In the case of any debate, if we come to the table with the presumption that we can make another see things from our view, we lose. Sure, one can win over another who has nothing to stand on, but where is the merit in that? And what does it even mean to win? We cannot impart changes in the philosophical underpinnings of any given human being by force, nor is it for any one of us to decide upon values for another.
One of my favorite quotes from The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is: “Racing is about discipline and intelligence, not about who has the heavier foot.” I think any meaningful discourse requires discipline and intelligence. Inflammatory language and petty attempts to dispel the mess of subjectivity by employing black-and-white so-called logic is nothing more than a heavy foot.
(I believe in logic, but it has to be applied comprehensively. It’s easy to construct an argument from one specific viewpoint and impose constraints and then draw a logical conclusion. But the construct and viewpoints themselves might be flawed, incomplete, more complex than binary, etc. And it’s perfectly necessary and fine to made assumptions, but one should be willing to address the limitations when doing so.)
Discipline and intelligence seem to be missing from much of what I read in the media, particularly on the topic of vaccines. Instead, I observe knee-jerk reactions in the race to broadcast news first, and sensationalized jabs and prose to attract drama-addicted readers. Headlines of Top Ten lists and 500-1000 word write-ups are insufficient when it comes to a topic as complex as vaccines.
When it comes to the contention associated with vaccinating or not and everything in between in this country, the level of vitriol spouted from either side (where the two sides are pro-vax and anti-vax) is… polarizing and unconstructive to say the least.
So much is lost in the vortex of noise and bashing. I perceive important philosophical, ethical and functional topics precipitating out of the Great Vaccine Debate, but find it difficult to engage in meaningful discussion. I’m more likely to find walls or definitive stances. Constructive discourse is amiss.
The most recent example happened today when I saw our pediatrician for the removal of sutures from my two-year-old’s head. She asked if he was up to date on tetanus (for the record, my son fell inside of my house and hit his face on a wooden mail holder that was secured to the wall—not sure why tetanus is a concern), and I explained that he’s not. I asserted that I want my children to be vaccinated for tetanus, but it’s not available on its own. (Tetanus is delivered as a part of Dtap or Tdap, which are combination vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.) Of course I got the look, so I went on to explain that my other son reacted badly to Dtap, and hence I’m not comfortable administering that particular vaccine to my family. The pediatrician commented that it’s really important to have the pertussis vaccine since the outbreak a few years ago, and that while an adult might just get a bad cough, “babies can die.”
I’ll come back to Dtap, explanations and statistics another time, but for now let’s just focus on my son’s pediatrician’s response. Telling me that babies can die (when none of my children are babies anymore) is a rather loaded and silencing thing to say. Here’s how I interpreted it: end of discussion. Heavy foot applied.
Why? If it’s so imperative that these vaccines be administered, why can’t there be a discussion? Why can’t the pediatrician want to know my thoughts and concerns, and try to talk through them with me? I suppose a model of business where the doctor gets approximately six minutes with each patient isn’t particularly conducive to any meaningful discourse. Or maybe she doesn’t like that I’d like to use my brain when making decisions about what happens to my child. I have no way of actually knowing why she wouldn’t discuss it with me because, well, she didn’t and never explained why.
But back to vaccines. I don’t think the issue can be reduced to two sides. There are many shades of gray when it comes to the reasons one might question the merit of a particular vaccine or the safety of it. Grouping all vaccines together when discussing their relevance, safety, etc. is… problematic.
Instead of trying to defend my position (which, by the way, is perfectly dynamic) or diminish those of others, I’m going to simply share my questions and thoughts through a series of blog posts.
Why, if the science is so factual and black-and-white, is there anything to argue about at all when it comes to vaccines?
For one, there is a major philosophical conundrum at large. Two, the Internet and digital publishing era has enabled individuals to take more interest than ever in understanding what’s going on in the world, with themselves, their children, etc. This is both empowering and dangerous. Googling how to perform heart surgery and then cutting someone open isn’t advisable. But reading and studying scientific literature over the course of several years can lead a layman to a fair, high-level understanding of any topic. Frankly I see a parallel between being able to consume information and develop one’s own opinion rather than relying on the opinion of a physician or government official and literacy enabling individuals to read the Bible instead of relying on priests and pastors to read it to them. Three, maybe the science IS black-and-white, but the presentation and consumption of it is not. Four, the dissonance might have more to do with what the objectives are and how the questions are being asked rather than vaccinating or not or anything in between.