Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Over at Balloon Juice this morning DougJ has a great post up, with even better comments, about the nexus of anti-vaccine/anti-Obama/anti-health care crazy that we are about to see explode across the country with the fury of a thousand tea parties.

There's a huge overlap of the crazy, in this country. Christianists, militia types, granola types, left, far right, secular anti corporatists and religious anti government types. These groups meet and overlap on the internet but not so much, I expect, in real life. However I think they share some literature and a lot of paranoia about the government itself. Each group thinks the government is controlled by its own personal enemies. Satan, the Communists, the Fascists, the large Corporations.

The family is an especially ripe breeding ground for crazy. When people have their first child and assume that responsibility they often come most sharply into conflict with the state (over child abuse, neglect, or educational issues), with medicine (over developmental issues and health care) and with corporations (over cultural and cost issues). Schools and school aged children are a natural locus for that anxiety. And that makes families and family fear based activism the next hot locus of anti government activity.

I've been expecting it for some time. Over at the Christianist blogs where I hang out the multi-mommies are rabidly anti public education in the first place. They hate it because it is secular. Worse, it is a commie plot aimed at destroying a child's innocence and replacing love of god and the priestly family with love of the state. They already believed that, more or less, before Obama came in and The State became personified by this hell born babe, this muslim/kenyan/hawaiian/intellectual/lawyer/community agitator/communist/terrorist/fascist.

Before Obama the big danger was (though they won't admit that) desegregation, "urban" ways, and that a child would be taught to question things, since questioning itself is of the devil. (The hate on John Dewey is a sight to behold). The second danger was that by playing with the unsaved the child would unsave itself, catching unbelief and bad behavior like the flu. The third danger, emergent over time, is that the child would look to its age mates and peers for love, approval, and fun. Dating and teen pregnancy won't be far behind. Public education, in this model, is like a nice big poisoned apple. The nicer it looks, the more dangerous because the more irresistible.

Of course that whole "sin looks good" and "pleasure is perverse" is embedded in a certain Christianist mind set so this is a self reinforcing vicious circle of beliefs. The nicer the outside world looks the more it tempts, but the more tempting things are the more they are obviously a snare and a delusion. Its a win/win, as it were, for the housebound Calvinist struggling to stay in the elect.

On the educational front the more children you have the more desperate you are to educate them and get them out of the house. Ditto health care. The more children you have the more you are likely to need health care at some point. The Tribunes of the Christianist right spend most of their time and energy exhorting women to steer clear of entanglements with this world and specifically with public schools and public health initiatives precisely because its so tempting and so needed. Mother's work and Father's prayers are urged as the primary means of keeping the godly family free of the chains of the state. The more difficult it is, people are told, the more you are being "tested" by god and the more important it is for you not to fail that test. Flipping back and forth between a notion of god in which he punishes and tests those he loves and a model in which he blesses and rewards those he loves the multi-child family of Christianists staggers from one punishment to another and congratulates itself on one minor victory after another. They are certain only in one thing: whatever the outside world is offering will be worse. If your child doesn't get much of an education at home, still he or she is godly. If you manage to educate him up to high school level and he wins a scholarship to Harvard--praise the lord public education was unnecessary after all!

National health care itself, and free vaccines in school, fit in to this paranoid world view in exactly the same place. National health care for all? It sounds so nice it must be evil. God doesn't sugar coat things, you know! Free vaccines in school? Well, when you tack one nice but dangerous sounding thing on a location you already know is a source of evil you get double plus ungood evil, don't you? Finally, you run up against two related firm folk convictions: you can't get something for nothing and democrats/communists/fascists really want to kill and eat your babeez and force your girls to have gay abortions and your boys to become transsexuals. The more Democrats protest that they just want health care for all, and that children (and old people) need our help as a society the more right wing anger will be stoked and fanned because society itself is a dirty word.

People over at Balloon Juice asked, very correctly, what happens when a mass effort at vaccinating kids in schools takes place, anti-vaxxers withdraw, and their children get sick and perhaps die?

Well, I can tell you: nothing good. First, stories are going to circulate wildly in this community about the large number of children who die from the vaccine itself. The fewer such stories that are reported? The more it will be insisted that the dreaded MSM is hiding something. Second, if the vaccine is obviously effective (however that is understood) it will be argued that it was merely a gateway drug--like hot breakfasts--to lure good Christians back into the public school system so that their children can be harmed in other ways. (This is the "The State Wants My Babies for Communism argument) Third, if the effect is good the last argument will be made. This can be called the "Its Not My Government" argument. One of its incarnations is that Obama, because he is black, wants to do things that will benefit blacks to the despite of whites. Another is that Obama, because he is a Democrat, wants to help Democrats to the despite of Republicans. I'm betting on the circulation of a rumor that vaccines are only offered in "inner city" schools to "non white" and "illegal immigrant" populations and/or to "Democrats" but not "Republicans."*

This is the eternal catch twenty two of the anti government/anti this world attitude. Stephen Colbert summed it up brilliantly in talking about torture. He said "Its something we did, but not something we would do." If the vaccine can be shown to be necessary, good, and effective a liberal, democratic, secular government simply can't be given the credit. And if the vaccine and its delivery go wrong, it will merely confirm all the accusations that the government wants to kill certain of its citizens.

I don't think its possible to get out of this vicious circle with anything other than Government Fiat. The entire world view of this kind of person requires an enemy and the enemy is us and our nefarious plans to make the world safe for women, children, and old people. Because a safe world is an attractive world. And attractive things are dangerous.


*A Balloon Juice commenter offered this thought experiment: tell people they have to show their child's long form birth certificate and citizenship papers in order to get the vaccine. I'd argue that this brilliant notion, which we ought to do just for giggles, would ultimately fail in its intended, zen boot to the head effect, because it would simply be folded back into an earlier fear myth--the argument that the government wants specifically to find, tag, and control all natural born, white,
Christian, refusenik, Ammuricans.

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