Friday, March 29, 2019

"Examining A Possible Wrong Turn"

I shall keep this short, in respect to my limited knowledge in this area – “limited knowledge” being hyperbolic understatement, if you can hyperbolize downward and I see no reason you can’t.

Whoops.  There goes “keeping it short.”

This commentary was inspired by a Frank Bruni column in the New York Times, concerning “Anti-vaxxers”, parents unwilling to vaccinate their children, fearing the possible consequence of autism, mentioned in a study that was thoroughly debunked and, I believe, subsequently withdrawn.

Reading that column triggered considerations of “Thinking for yourself.”

Addressing that concern, Bruni quotes New Yorker writer Michael Spector, saying, (stringing two quotes together without altering the intension):

“We’re living in a world where facts are just another element of your decision-making process… (M)illions of people have abandoned traditional sources of information, from the government to institutional media, in favor of a D.I.Y. (’Do It Yourself’) approach to fact finding.”

A Harvard director of the “Social Change” institute noted a demonstrable “.. crisis in authority.”

Ignoring which side of the “vaccination” issue I land on – for the record, I am in favor of inoculating children – and not just because some uninoculated person gave my mother “rubella” (German measles) when she was pregnant with me which gave me bad eyes – I took in the message in that column and I expressively went, “Hm.”

“… abandoned traditional sources of information…”

“… a crisis in authority.”

“What does that remind me of?” I thoughtfully pondered.

Oh yeah. 

The 18th Century “Age of Enlightenment.”


(Not really “Duh.”  I just thought I put that in to make me sound smarter.)

Before the 18th Century, the (Europeans, if not elsewhere) “traditional sources of information” and prevailing “authority” was the exclusive purview of the King and the Church.

The “Age of Enlightenment” said “Forget that” – qualifyingly, so they would not get in big trouble – instead encouraging people, through their observational senses, to think for themselves.

And so they did.

Through that “revolutionary” process – rejecting authority in favor of “thinking for yourself” – reasoning people devised the “Scientific Method”, which, over the years, produced some wonderful stuff, including the “M.M.R (measles, mumps and rubella) Vaccine.”    

The downside to eschewing “traditional sources of information” was that, with the support of the “Age of Enlightenment”, everybody and his brother began thinking for themselves, triggering the possible pitfall of turning “The Truth” into

Whatever you happen to believe.

Those beliefs, often relying – did somebody say “Internet”? – on unreliable sources of information, which, in such cases, means, not really thinking for yourself, but instead, simply replacing one “trusted authority” with another, possibly as equally misinformed as the original ”trusted authorities”, they just don’t happen to live in a castle, or a place with a big bell.

The “unintended consequence” problem, it seems to me, is that some people have taken one part of the “Enlightenment” – the part about “thinking for yourself” – and abandoned the other:

Relying on verifiable evidence.

It is unlikely what the 18th Century philosophers had in mind, but as a result of the “Age of Enlightenment” not just the kings and clergy can be wrong.

Anyone can be equally mistaken.

In truth, the “Enlightenment” actually made things harder.

If you want to accurately know what’s what, you can no longer passively accept, as they did in the past, what guys with crowns or fancy robes hand down the “The Word” as they did in the past, nor can you bow to the “authority” of the internet “theorists” or cable news pundits of today.

“Thinking for yourself” requires the arduous “heavy lifting” of finding reliable authorities, offering proven factual reality. 

Sure, there’ve been times – and likely will be again – when the vast majority of people believed the wrong thing.  (See:  Going swimming before an hour after you eat.)  But it’s not about “majority.”

It’s about “How do you know?”

That’s all I have for the moment.

And, stringing together thoughts and not facts,

I’m not saying it’s true.

(But it might be.)

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

The study was not only retracted but labeled a hoax by the British Medical Journal, which originally published it. The doctor who did the research was struck off the register (means lost his license to practice), but apparently continues to push his ideas to those who are receptive. As I'm too old to have received the vaccine as a child, and never got the illnesses, I've just been vaccinated. The increasing numbers of measles and mumps outbreaks got too big to ignore. This one piece of bad research has done an enormous amount of damage. IMO.