Sunday, February 8, 2015
Societal Death Wish
People are stupid, yes it is an unforgivable cliche but the truth is often ugly and resistant to efforts to make it pretty or acceptable. Even worse, the overarching stupidity that is running rampant through our culture does not know any societal, economic, national, religious, or political bounds. About the only thing that makes it all understandable is that only rarely is the human animal able to rise above his or her baser instincts. Despite our accomplishments as a species our vaulted intelligence is only a thin veneer that can quickly vanish like a wisp of smoke, usually when we need it the most.
Some aspects of our stupidity does defy any real logic. Case in point is how the clearly proven science of vaccinations to prevent disease has come under attack by a collection of semi-literate individuals who run around spouting outright lies and half truths. It is almost as if the usual level of human stupidity is actually hiding what amounts to a secret desire to commit collective suicide.
I am writing specifically about the current measles outbreak that started in California at Disneyland and has now spread to dozens of states and moved into Mexico. The root cause for this outbreak can be traced back to certain no talent celebrities and pseudo-authorities who babble on about how vaccinations are far worse than the diseases they are suppose to prevent. While others equally irrational will mouth off about how the big drug companies are just using everyone as unpaid guinea pigs. Like I said, these uninformed and dangerous beliefs cross all boundaries creating some truly bizarre bedfellows.
However, I observed this strange behavior on a more personal level back in 2009. It was during the mild H1N1 flu pandemic and I was sitting in the conference room at work listening to my day shift coworkers discuss the usual issues that affect them when the subject of the annual flu shots came up. While the shots were not mandatory, management had strongly urged everyone get the them as a preventive measure. It seemed reasonable to me and when my time came I would head up to the employee health clinic and do what I believe is my duty. You know, the ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.
That particular year though there was a strong anti-government bias manifesting itself through the country. Case in point for this attitude was one of my coworkers in that meeting who I will call “Wilson.” Yes, the person who I am about to describe leaned heavily to the right of American politics but all you have to do is search the internet for a few short minutes to find plenty of loony liberals who essentially believed the same thing.
Wilson's problem with flu shots was that he didn't want the government telling him what to put in his body. In other words, he was exercising what he thought was his god-given American rights in refusing to have the vaccinations. I have encountered a few others whose opposition to vaccinations comes from a belief that the serums used are toxic and cause autism. As far as the opinion held by Wilson, a change in the occupant in the White House could go far to alter his attitude. But for the people who believe vaccinations are worse than what they are supposed to prevent no amount of clear and legitimate data saying that they are safe and have no connection with any other condition will convince them.
On the surface this is just another example at the woefully inadequate education system in the United States. But if you dig just a little deeper it also shows a degree of arrogance that is positively astounding in its scope. Yes, people on the left and right distrust government, and in some cases those fears are justified, but what I can't wrap my head around is the blatant ignorance.
Namely that if enough people are vaccinated against illnesses like the flu or measles when someone carrying one of those diseases is introduced into a population there is a buffer that either stops the spread cold or slows it enough to allow health officials to control the outbreak. This in turn protects individuals with legitimate health concerns that prevent them from receiving the vaccinations, namely those suffering from compromised immune systems. It is readily apparent from the Disneyland outbreak, and California's allowance of people to op-out of measles vaccinations, that just a few unprotected people can cause a cascade effect spreading a contagious illness like proverbial wildfire.
So if basic science education and commonsense are disregarded by those with an aversion to vaccinations that leave history to call out their stupid behavior. You only have to look at the 1918 Flu Pandemic that killed between three to six percent of the ENTIRE world population at the time leading some to call it “the greatest medical holocaust in history.” But this clear lesson from history runs up against the usual ignorance of the subject and the sensationalism that accompanied the very mild 2009 flu pandemic.
About the only thing that I can fallback on to explain the prevalent behavior these days is a quote from Aldous Huxley: “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.” The problem here is that with easy global travel and porous national borders any contagious and deadly illness will run rampant through the world. Epidemiologists will tell you the world is due for another deadly pandemic on the scale of the 1918 flu outbreak. The clear irrational stupidity of our age is that even with illnesses we can control we seem intent on letting them run wild as well.