Books as a vaccine against hate
There has been a lot of discussion recently about people who choose not to vaccinate their children.
That doesn’t seem like a particularly complicated issue to me.
I should say first, I’m not a clinician, although I have worked with them for more than a decade.
This is the way that vaccines generally work, as I understand it.
You are exposed to a version of a disease. That version might be dead, or it might be greatly weakened.
Your body develops antibodies against that disease.
It needs to know that the threat is, analyze it, and blueprint something to go against it…that’s why the vaccine exposes the person to it, but in a generally harmless version.
There is a great deal of evidence that the concept works.
There are people who are unusually at risk from the vaccine…just as there are people who are unusually at risk going into a school or a mall.
For example, a child might have a tremendously compromised immune system. Most kids do fine going to school with other children around them. They get exposed to diseases, but are able to cope with that.
An immunocompromised child might be unable to fight off those same diseases, so going to school is an unusual risk.
In extreme cases, those children might become “bubble children”, and live at home in a specially designed protective facility. Fortunately, nowadays, they may be able to “attend” school through the use of a telepresence robot. The child stays at home in the “clean” environment, and steers a robot from classroom to classroom. The robot has a screen and sensors, so the child can both see and be seen.
A child with a medical condition like might have a very strong contraindication for the same vaccine which would be beneficial for the majority of children.
Some people choose not to vaccinate their children for other reasons…religious reasons, for example.
If you think that the government should make decisions based on your religion, you may then think that the guardians of the child have the right not to vaccinate.
If that’s the case, it also seems reasonable to say that the unvaccinated child should not be in a position to expose other children.
That unvaccinated child could be a carrier of a disease (they might have the disease and be able to spread it without showing symptoms or being noticeably affected themselves). It’s possible that there is an immunocompromised child in the classroom who has not yet been diagnosed. Even a disease which would generally be survivable might be fatal to that child.
If someone is unvaccinated, it’s a risk to have them around other people, depending in part on the contagious nature of the disease. I would feel differently if the vaccine mitigated the risk of a noncontagious condition than if it did the same for a contagious one.
I understand the controversy and the emotional desire to protect your children evidenced by both sides.
I see a parallel to reading books.
Many people want to protect their children from ideas which they consider dangerous.
We talk every year about “banned books”: books which have been challenged by individuals or groups, to get them removed from school and public libraries.
There are typically reasons given. I created a pie chart of those when I wrote about Banned Books week for 2013:
In my case, I want my child (who is now an adult) and other people to read ideas with which I disagree.
I think it’s much better that someone gets exposed to the ideas in the form of a book, where it is a more controlled situation than in a personal interaction. It’s much easier to set a book aside and think about it and look at contradicting ideas than it is to do that during a face to face conversation.
I’d never thought of it this way before, but it is like getting a vaccination.
By being exposed to the ideas, you can develop a defense against them (if that’s the way you go). That defense can be used when encountering it in an active situation.
I’m sure many of my readers have done that. “Actually, I’ve read such and such, and that’s not what it says.” Alternatively, “I’ve read about that: how do you answer this question?”
That seems like a similar mechanism to getting a vaccine.
Arguably, there might be people who shouldn’t be exposed to a particular idea because of an unusual susceptibility…like the immunocompromised children above.
It might not make sense for someone to read a book with a glorified suicide (MINOR SPOILER ALERT, I’M NOT SAYING WHO OR IN WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES: Romeo and Juliet comes to mind END SPOILER ALERT) if they are actively diagnosed with suicidal tendencies and being treated for it.
Let’s take this analogy one step further.
If books are a vaccine against hate, is there a “herd immunity”? If more people read something hateful and develop a mental/emotional defense against it, would that tend to protect the community?
My guess is that it would.
If, say, 95% of the people in a town have already read and rejected an idea, and a person espousing that idea comes to town, I think the idea would be less likely to be able to “infect” the town successfully.
Does that mean that “protecting” your child against ideas with which you disagree is potentially putting the community at risk?
I think that’s a possibility.
For children, the guardians are part of building the “idealogical immune system”. Being open to discussing a book with your child is a great way for them to develop a response to something.
My inclination is always towards openness in terms of reading choices. If my child chose to read a book by a hate group, I would hope (and expect) that we would discuss it. That discussion would help a child build that “blueprint” of an antibody, which could then be used later in the event of a full-blown confrontation.
One last thing.
As I’m writing this, one of my challenges is thinking of what would be these dangerous ideas. I think that’s individual, and difficult to determine…so I would let a child read as many different ideas as possible: especially ones which contradict my own.
Note: there are books which are produced through harming people. For me, that’s a different thing. It is the production of the book which is the problem, and you may not choose to support that methodology. I completely understand that, and find it a reasonable position.
What do you think?
We are talking about ideas here…is preventing exposure to an idea a good thing? Under what circumstances? Do you seek out books to read which contradict your own beliefs? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.
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