Books as a vaccine against hate

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:

Should any books be banned? Banned Books Week 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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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

2 Responses to “Books as a vaccine against hate”

  1. Edward Boyhan Says:

    Three Things:

    1. As I mentioned in a previous post I am in the process of rereading all the Perry Mason and Albert Campion books from their beginnings in the 1930’s. These books are obviously OCR scanned — based on the nature of the errors within them. In all of them (most average about 250 pages) there are less than 5 errors per book, and none are so bad as to obscure meaning — so I would say that OCR technology has gotten pretty good. At least the major tradpubs are finding it sufficiently good to use OCR to convert their out of print backlists into eBooks. As for the covers, the Campion books use newly created largely textual covers; the Perry Masons are using image scans of what look like paperback covers from versions printed in the 50’s — they are quite lurid and have little to do with the story-line (:grin)

    2. As for banned books, we have been talking in a prior post about Harper Lee, and “To Kill a Mockingbird”. I did some research: this book is among the most assigned book to be read by high school students in the US. Yet it is also one of the most objected to by some parents because of its use of “objectionable” language.

    3. As to protecting one’s children from dangerous ideas, and how certain ideas take root in, and are protected within certain communities — these kinds ideas are often referred to as “memes”. Fascism has often been thought of as a dangerous meme — ultimately leading to WW2. Some today are very concerned that the internet might be a fertile ground for the development and spread of dangerous memes — that the technology is like a hothouse in which the spread could be very rapid and unstoppable.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      No question that OCR (Optical Character Recognition) has improved, in a similar manner to voice recognition. Every time a new version of Dragon comes out, it’s better.

      I think another factor, though, is that the publishers have started to care more about the quality of their conversions (particularly of the backlist). The level of errors you suggest would be within the realm of typical proofreading…my own guess would be that OCR produced files are now more often being proofread the way a typed file would.

      Oh, sure: the more assigned something is, the more objections there should be…even just statistically. 🙂 I think it’s more than that…hunters want to take down the biggest moose, protesters want to take down the most popular and respected books. Also, the longer a book has been around, the more likely that language and social standards have changed. I wrote about that…wow, almost five years ago!

      The Chronological Cultural Context Conundrum

      The term “meme” finds its roots with Richard Dawkins’ book, The Selfish Gene…and it was suggested that the “cultural transmission” of ideas was similar to the spread of genes. Does the internet promote the transmission of memes? Absolutely. However, I have to say, I find most of what is labeled a “meme” on the internet to be more jokes than serious philosophical ideas. I’d be curious to see data that suggests that, say, racism is made more prevalent because of the internet. My intuition would be that the opposite might be true, but I haven’t see the data.

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