Recently, several friends have posted comments on Facebook trying to make sense about the underlying issues around vaccines. It has become a much bigger discussion today after comments by Gov. Christie and Sen. Paul about whether or not vaccines should be required.
One friend on Facebook asked why Republicans were pandering to the anti-vaccine crowd. I suggested two reasons
1) Republicans seem to be focused on anti-science policies in general, e.g. Teaching creationism, climate change denial, anti-vax, etc.
2) Republicans seem to be focused on individual freedoms at the expense of the common good. This is another key aspect of the vaccination debate.
There’s not much that can be said about the anti-science position of too many Republicans. However, the struggle between individual freedoms and our responsibility to the common good is a big issue which muddies the discussion around vaccines. Large pharmaceutical companies are viewed with much suspicion. Many believe that heads of these companies lobby hard for their freedoms and the expense of the common good. They suggest that a better way of addressing concerns around vaccines might best be addressed by getting the large pharmaceutical companies under control. People presenting this argument of also talk about the proliferation of toxins in our environment.
There is also the issue that many people are stubborn. They will refuse to do what is in their best interest if they feel they are being forced to do it.
Another person on Facebook, perhaps recognizing this dynamic, questioned the utility of people posting pro-vaccine messages on Facebook. Those messages are very unlikely to change the opinion of people opposed to vaccines. I pointed out, however, that people who are opposed to vaccines might not be the intended audience of pro-vaccine messages. Instead, there is something important about getting a pro-vaccine message out for those who haven’t really thought about the issue. If all they hear is the anti-vaccine rhetoric, they might come get to a point of opposing vaccines, without ever hearing the flaws of the anti-vaccine position, or the vast support for vaccines.
I suspect there might also be some perfect enemy of the good thinking going on here. Yes, in rare cases vaccines can cause complications. Yes, in rare cases vaccines don’t protect the individual who has received the vaccine. It is frightening to look at the risks we all encounter, but it is important to compare relative risks and chose risks that are more likely to have a beneficial outcome, or less likely to have a negative outcome. We need to do this as individuals, and we need to do this as members of society.
So, I stay up to date on my vaccines because I believe it is the best thing to do for me as well as for the people around me.
It is easy, as a politically engaged person, to wonder how other people cannot be politically engaged. This evening, I sat down to write about bills currently being considered in the CT State Legislature, and maybe comment on some Federal legislation, and, if I had energy, talk a little bit about the latest in town politics. There is so much to write about.
Yet it has been another long hard day, and I don’t have the energy to write that post. It is a useful reminder of how people cannot not have the time or energy to become more involved politically.
I do spend time trying to balance out my writing, my studies, my work, my tasks around the house, my responsibilities to various committees I serve on and at times, it just seems as if there isn’t enough time.
It begs the question, what really does matter? I think that’s a useful question to ask. I find I ask it of people in political discussions. For many, it seems to be a question of getting ahead, or simply not falling further behind. Underlying that is the question of who is getting ahead or not. Are we concerned about ourselves? Our neighbors? Our country?
Back to social constructs and the social contract, at least when there is time to think about such things.
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence, are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.
At vestry this evening, we talked about our church’s budget, the upcoming annual meeting and how all of this relates to our hopes and aspirations, to that vision thing. Driving home, I listened to some of the State of the Union speech, and I suspect any parts of that vision thing in the speech will get lost behind the partisan rancor.
It seems as if we are losing sight of that vision thing, that oratory is getting lost. I won’t comment on the budget President Obama will be presenting. I won’t comment on the budget the vestry has approved.
Instead, let me reflect on a comment at vestry. One person talked about how budgets and visions are not separate things. Budgets are moral documents. They reflect what we really believe. Budgets should be how we pursue our visions. Instead, too many people’s visions seem to be only about specific budgets.
Our vision needs to include those around us, those that are different from us, and those that shall cross from shore to shore years hence.
Time to clear out some of those tabs I’ve left open. On Facebook this morning, upon seeing that a friend had changed his profile picture to say, “Je Suis Charlie”, I summed up my thoughts with
You know, if someone shoots up the Westboro Baptist Church some day, as much as I support freedom of speech, even for them, and as much as I abhor gun violence, I will not post on my Facebook Wall "I am the Westboro Baptist Church".
Another person posted a link to an article about Pope Francis’ words on freedom of speech, which started a lively discussion. On that one I added,
While we must strongly defend freedom of speech, even the freedom to say really stupid or hurtful things, that freedom doesn't mean that it is necessarily wise to say stupid or hurtful things. As one friend once said, the freedom to be an asshole doesn't mean you have to be an asshole.
Instead, we should be looking at what our intent is and what the impact is. For example, do we post cartoons of Mohammed with the intent of curtailing extremist violence? Is that the impact we are really having?
The other day, Susan Campbell shared a blog post, asking What means “freedom of speech?”, pointing to a BBC post about Muslim girls being hugged by members of a K-Pop band I don’t know Muslim traditions that well, but my understanding is that it is not acceptable for Muslim women to be hugged by men that are not their husbands. The girls, and the K-Pop band members acted in ways unacceptable to the girls culture.
One of the things I’ve been focusing on, is trying to better understand other cultures. So, on my reading list is Being Muslim in France by the Brookings Institute.
As I think about this, my mind wanders to the Amish, with their Ordnung, which is perhaps the equivalence of Sharia law. What is the relationship between Amish ‘Demut’ and Muslim modesty?
The key idea for me is to focus on understanding and accepting other people’s cultures. As an aside, I sang at a Jewish service honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. on Friday night. Besides the Jewish prayers, there were Muslin prayers, Bahai prayers, as well as a wide representation of Christian traditions, including Catholic, Episcopalian, Congregationalist, and Quaker.
Another friend posted a link to 7 cultural concepts we don't have in the U.S.. There are ideas of embracing the imperfect, continuous change, of innovative fixes. There are ideas of valuing time outside in nature and of togetherness inside.
In response to an article in the American Bar Association Journal, Parents investigated for allowing their 'free-range' kids to walk home alone, I posted:
I walked to and from the bus stop a quarter of a mile away every day starting in kindergarten. And when I got home I was free to wander the neighborhood and surrounding woods. It wasn't until I was about seven that I started exploring the whole town on foot and bike by myself.
If a neighborhood isn’t safe enough for a ten year old and six year old to walk in, then we need to make the neighborhood safer. And, here I reflect back on my work in health care, we probably should be encouraging everyone, parents and kids, to get out and walk more often in their neighborhoods.
Another window I have open is The Long Memory – Loafer’s Glory: The Hobo Jungle of the Mind by Utah Philips. It is an incredible collection of recording by Utah Philips that a friend posted about on Facebook. The friend had set listening to all of this as a goal for 2015. I’m going to try as well.
Recently, there has been a cluster of earthquakes around Connecticut, so a few tabs that I have open are related to that. I like looking at the USGS Earthquake Map. Particularly, I like zooming to my location, and then setting the options to show the past months earthquakes nearby. When I zoom to my location, I note my current latitude and longitude.
I click on the little gear in the upper right corner of my screen, and then click on Search Earthquake Archives, I set the minimum magnitude down to 1, and then set a rectangular geographic region to be a few degrees on either side of where I am. For example, if my location is 41.741°N 71.888°W. I might set the region to be from 40 to 42 degrees North and 72 to 70 degrees west. (Note to indicate west, instead of east for the longitude, use a negative value, e.g. -72 to -70)
Another page that I like is the Latitude/Longitude Distance Calculator from the National Hurricane Center. Knowing my own geo coordinates and those of the earthquake, I can calculate how far they were from where I was. The latest bactch were about 65 miles away. There are a few good geocoders out there if you want to find the coordinates for other locations, like http://geocoder.us/
Recently, a friends on Facebook have been criticizing Pope Francis’ comments about Charlie Hebdo, Pope Francis said there are limits to freedom of speech. One friend, a vocal atheist, who generally likes what Pope Francis is saying
Why on earth is it that a belief with no evidence is less challengeable than one with a mountain of evidence to support it?
One person, Lisa, responded, Questioning is way different than taunting. I responded:
I find myself more closely aligned to Lisa's perspective. For those who don't know me, I'm an active Episcopalian involved in interfaith dialogs. Faith is something that should be questioned. We should have constructive dialogs about belief structures. But mocking another person’s beliefs is not a constructive dialog. It is picking a fight.
I'm all for free speech, but with any freedom comes responsibility. When you speak, what are you trying to do? Are you trying to change someone else's opinion? To start a fight? To be funny?
More importantly, beyond intent, what is the likely impact? I think this is especially important for all of my evidence based friends. What evidence is there that your words are going to be beneficial and what evidence is there that your words are going to cause unnecessary violence?
I think if we look at trying to avoid encouraging unnecessary violence, we may find that avoiding mocking other faith structures, and instead trying to understand them, find mutual ground, and then work towards de-escalating violence is much more beneficial.
Later, a friend shared As a Muslim, I’m fed up with the hypocrisy of the free speech fundamentalists.
To that discussion, I added,
The question becomes how do we wield the pen most effectively to prevent violence? Do cartoons of Mohammed help prevent violence, or does it incite violence? Free speech is a great starting point, but we need to look further as to having the post positive impact with free speech.
I’ve titled this blog post, “Responding to the Anti-Speech Control Crowd” to link this discussion to the discussion of Gun Control. How do we talk about free speech, while at the same time advocating for the responsible use of that speech?