Anti-vax is the ultimate urban legend

urban legend, 3D rendering, traffic sign

In the 21st Century United States we speak disparagingly of superstition. Superstition is supposedly a feature of backward, indigenous cultures, not our culture.

According to Wikipedia:

Superstition is a pejorative term for any belief or practice that is considered irrational or supernatural: for example, if it arises from ignorance, a misunderstanding of science or causality, a positive belief in fate or magic, or fear of that which is unknown.

But industrialized cultures have supersitions, too. We just call them urban legends.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Only those privileged with easy access to the technology of vaccination could indulge the nonsensical fantasy that natural immunity is best.[/pullquote]

Like superstitions, they are usually irrational, involving a misunderstanding of science or causality.

Like superstition they seek to explain observed phenomena in a way comprehensible to those without advanced education.

And like superstition, it often gives believers the illusion that they have more control over bad things that could happen to them than they really do.

Superstitions include things like black cats, walking under ladders and opening umbrellas indoors. Avoiding them is supposed to prevent bad luck. But since there is no way that they could cause bad luck in the first place, avoidance as a preventative merely gives the comforting illusion of control over the uncontrollable. Only the “unsophisticated” could possibly believe that and even they have trouble defending these beliefs in a rational way.

Urban legends, in contrast, are imagined by their believers, including sophisticated believers, to be true.

There are other significant differences:

Unlike superstitions that are generally spread by word of mouth, urban legends are spread by technology — talk radio, FoxNews and especially social media like Facebook.

In contrast to superstitions, they are often about technology.

They tend to invoke conspiracies in which agents of technology use that technology to harm a gullible public.

Indeed, urban legends are only possible among the technologically privileged.

What does any of this have to do with mothering?

Nearly everything encompassed by “natural mothering” has an urban legend at its heart, an urban legend that could only be believed by the technologically privileged.

Only those with easy access to modern obstetrics could believe the urban legend that “normal” birth is best.

Only those with easy access to formula and clean water could believe the urban legend that ‘breast is best.”

Only those with easy access to a steady supply of safe, nutritious food could believe the urban legend that organic food is best.

In other words, only the technologically privileged have the luxury of fantasizing natural is best.

The ultimate urban legend of our time, of course, is anti-vaccine advocacy. Only those privileged with easy access to the technology of vaccination could indulge the nonsensical fantasy that natural immunity is best.

Anti-vax has many of the classic attributes of urban legends:

The teller of an urban legend may claim it happened to a friend (or to a friend of a friend), which serves to personalize, authenticate and enhance the power of the narrative …

All anti-vaxxers have a friend, a friend of a friend, or a Facebook friend whose child was completely normal until he or she received a vaccine or multiple vaccines.

Many urban legends depict horrific crimes, contaminated foods, or other situations which would potentially affect many people.

The implicit message of anti-vax propaganda is always that this could happen to you or your child. And when it happens, it is the result of a vast global conspiracy involving nearly the entire medication profession, pharmaceutical industry and public health apparatus of every country in the world!

Anyone believing such stories might feel compelled to warn loved ones.

Anti-vaxxers imagine their ravings as a public service.

Persistent urban legends often maintain a degree of plausibility …

The idea that vaccines could cause autism or other serious side effects is theoretically possible, but it has been debunked so often and so comprehensively that it has been proven to be untrue.

But the key feature of the anti-vax urban legend is technological privilege. Anti-vaxxers invariably have no personal experience of nature. Anti-vax beliefs can only take root and flourish in societies that are capable of nearly eradicating diseases by vaccination. No one who has personal experiences of diseases like tetanus, diphtheria, polio, pertussis and measles could be ignorant enough to believe they aren’t dangerous or were disappearing before the advent of vaccines.

Only those who have no direct experience of nature as it existed before technology — not “nature” imagined as lovely vacation spots — could be gullible enough to imagine that nature creates perfection or cares whether you live or die. “Nature is red in tooth and claw” is more than poetry. Evolution, by definition, involves the survival of the fittest, which sounds nicer than acknowledging that most animals (humans included) ended up as dinner for other animals, possibly before but often after being weakened by injury, disease or age.

The same goes for birth, breastfeeding and food:

Survival of the fittest means that massive numbers of women died in childbirth often after agonizing, unproductive labors that lasted days before infection set in or the uterus ruptured leading to hemorrhage that killed both baby and mother.

Survival of the fittest means that massive numbers of babies died from insufficient breastmilk, suffering days or weeks of hunger before slowly starving to death, or being carried off by disease.

Survival of the fittest means that in a world of no fertilizers or large scale industrial production, famine and the resulting human misery were common, slowly and painfully killing massive numbers of people.

Survival of the fittest means that in a world dependent on natural immunity, massive numbers of children died of vaccine preventable diseases before they reached the age of 10. Even those fit enough to reach that age could be carried off at any moment by smallpox, plague or even flu.

Anti-vax is the ultimate urban legend: it is based on misunderstanding of both science and causality, is propagated by technological media, and imparts a false sense of control over bad outcomes where no control exists. Only those so insulated from nature by technological privilege could even pretend that natural is best.