort of a vacuum that puts their medical choice in an exclusively private realm. The fact is that this is not a “me and my kids” sort of affair at all. One’s actions in the “private” will have very public consequences. To be cavalier or to wax sentimental about it bespeaks a toxic state of affairs where a society exists in radical isolation from community and a proper sense of solidarity. In this case it’s not about the dole or other social problems, in this case it is about how our bodies are literally co-dependant on each other for survival, life, and death.
The privatization of the highly social human person is an ideology that inevitably results in fear. Fear of anything eligible for it. New witless collectives of private fear emerge and roll their eyes and post memes on the internet and build a world so self-absorbed, subterranean, and enclosed that the air goes stale and rages boils over into embarrassing leaks for the other cave dwellers to mock, like the Butter Battle of Dr. Seuss. Little do the conservatives and liberals know that they are essentially agreed upon the same exact issues, they are a harmonious and misanthropic chorus of distorted memory and counter-memory — for every anti-vaxer and young earther there is a positivistic scientivist spouting nonsense that is just as dangerous, unfounded, and profoundly indefensible.
There are real comforts in the Catholic ghetto that I know and love and was raised in, but there are also severe dangers. Some of these dangers are more academic and eligible for a long view and dialogue, others are not. Basic vaccinations are of the latter variety, not the former.
*One exception to this is the rare Ilichian anarchist who opposes modern medicine in toto. That is a view that I can respect and even admire, although I ultimately reject it.