Your Toxic Perspective (On Vaccines) Actually Might Kill You
We are in the middle of an epidemic.
I looked up the definition of that word because I wanted to make sure I’m using it correctly. I know how voices on the internet are given to exaggeration.
Yep, it’s an epidemic.
We have decided to come to our own conclusions.
Here’s a fun game: Google “The truth about…” and let the auto-complete give you suggestions. Or perhaps “What they don’t want you to know about…” Or simply put, “the hidden agenda behind…”
You’re going to get billions of results. And many of them are going to “reveal” vastly different perceptions of the world.
Perhaps, if you have hours to kill, just fall down the rabbit hole of all the weird footage people have jammed together on Youtube. Lizard people. Secret government laboratories. You’re going to run into the Illuminati quite a few times–I guarantee it.
Obviously there’s something fun about the various conspiracies you can find on the internet. And I’m not above admitting some of the videos have given me chills. But if you dig down a layer, past the superficial controversies over which celebrity sold their soul to the devil first, you get into much more difficult territory.
Religion and theology.
The financial crisis.
I’ll play my hand right away. My wife and I are having a baby within the month. In our day and age, you prepare by painting the baby’s room and finding the right car seat. Then all of the sudden, you feel all this pressure to form an opinion about vaccines.
I remember one time, my mom gave me the classic rhetorical question to dig at the peer pressure I was feeling: “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” It was tough for me to answer, because I was already a teenager and I had seen enough sweet videos of extreme sports guys jumping off bridges. I could only come up with, “…It depends?”
Only this time, it’s not my life I’m choosing for. And the peer pressure is way worse.
I’m not going to lie: it feels scary and daunting. It doesn’t matter how much reading I do–there’s always more information out there. There are a million blogs about the subject and they all brag about their “common sense”. They cite studies I don’t know how to read, which other websites then refute. They spout off opinions with righteous certainty. I find myself taking a nose-dive into a black hole of hyperlinks. When do I pull up and make an opinion? When can I consider myself informed?
How do I make myself… "right"?
The whole time I focus on these issues, I just get more and more frustrated. I’m uncomfortable there isn’t consensus on important issues (although both sides of all the major debates claim there is, and that it falls in their favour.)
More specifically, I’m angry because I think we’ve built a world of ideas and it’s fundamentally flawed. People are arguing and flaming out over all sorts of things. They’re loud and self-righteous.
And they only trust themselves.
Here are some ways this hurts our desire to understand the truth.
First, there’s the matter of the facts themselves. We live in the information age and we’re flooded with “research”.
Here’s the thing: intelligent, rational people disagree over major issues. Now they put all of their perspectives and findings on the internet. It’s unlike any other time in history. Before, if you wanted so many diverse truths this quickly, you’d have to walk around a big city with your hands open to take any stranger’s tract or pamphlet. Now, you just have to spend a few minutes on Facebook.
If you’re actually going to wade into these waters and form an opinion, you’ll first have to decide how to go about gathering information.
Everyone tells you to “Do Your Own Research”.
Now, when people say this, they mean a very specific thing. They don’t mean: “Get funding to gather a control group and an experimental group under rigorous conditions, and then publish your findings in a journal.” No, they actually mean, “Read the websites and books I’ve read, and then join me in my conclusion.” Rarer, more open-minded folks will consider the possibility you’ll come to the opposite view they did. Most people who ask you to “do the research” consider their opinion to be the only logical endpoint, if you’ve looked at the same thing they have. Especially in the comments section.
Very few people respect each other online. It takes incredible effort, really. We have years of experience being patient with ourselves, and we’re a fair judge of our own character. But all we have, from the other person, is their ideas–if we’re lucky, their profile picture is beside those ideas. But the complexity of the human experience is stripped away. No matter how much personality we try to give our online communities, we’re stuck in the Uncanny Valley of human interaction. We judge other people based on their words and we judge ourselves based on our motives. Things can escalate rather quickly when we forget to relate to the humanity in the people who disagree with us.
THE NITTY GRITTY
Then, of course, there is the challenge of the ideas we’re calling into question. The information part of the Information Age is so extensive, we can build a case about anything. Have you heard that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim with a secret agenda to destroy America? Have you heard how 9/11 was predicted by hidden foreshadowing in Back to the Future? Have you looked into the truth about how Stevie Wonder isn’t blind?
No? You should do some research.
Pick a topic, and find an opinion. I guarantee there’s someone on the internet who opposes your view. They aren’t coming to the party uninformed-they have done their homework and built a strong case about it. Good luck trying to form an objective viewpoint about anything.
We struggle with opposing viewpoints because it’s human nature to become entrenched in our positions. Human consciousness, like a stream, follows the path of least resistance. When I’m presented with new information, I want to do the least amount of work possible to disturb the perspective I already have. It’s natural to first exclude new evidence, then minimize its importance, then accept it with reluctant reservation.
Even after confessing we’re “wrong” on a matter, we’ll shuffle the deck to make our wrongs not matter.
We just don’t like to change our mind or heart, really. We hate repentance, in the truest sense of the word.
There’s a deeper mystery at play here: the illusion of a consistent sense of self. Whether you admit it or not, your perspective becomes part of who you are! When growth involves change, we feel a deep sense of loss when something we believed becomes suspect.
If our conscious sense of self is a river, then we like to think of the “truth” as a range of mountains: fixed, immovable, and absolute. Sure, you can look at it from different angles, but the “facts of the matter” are largely the same. We’re willing to bend our minds around big concepts that fall right in the way of our thinking: right and wrong, good and evil. Is ISIS a good organization, or an evil one? Well, their people have beheaded eight-year-olds. That fact, as a mountain, quickly changes our perspective. The river moves around it.
But truth isn’t always a mountain. Truth, more often than not, is like a forest. It’s hard to tell the boundaries where it starts and stops. It’s full of individual facts and figures that have to be respected individually and then seen as a whole. It grows over time. Truth lets the river of our perception run right through it, too.
If truth is a forest, it’s a lot more difficult to receive. First of all, every new bit of information makes subtle changes in our perspective–just as every tree can reform the water’s edge. We’re going to be a lot less certain, much more often. Also, you can’t see all of the forest when you’re in the middle of it. There are matters far out of your line of sight.
Do you presume that every leaf is going to be the same as the one you’re looking at?
Most importantly, we’ll become humbled by the subtlety of truth. We can let the rushing river rage until the forest backs away from our banks… or we can let our thinking twist and turn around each trunk. Are you willing to be wrong? Are you willing to reform your opinion, over and back again?
What would it take for you to embrace the opposite view than the one you have now–or is this even possible for you?
Here is the most difficult part: your stream of consciousness doesn’t exist all by itself. We like to think we control the edges of our rivers, and we convince ourselves that we get to decide what we believe. We are far more susceptible to others than we ever could’ve imagined. This independent fact-finding, this “internet research”, this soil of mistrust–it’s all built on the lie that we can make an independent perspective.
You cannot make up your mind on your own.
You can only decide who you’re going to trust.
You see, streams and rivers have to flow out of somewhere. You didn’t create the first language you spoke–your parents and your family taught it to you. You didn’t decide what to believe about God, and what not to believe, without other people telling you what they believed. Self, by itself, is a mirage. Sure, you might be the CEO of Self Enterprises, making your brain’s bottom line decision–but you’re fooling yourself if you think you don’t have a board of trustees.
When you’re humble enough to admit how impossible independence is, you can finally make decisions about who to trust. When you know where the river is coming from, you can influence which tributary your thinking flows into, as well. You can contribute, because you know who is contributing to you.
This is the real conspiracy on how the world actually works. The flame wars and controversial opinions on the internet will never resolve anything because people haven’t gathered around facts and ideas–they’ve gathered around the voices they trust.
Allow me to commit "blog suicide" by using vaccines as an example!
If you believe Big Pharma is the enemy, then you won’t even consider their studies or breakthroughs. If you think Naturopaths are quacks, then you won’t legitimately consider their line of questioning without having predetermined the answer.
I’m not saying there aren’t any “right” or “wrong” opinions out there–even on the vaccination issue. I’m saying we won’t find real answers until we acknowledge the camps we’re in. If the science behind herd immunity is legitimate, then people who refuse to vaccinate their kids would be endangering the broader population. If vaccinations are ever linked to diseases and disorders in a definitive sense, then the people who have been using those vaccinations might have endangered themselves and others, too. (Of course, because it’s impossible to prove a negative, vaccines will continue to be scrutinized for a long, long time.)
I can stab a guess about the truth of the vaccination issue, and many other controversial subjects on the internet: the facts are more “forest” than they are “mountain”. It’s much more complicated than the conflict and vitriol would suggest. The truth is kind of like the Benghazi controversy–even when there is a conspiracy, it’s much more boring and nuanced than the people who care would care to suggest. (Of course, you can head to the comments section to find out how wrong I am, and how obvious this whole thing is, and how stupid it is that anybody believes different. And then you can decide whether or not you want to trust them.)
This culture of independence has made us highly suspicious of the people who deserve our trust. We might not eat the whole of every conspiracy, but we’ll nibble at the plate here and there. It helps us rationalize our lack of trust.
“If that sort of thing is happening on the surface, you just *know* something worse is going on behind the scenes!”
No, you don’t. You’re making a judgement. Sure, worse things could be happening behind the scenes. Better things could be happening, too. You’re giving your suspicions a free pass! Nobody can hold this kind of speculation accountable. What gives you the right to have such a negative disposition about the world, anyway?
“That’s just the way it is with (insert leader/profession here: doctors, pastors, scientists, politicians.) They manipulate the masses and force everyone to buy into their foolish ways!”
No, they don’t. To dismiss an entire working class of people in such a broad, caustic way is ignorant. You’re looking for a scapegoat, because you’re struggling with the fact some healthy people think differently than you do. There are bad doctors and unethical scientists and controlling church leaders. But when you generalize, you’re only trying ratify your rebellion. And you’re dismissing a portion of people who only got into their line of leadership because of a genuine desire to help.
“The world is run by (money, power, control, religious idiots, the elite, the law of attraction, bank cartels, lizard people)!”
Only if you see it that way. For the love of God, admit your confirmation bias! If you look for the evidence of what you already believe, you will find it. The world wasn’t waiting around for you to summarize it in a sentence. Generalizations are the rapids in the river of your consciousness. You either move through them quick or you get sucked under and drown. You can use your own broad sweeping statements to find who you trust, though: “where did I get the idea that all (insert stereotype) are bad drivers, anyway?”
“Your opinion is invalid because you haven’t read/studied/seen what I have.”
Have you ever been on the internet? Then you know you haven’t read it all, either. Information fractals out of control when it’s being used as a weapon. To dismiss someone else’s perspective because they aren’t as “well read” as you is to claim that you alone are the standard for the appropriate amount of research (as someone has most certainly done more reading than you have.) You are entitled to have an opinion in the midst of your ignorance, as dangerous as this can be. The goal is to have humility about your ignorance.
Begin looking through your internal files. Weigh your own opinions, and ask yourself these simple questions:
“who am I trusting?”
“who should I trust?”
Let’s be practical. If you think most vaccine specialists are in the pocket of “Big Pharma”, you’re not going to listen to mainstream medical advice. But can you afford to keep the medical community under such constant scrutiny? Your own personal experience, combined with strong anecdotal evidence, has created a high degree of trust in alternative medicine. But can you find someone who is thoughtful and reasonable from the mainstream medical community–who disagrees with you–and trust them? If you can’t, then how can you trust yourself?
On the other hand, if you trust the medical community without ever questioning what they’re prescribing, or what conclusions their tests are drawing, you’ll end up parroting an awful lot of vague “headline” opinions. Isn’t it scientific to question the evidence? Just because vaccinations are the most scrutinized topic in modern times doesn't mean we should take whatever we’ve been told to take without inquiry.
Really. Who do you trust?
There has never been a better time to flaunt your “independent thinking”. Mistrust flourishes like a well-rooted weed. Pretty soon your lawn is covered in dandelions. People stream their opinions in real-time over all the airwaves, and here you are in the middle of the mess. People really are dying, out there looking for truth. It's the mistrust that kills them.
You aren’t going to find the one unquestionable truth of the matter. But you also aren’t going to get anywhere if you don’t identify who you’re walking with. This is always going to be complex. In the midst of everybody else’s diatribes, you can be humble enough to admit you’re already coming from somewhere.
You can make it through the white noise, if you come to sensible conclusions about who you should trust. And you will carry unique serenity if you trust someone beyond yourself. Don’t let your independence lead you off the lonely side of a bridge.