I received an email last week from someone who didn’t care for the article “You Gotta Believe” that I had published in UTNE a few weeks ago. Here is a snippet from her critique:
“You just toe the government line and convince people that yes everything there government says is true, that 911 was caused by arabs, and that vaccination doesn’t kill people.”
As I said, that’s just a short sample of a 3,000-word diatribe, but the lack of punctuation began to resemble the poems of William Carlos Williams a little too much for my comfort.
We’ll leave the 9-11 truth movement for another day. Let’s talk about vaccines.
Vaccines are a topic that the SGU has covered, and indeed it was even discussed during my most recent appearance. This week, Bill Gates weighed in on the so-called debate with a commitment to vaccinations that will make my emailer’s hair curl — $10 billion over the next ten years.
Predictably, Gates’ announcement has sent the anti-vax crowd into a spin of accusation that Gates actually is part of the New World Order conspiracy to sterilize mankind. Don’t ask me; go surf YouTube for a few minutes and navigate the sea of madness on your own.
Vaccination stands as a turning point in human history. Bear in mind that between the Stone Age and the 18th century, the human race had placed itself at the top of the food chain, yet remained hopelessly vulnerable to microorganisms during this same stretch. We had defied the predations of megafauna, and yet were helpless in the face of creatures we couldn’t even see.
Before vaccination, the spread of virulent plagues obliterated entire nations. Roughly half of Europe disappeared during the Black Death outbreak of the fourteenth century, and by some estimates nearly a third of Asia; that makes some 75 million people who perished. Three hundred years later, the same plague transformed entire neighborhoods of London into a graveyard with 20 percent of the citizenry killed. Two hundred years later, the so-called Third Pandemic slew 10 million in India.
These tolls are mere bullet points in a history plague and peoples which begins at the dawn of recorded history and touches all major civilizations, from the Plague of Athens which brought a regional power to its knees (and changed history), to the smallpox brought by Spanish conquistadors during the invasion of Central and South America.
And smallpox in particular is not relegated to ancient times. It was, for many third world nations, the scourge of the 20th century. It killed and maimed and ruined the lives of all it touched.
Neither is the fear of a global outbreak over. With our collective population at such dizzying levels and global travel a reality, a nasty virus that bides its time can conceivably kill billions. The best strategy has been vaccination and the tireless attentions of organizations like the World Health Organization.
In short, we had been helpless before such pandemics. We are not helpless anymore.
Vaccination did more than kick off the field of microbiology. It was the tool to stop pandemics, turning our attentions to the microscope and channeling our ingenuity into defeating a cruel and merciless enemy.
In today’s culture of belief, however, all that history is swept under the rug. In fact, do you remember the scene in 12 Monkeys, when Brad Pitt is telling Bruce Willis about an unfortunate encounter in a restaurant? That’s the anti-vax mindset in a nutshell, pun intended:
“I go in to order a burger at this fast-food joint, and the guy drops it on the floor. James, he picks it up, he wipes it off, he hands it to me like it’s all OK! ‘What about the germs?’ I say. He says, ‘I don’t believe in germs. Germs is a plot made up so they could sell disinfectants and soaps.’”
The anti-vaccine crowd is yet another example of how belief does in fact hurt people. Only here, it hurts the ones most helpless and vulnerable: Our children.
And the future.