We’re Trying to Have a Civilization Here!

I’m not by nature an alarmist, but I have to admit that I’m worried.  In the movies and TV, the end of the world (or at least the end of the world as we know it.  Cue up the REM.) is generally caused by a sudden and massive catastrophe.  Maybe it’s a nuclear holocaust, an asteroid strike, or, as is in vogue lately, a zombie apocalypse.

The reality, I fear, may be much more mundane.  Our society may end simply because people stop caring about other enough to be in one.  The title of this post comes from a line in an episode of Seinfeld, and it very succinctly gets across my frustration at seeing people actively fighting against things I believe are part of our societal compact.

As much as some of us might wish that it were not so, humans generally live together in groups.  Those groups, whether formed by necessity, choice, or just the inability to get away, require rules to function.  We have laws to handle part of that; however, there are broader forces in a human society that determine what is important to that society. 

It’s not perfect, of course.  Not everyone will agree on everything, but eventually, if a strong enough consensus is formed, a particular behavior, way of being, rule, etc. becomes a social norm.  These can change over time as the world, technology, knowledge, and societal roles change.  This isn’t without conflict, though.  There are many examples in the United States currently.  We’re having arguments about what should be taught in schools, whether public education should exist at all, how much help (if any) we should provide to those less fortunate and who should provide it, and who can get married.

These aren’t necessarily bad discussions to be having.  I thought a few of them were settled.  (Believe me, I was very surprised to find out that there are those who don’t believe we have a societal interest in educating our children.)  I certainly have my opinions on these issues, and, since I’m right, I expect that my point of view will win out in the end. 

These issues are important to the functioning of a society, but we can tolerate debate on them.  In other areas, though, we cannot allow health and safety to become an opinion to be debated.  You may have figured out where I’m going by now. 

Yep, it’s time for a vaccinations rant.

As the recent measles outbreak at Disneyland shows, the decision some parents have made to not vaccinate their children has real world consequences.  I’ve seen their reasoning.  Many of them believe that they are keeping their kids safer because, according to a study, vaccinations cause autism.  They don’t.  That study and the man behind it have been thoroughly discredited.  Unfortunately, the damage has been done, and once people make up their minds about something, it’s distressingly difficult to get them to see reason.  When faced with overwhelming evidence that they are wrong, humans have a tendency to dig in their heels even further.

But just because I can’t stop hoping that people can still be convinced with faced with the facts, I point you to this entertaining and informative explanation of vaccines, why they work, and why you need them:

VACCINES WORK

Penn & Teller present the argument a bit more forcefully HERE

But then there are people like THIS GUY.  For those who don’t want to follow the link, I’ll summarize.  An Arizona cardiologist who refuses to vaccinate his kids because they are “pure” is perfectly okay with his actions causing the deaths of others.  Let me pull out the quote that scares the crap out of me: “It’s not my responsibility to be protecting their child.”

Actually, it is.  That’s why this is a civilization.  We live together, sometimes, as is true in cities, in close quarters.  As such, our actions can affect our neighbors.  If we live in an apartment building and I blare my music at 3AM, you can call the cops on me.  I haven’t physically harmed you at all, but we have decided reasonable noise levels are something to be encouraged and enforced.  Public health should be the same.

With vaccinations, we’re talking about a scientifically-proven, incredibly effective, and SAFE way to prevent horrible diseases and potentially death.  Just look at the chart in THIS ARTICLE.  Diptheria – GONE!  Polio – GONE!  Smallpox – GONE!  And many other devastating conditions have been reduced by up to 99%.  A few months ago, people went absolutely crazy because of a few cases of ebola, but we’re willing to stand by and allow other terrible conditions that we can prevent to come back and attack our population?

Maybe we’ve had it too good.  People have forgotten how awful these diseases were.  As I kid, I knew an older woman who was unable to walk due to polio.  I am glad that it’s something that has been eradicated from this country.

Or it had been.

This is why I’m worried.  When we’ve reached the point that large numbers of people in a society don’t care what happens to anyone else as long as they get aren’t harmed or even inconvenienced, how long can that society go on before it completely breaks down?  When we’re so callous that we feel that sick kids, the elderly, and others who are immunocompromised should just die rather than doing what we can to protect them from preventable and life-threatening diseases, what business do we have calling ourselves civilized?

Vaccinating your kids isn’t a choice to be made.  It’s basic preventative care.  They work.  They’re safe.  And they save lives.  It’s that simple.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter