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Beauty Amidst The Dangerous

October 3, 2010

I’d taken a break from angry places lately, and it was a good thing to do. 🙂 I plan on continuing to visit those places infrequently, venturing in at random moments just to give things a peak, see what’s going on, see if the general tone changes. 

Sometimes the best thing to do with places like AoA is to view in moderation. The danger of AoA continues to lie in three main areas: the harm they cause themselves, the potential for causing people to fear vaccines and risk serious illness and death (think California whooping cough outbreak), and in the impression the folks there can make on parents new to the autism community (scaring the crap out of them rather than offering positive support and practical solutions). 

If we must upon occasion be forced to venture into angry places, a tether to the world seems a necessary excuse to share the latest hurrahs from the garden as my husband and I go about (somewhat haphazardly) to put the rather large, definitely messy garden to bed for the coming winter.

The AoA crowd continues to foment dangerous conspiracy theories, namely the idea of vaccines as eugenics: “Social Darwinism has replaced “survival of the fittest”. Pharma is simply culling-the-herd of ‘useless feeders’ employing the biggest portal of diseases in the world today, the vaccine schedules. It’s a false-flag campaign against the people. It’s not paranoia, if they really are out to get you!” 

This particular comment is very telling in that it quotes Alex Jones’s The Prison Planet, making it clear once and for all (if there were any doubts) that the most diehard believers in the vaccine issue not only think vaccines cause autism and in general are designed to kill and maim (how do they explain the millions who get vaccines and are fine?), they also believe in larger governmental conspiracies, as well. 

Making one cock her head in a “Really, you couldn’t google this? Ah, so general laziness for fact checking is a problem” is this comment: “Nurse Kratchet from “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” is the perfect poster child for the vaccine industry supporters. (Yes it is an industry they are supporting, not medical science because the factual science demonstrates a myriad of vaccine risks, health damages, and even death.)” It’s Nurse Ratched.

Perhaps, though, as I’ve written previously, One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest is apt as a way of understanding  those who are AoA’s most fervent supporters: As the Chief says in One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest, “But, please.  But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.” 

What other explanation is there for this: “It breaks my heart that so many other children had to be killed and damaged by vaccines for my children to be saved.” How ironic is the screen name of “own truth”?

It’s troubling to read these comments and I think of parents new to the diagnosis looking for information. The real damage that AoA does is not through the articles themselves that the contributors put up (although they are often bad), but from the people who comment. I wonder at times, especially when someone writes about the forthcoming “revolution” just what comments don’t make it through. Many of us personally know that our comments don’t, regardless the tone or the tack taken.  So when I read a comment like this: “I am making an excellent contribution to society with my never vaccinated children, who have no health problems, learning disabilities, behavior or emotional problems,” I have to wonder what things the bloggers feel are inappropriate for their readers, besides accurate information and pointing out inaccuracies?

It’s a relief, though, to see that some of the writers realize they aren’t an online daily newspaper, though, as Dachel herself notes that she is  “a member of the autism community and a writer for the daily online blog, Age of Autism.” It remains unfortunate that AoA is still listed in news searches. AoA, despite the mainstream media’s reluctance to give the vaccines-cause-autism argument much air time, has not changed its direction. Instead of truly examining the latest thimerosal study, they believe the government conspired to time the release of the study to beat Blaxill and Olmsted’s book, so earth-shaking the work is that it requires massive conspiracies to thwart the American people from being permanently swayed by its ‘science.’

The appropriate response for me towards the individuals at AoA who fervently believe in their truths of governmental conspiracies is compassion. We cannot reach them, regardless of how we couch our rhetoric and so attempts to reach them once they’ve set on that course seem to be futile. 

Attacking them has yielded nothing other than a oneupsmanship on nastiness (along with some occasionally delightful snark). I’ve decided I’d rather not dwell there; it doesn’t help make anyone’s lives better. I’d rather focus on providing access to accurate information and positive support, along with the occasional pointing out that some things just aren’t rational or likely to be real and let readers decide.

It is our nature to try to make sense of the world and the things that happen to us. These individuals have done this, crafted explanations they believe to be plausible and real. To them, “it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.” In order to navigate the world and circumvent some of the danger inherent in their rhetoric, we must understand this fundamental reality about the worlds they inhabit. I don’t think pity is appropriate as it sets us up as superior to them. We are not. I don’t think derision is, either, as it does the same. There is danger in how we let ourselves think about people we believe to be misguided; if we approach them with derision, pity, and scorn, we see them as other and less, and therefore not a part of our community. 

I think when we hold them out as other and less we forget that they are parents on a similar journey, that they have children like ours whom they love and ache over, that they want their children to do well. I think that if we really embrace the concept of diversity and the value that is innate in all of humanity, then compassion is the logical emotion to feel. Compassion allows us to begin the process of understanding how they got to where they are and to set about creating information to counter that pathway.

Carl Sagan wrote that he believed if we made science education accessible and interesting enough, people would not choose pseudoscience. It seems obvious from later writings that he backed away from that idea, that some woo would always be so mysterious, so magical, so much more interesting that we would always be vulnerable. I think that the two concepts can work in tandem, that we recognize  our vulnerability to woo while offering scientific information coupled with positive support and the humility to admit that science cannot offer all the answers people wish for. It won’t get around people’s need for absolutes, but it might make it more comfortable to deal with the realities we face.

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