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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 17 April 2014

Can You Vaccinate Against Fear?

There's a fascinating psychology behind this.  Yes, it's true that Big Pharma is interested in making money and yes, it is in their interest to have more of their product bought.

It's also true that incidences of fatalities from communicable diseases like measles, mumps and rubella have gone down thanks to the introduction of inoculations.  In fact, the increase in healthcare, social infrastructure and social services demonstrably improves quality of life across the board.  

There have been complaints, however, about inoculations causing autism.  This has been refuted; there has also been evidence that an increase in autism diagnoses has nothing to do with vaccination changes, but diagnosis changes.  Recently Aspergers was rolled up into the Autism spectrum, giving a whole group of people a new label.

It doesn't matter how much evidence is brought forward against this complaint, however, because all this evidence is trying to solve the wrong problem.  The issue was never specifically that inoculations cause autism, but that some people were fundamentally uncomfortable with the concept of inoculation itself.  Irrifutably demonstrate that there is no causal correlation between autism and inoculation and you'll still have doubters; others will simply find another straw illness to tilt at.

The problem isn't the risk - it's the fear of risk.  It's the same with wind farms - having recently come back from Germany, I met and talked with a number of youth who grew up next to wind farms and are no physically worse off than someone who grew up next to a subway, or a freeway, or a road, period.  

In the past, each of these innovations and environmental changes have provoked fear and, in each case, those fears have been associated with health risks.  

In truth, people are right in all cases, not just in the way they think they are; the health issue is not one of what we traditionally identify as physical illness, but one of anxiety.  All these things are out of the individual's control and change the individual's physical and mental landscape.  Change is an uncomfortable process that we are inclined to fear, because on some level, we're not sure if we are able to adapt.  

Therefore, we resist.

Phobias are most often irrational; fear of open spaces, fear of spiders whether they're harmful of not, fear of gay people, of black people, fear of all kinds of things that aren't actual threats.  Phobias are like allergies - overreactions to physical stiumlus that really aren't trying to hurt us.

This doesn't make them any less real or crippling - as is the case with any mental illness, phobia can get in the way of normal individual functioning and social cohesion.

Which takes us back to vaccinations - a densely packed society like ours can't function without vaccinations.  That's a ticket to plague, exacerbated by a lack of coordinated (and enforced) social rules around cleanliness, transit, dispute resolution, etc.  We aren't physically designed to live in such crowded environments; society can't function without collaboration and a certain amount of central coordination.  That's why we invented government.

What does being anti-vaccine have to do with being pro-gun?  The gun industry is massively wealthy and spends a large amount of coin promoting gun culture, why aren't they traditionally lumped in with Big Pharma?

It's because a gun in the hand is, theoretically, about giving you power over others.  A vaccine, however, is about defending your immune system as well as that of your neighbours'.  A gun is aggressive, reactive and individual; a vaccine is strategic, passive and collective.

By and large people are reactive and individual; what pushes us to be aggressive, is we're not sales-oriented hunters, is a response to fear.

This is why the politics of fear is so widely practiced and why it allows for otherwise sane people to do pretty insane things.  It's not logical, it's emotional - when you appeal to emotions first, an individual can find all sorts of ways to validate their opinion, including through the use of micro-targeted arguments and full-on attacks.

Sadly, we're seeing an increased use of fear, isolation and idolatry in our political systems these days, catalyzing a solidifying oppositional movement.  Hate, we're told, is a purifying force - and hate is on the rise.  This is not a good thing.  There's precedent and current examples of where hate leads us.

Fear and hatred aren't the solution - they catalyze immediate, reactive action against something, but to the detriment of broader social sustainability.  If you're not killing your opponent off, you have to live with them, something hate and fear don't allow.

Hate is a purifying force, after all - it allows for no diversity, no debate.  Like fear, hate is a mind-killer.

Society is at a tipping point with a new revolution required to help us break through to a more sustainable model.  As the old system fractures, people are becoming increasingly anxious, a fact being exploited by populists doing far more long-term harm than they probably care to realize.  We are looking for names to blame for our anxiety, subconsciously trying to isolate ourselves from an increasingly invasive world.  

This isolation from the global picture and rejection of everything from inoculations to fluoride in the water to social services to immigration aren't the fire-walling solution, they're part of the structural problem.

So, what do we do?  How do address the deep-rooted reality of strong, reactive emotions like fear and hate?

There's a fascinating article on the rational choices of crack addicts that offers an interesting window into the nature of behaviour; it throws the assumption that an addict is an addict by demonstrating how crack addicts, removed from negative environments, can make more rational, sustainable choices.

This suggests that even the most negative of behaviours can change, which we should already know.  It also implies that perception isn't as functionally fixed as we like to think it is.

I recently met a 90 year-old Holocaust survivor who tells an amazing story about laughing in the face of an SS firing squad.  Chat Bowen made them deeply uncomfortable - it didn't matter that they were in complete control of the situation, they had no ability to influence Chat.  He had no fear, no anger; he simply accepted that death had arrived and their was no point fretting it.

For 70 years, Chat has lived his life with an acceptance of death and a rejection of fear and hatred. He's healthy, happy and deeply in love with his wife, his life, and at peace with the world.

The lesson here is that, even under the worst conditions imaginable, it's possible to control one's responses to external stimulus with the right perspective.  This is incredibly difficult and, like running a marathon, not an option for everyone, but it's still one option on the table.

It's important not to make the mistake of assuming fear is not real and merely a product of the thoughts you create - that's not the case.  Fear is an emotion; it precedes and informs thought, just as hatred, hopefulness and love do.

Like all emotions - like most physical processes, really - fear can be controlled.  People with anxiety disorders control fear through the use of medications and practices like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  Activities like yoga or simple breathing exercises also help to re-balance a body's neurochemistry (out with the bad, in with the good, oxygenate the blood).

The growing field of Positive Psychology as well as fields like Social Emotional Learning and Self Regulation are increasingly looking at fear, depression, hatred, excitement and all of our emotions as things that can be regulated.  

These regulatory processes are being introduced to our school systems, empowering our youth with the ability to recognize and up/down regulate their emotions as necessary.  Encouraged in this process is critical thinking; the ability to look beyond one's own emotions and view a situation, a person or an object in a more objective capacity (something that, despite what Ayn Rand may have thought, doesn't just happen naturally).

As with any exercise, the more you do it, the stronger you become.  Athletes train, writers write, innovators never stop iterating.  When it comes to emotional regulation, practice is a constant but the result is an increasing amount of conscious awareness and control of both one's own emotional state, but of those around you as well. 

It's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.

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