Daily Kos has a
fascinating story on the rapid increase in whooping cough cases in California
in 2004, a spike apparently correlated county by county with the number of
children whose parents chose not to have them vaccinated.  This increase  in whooping cough
cases has been accompanied by a increasing infant deaths.  The falsehood that vaccines are correlated with autism has
taken lives. 
But I have another point to make, sparked by this article.

Childhood disease
used to kill an enormous number of infants and children.  For example, all the male children of
our Founders died except for John Quincy Adams.  But today childhood death by disease is rare, almost
entirely due to increases in sanitation and vaccines. 

As a child I
remember standing in line to get the first polio vaccine.  When I was a child polio was a source
of constant fear for parents everywhere. Ironically, polio, which hit in its
first American epidemic in 1916, was a scourge of the modern world.  The sanitation that ended deadly
diseases such as typhoid also prevented infants from contracting a usually
unnoticeable disease that gets dramatically worse with the age of the person
contracting it. 

Those who were
symptom free were still contagious, and 1% of those contracting it were
paralyzed.  Sometimes fatally.  It had become a childhood scourge
often afflicting 13,000 to 20,000 Americans annually, sometimes over 40,000,
and with an alarming tendency to increase in numbers of victims over time. 

 In one of the most remarkable and little
remembered acts of generosity by an American, Dr. Jonas Salk, who discovered
the vaccine, gave it away as a gift to humanity.  As he put it when asked about a patent, “Well, the people, I would say.  There is
no patent.  Could you patent the sun?”

Polio ceased to be a childhood threat – or a threat at all.  Today most children worldwide are vaccinated.

But today people are also turning down vaccines because of bogus and retracted claims  about their relation to autism.  (For a far more rigorous
of this issue, see Orac in Science Blogs.)  There is no memory of life before vaccines and great fear of the rise in
autism.  It is far easier to blame
a vaccine than to wonder whether there may be something fundamentally amiss
with modern society.  Taking the
easy way out, children die.

Similarly, after
the Vietnam War many Americans, myself included, thought we had learned a
lesson.  Avoid wars of choice,
avoid imposing governments on people, and distrust government propaganda
because it is rarely truthful, and never truthful because of respect for truth.  Starting with Bush II, those lessons
were forgotten instantaneously in a national case of collective Alzheimers.

The 60s were
reinterpreted, as World War One was for Germans afterwards, during the Weimar
Republic, as teaching us that we must always support government, and by so
doing, “our troops.”  Then victory
is inevitable.  Defeat occurred for
Germany because she was “stabbed in the back” by leftist and Jews at home.  Too many Americans applied the same
self-congratulatory reasoning
to Vietnam. The problem was other people.   

Taking the easy
way out, people die.

Societies do
learn lessons, good and bad alike, but it seems they have to enter its
folklore.  Unfortunately for
reasons I do not understand the falsehoods seem to get a better hold in many
cultures than do the truths. 
Perhaps George Lakoff is right,  and societies with conservative hierarchical cultures choose to interpret
everything in those terms, which makes them blind to the downside of their
guiding ethos. 

Or perhaps, as I
heard Ram Dass say years ago, when he answered a question as to whether the
world was getting better.  

“The world is a
lot like the Fourth Grade.  People
enter the Fourth Grade, and people graduate from the Forth Grade, but there’s
always a Fourth Grade.”

If he’s right I
hope I get at least a “Gentleman’s C.”

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