"I wonder how the world sees us --
Rich beyond compare, powerful without equal, a spoiled, drunk, 15-year-old waving a gun in their face."
-- Guy Forsyth, "Long Long Time"
These words came to mind as I read a Los Angeles Times article about the alarming spread of whooping cough in the United States, caused by declining immunization rates driven by hysterical, anti-medicine folks. And, while I love beating up on such people, I want to focus on another problem the story identifies which also deserves attention.
Non-medical exemptions are another manifestation of a disease that is multiplying across America and, to my view, poses a serious threat to our national health and security: rampant, unchecked individualism. I'm not talking about the American belief in self-reliance we rightly celebrate; I'm talking about a mutation that prizes individual needs and wants above any understanding or acceptance of a "common good."
To be sure, this is not a new problem; we've always struggled with the appropriate balance between the wants of the one and the good of the many. But the struggle seems more intense now, at least partially because technology empowers individuals in ways uncontemplated even a generation ago. And also, probably, because the stakes are higher.
Many of the parents, as described in the article, who've refused to allow their children to be immunized are just ignorant. Some of them wear their ignorance as a badge of honor, dignifying their incuriosity and intellectual childishness as sacrosanct "personal belief." A smaller group, while better informed, choose to believe this prejudices and phobias are somehow "wiser" than that always-suspect "conventional wisdom." All with occasionally tragic consequences.