When I picked up the Bee the other day, I was greeted by front-page articles providing space to advocates of more almond orchards in drought-plagued California and to zealots asserting a right to refuse to vaccinate their children.
In the privacy of my own home, I aired my intolerance toward agricultural enterprises that grab water every which way to keep their insatiable trees blooming as well as toward parents who prefer to embrace communally risky personal beliefs over science-based evidence.
After a pause to let the darkness spread over the kitchen table, I suggested perversely that I preferred the logic of greed to the promotion of ignorance. Farmers want to plant the most profitable crops they can and know they have the political clout to keep their orchards going. Repugnant as that is, this stance is a straightforward disregard for the common good.
The anti-vaccine zealots, by contrast, assert the primacy of their personal or religious beliefs over scientific evidence that has established the safety and benefits of vaccination for children. They believe what they want to believe because it fits into their world view. You can forget about invoking facts and evidence when you wander down the dark corridors of emotionally based beliefs.
In a Sunday New York Times article, T.M. Luhrmann, an anthropology professor at Stanford, reports that “a broad group of scholars is beginning to demonstrate that religious belief and factual belief are indeed different kinds of mental creatures. People process evidence differently when they think with a factual mind-set rather than with a religious mind-set.”
Scholars have determined that people don’t use rational, instrumental reasoning when they deal with religious beliefs, Luhrmann writes. They have found that “when people consider the truth of a religious belief, what the belief does for their lives matters more than, well, the facts.”
The Bee presented such an example this morning in a story noting that Senate Bill 277, which would eliminate the state’s personal belief exemption for vaccines, would exclude religious beliefs in the process. Hayward resident Nick Johansen, who arrived at the Capitol carrying a Bible, argued that the government shouldn’t place science over his faith in God. “I have seen God’s miracles,” he told the Bee.
So what? I ask myself. Miracles are an erratic basis for state policy on the health and safety of the state’s children and adults. Vaccines have been proven safe and effective for years for those willing to look at the facts.
One hopes our politicians in the state Legislature will see that mandatory vaccination of schoolchildren isn’t an issue where compromise is possible. You can’t split the difference between knowledge and ignorance.