People be out here listening to their craziest friend. I am very curious as to why.
This is genuinely what seems to be happening. If the rule is, Anything mainstream is automatically suspicious, then the most paranoid person suddenly seems like the wisest and best strategic thinker.
I like this sort of thing for comedy value. In practice, though, I have questions.
It used to be that you could go to people and ask them about their experience with something, and they would tell you a story about what happened to them, and you would be smart to follow their example.
For instance, I was at a meeting the other day where people were trading tips on which DMV was the fastest, how to get an appointment, and what to bring with you. If someone shared information that turned out not to be true, the next person to go there would quickly find out. Then they would tell everyone. The first guy would lose a bit of credibility and would probably be expected to give a sort of apology. Whoops, my bad.
That is how social proof works.
People are constantly asking each other for social proof. What restaurant is good. Did you try that flavor yet. Is that breed of dog good with kids.
That is the entire premise of everything having star ratings or likes or product reviews. We want to learn from each other what things work as promised.
What we’ve all learned from a couple of decades of rating everything, from movies to salad dressing, is that some reviews are not worth reading because the reviewer obviously has a screw loose. Giving something a one-star review because you had problems with the shipping is not helping anybody.
We’ve all quickly learned to skim through the page-long rants because it seems pretty clear that that person’s deranged opinion is not going to affect our experience of the local dry cleaner or veterinarian.
The trouble is, we don’t seem to be quite as savvy about topics that don’t involve consumer products or local businesses.
I wonder why that is?
I was talking to a friend the other day and she said her parents aren’t planning to get the COVID-19 vaccine because of the “long-term effects.” It turns out my friend’s mom’s friend’s... son? Neighbor? works in a hospital. In the mom’s mind, this makes him a nurse. Supposedly he said something about Bell’s palsy, which she heard as Ball’s palsy, which then somehow morphed into the story, “Nurses are saying that the COVID vaccine causes cerebral palsy.”
Bell’s palsy, by the way, can be caused by viral infections. It’s a temporary facial paralysis that resolves in six months. Yeah, I wouldn’t want it, but it is far less frightening to me than the idea of getting COVID again! And it has nothing in common whatsoever with cerebral palsy, which only happens to kids under age three.
What this sort of anecdote comes down to is, I heard something that made me nervous from someone I know, therefore I am 100% opposed to it.
Even though I can’t even remember the exact details and I’ve never even met the first guy who said it.
The “long-term effects” argument sounds perfectly reasonable. A lot of people are skittish about getting the vaccine because it was developed so quickly. They think that must mean that there can’t be enough testing information from humans, and they don’t want to be that first penguin that jumps in and gets eaten by the leopard seal.
Okay, then, you want more information about “long-term effects” before you’ll take it? What timeframe are we talking here? One year? Five years? Twenty years?
That means you would literally rather the pandemic continue to rage unchecked all around the world for whatever length of time than have a vaccination program in 2021?
What year, can you tell me? What timeframe do you think would be long enough?
Also, could you give me numbers on the number of sick, hospitalized, or dead people that you find acceptable? Like, maybe if the numbers stay low enough we could all wait even longer?
It took over two hundred and fifty years to go from variolation in North America to the elimination of smallpox. (1721 to 1974).
Is that long enough?
I go back to what I was saying to my hesitant friend. If vaccines caused some kind of long-term health effects, we would be seeing that reflected in the longevity data. Vaccines appear to have added thirty years to the average human lifespan just in the last century.
If you think that lifespan increase was due to something else other than vaccines, what do you think it was? Television? Microwaves? Air pollution? 5G?
The most surprising thing to me about vaccine hesitancy is when you hear about it from people who were previously fine with it. People who were vaccinated as kids, who then took their own kids to get their shots, people who were maybe even getting their flu shots up until recently. What changed?
Why are there so many Boomers out there who are nervous about vaccines, when they saw smallpox completely eradicated in their adult lifetime?
Oh, and polio! How many Boomers knew someone who caught polio?
The biggest question of all to me is this. Why would you think that vaccines from 40-60 years ago were somehow safer or better than the vaccines that we have today?
Think it out. How many stories have you heard in your lifetime of people who survived breaking their neck or having a stroke or heart attack? When you were a kid, wouldn’t you have expected that all those things would have killed someone?
Medical science has improved. If you stop and think of all the anecdotal evidence you have of various people surviving accidents or surgery or crazy illnesses, most likely you will be able to come up with a bunch of interesting medical miracles. For instance, we had a neighbor who survived meningitis and another who had a quadruple bypass. I know at least four people who have had brain surgery.
On the other hand, your memory is probably also full of every story you’ve ever heard under the category of Disaster.
It’s a survival trait to trade disaster stories. We don’t want the same thing happening to anyone else. “Don’t eat that, it gave me food poisoning” is probably one of the very first folktales that humanity ever told.
This is where we stand today. We’re constantly bombarded by information from literally millions of possible sources. It’s too much for us all to do due diligence on all of it. The way we cope is by relying on people we can vouch for, people within two or three degrees of separation from us.
We like the stories that come from our craziest friends because they are more memorable and because they seem more trustworthy than whatever we’re told by any kind of larger organization.
We’re at a crossroads where we have to choose what we think is true, and base our actions on that. Unfortunately, the consequences for turning in one direction or the other are more serious than usual. I hope that the path of documentable results becomes more well-trodden and that it starts to be more obvious which way to turn.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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