Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


The younger you are, the more likely you are to believe vaccines are a matter of personal choice and not public health.  Some of this has to do with the broad, poorly-thought-out Libertarianism of the Millenials.  But I also think something else is going on and it ties in with the recent Chait trolling on political correctness.

The more I look at both PC outrage and anti-vaxxers, I see the problem of prosperity.

Now, to be clear, prosperity is not broadly shared and that leads to a great deal of status anxiety among middle class and working class Americans.  We define our level of prosperity relatively, not absolutely, and we do so relative to our neighbors, not the global masses.

But in an absolute sense, we have moved as a culture from what are called "survival values" to more post-modern values.  The vast majority no longer fear starvation, homelessness, epidemic or war.  It's simply not a reality we deal with in 21st century America.

And since we are evolutionarily hard-wired for fear, we tend to create it where it doesn't exist. This is why The Walking Dead and InfoWars are both popular.  We have lost our sense of perspective on what's really dangerous.  We fret about someone abducting our child, when we should really worry about the immense amount of shit we feed them.  We worry about Ebola but not the measles.

I grew up legitimately fearful that the world would end in a nuclear holocaust.  During the Able Archer exercise in 1983, we came pretty damned close.  The Reagan years were a time of dread at the periphery of our vision.

Millenials have grown up under the threat of 9/11.  But the thing about terrorism - and ISIL realizes this better than anyone - is that its impact is out of proportion to its threat.  It's weapon is fear, not death (though death is a means to this fear).  The Islamic State has mastered this language of fear by executing people on YouTube.  I haven't kept count, but I think the number of people killed for video consumption is around 10, give or take.

I don't mean to negate the suffering of the families involved, but that's a small number.  Boko Haram kills that many people by accident in a busy day.

And so Millenials - living in a really warped world of fear - have come to see things like vaccines as threats, because they don't understand what measles looks like.  Having eradicated the true threat, we are left to create new ones.

I often wonder what would have happened if 9/11 hadn't happened.  If you take the combined traffic fatalities of Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, you'd roughly approach the loss of life on 9/11.  But that event worked as Bin Laden intended, because we have become captured by outsized fears.  We even went so far as to invade the wrong country to assuage those fears.  Smoking guns...mushroom clouds.

The fact that Millenials in particular have seized on the vaccine myths is not really surprising in this light.

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