I’m all for preventative medicine. It’s much easier to prevent an illness or condition than treat it once it has infected you. This isn’t earth shattering news, since we have all heard Benjamin Franklin’s aphorism about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure.
I take this bit of folk wisdom seriously, which is why I get medical exams every year, follow my dentist’s ridiculous suggestion that I visit her every six months, and service my car every 5,000 miles, which could take me six months to reach. I also drive at or below the speed limit to the consternation of other drivers. Yes, I am one of those people.
So why is it I never get a flu shot?
It’s true. As I tell anyone who cares to listen, I never get a flu shot. Invariably, that gets their attention until I admit that every year, as sure as a Jimmy Garoppolo pass, I get the flu. I haven’t gotten it yet this year, but it may be just a matter of time, especially with the arrival of Coronavirus. I remember getting the Norovirus a few years ago. It hit like an earthquake in the middle of the night after a dinner of stuffed bell peppers. I still shudder at the color red.
Where does my resistance come from? I can tell you not from any ideological or philosophical position. It has more to do with my not wanting to be pricked, prodded, or poked by people in white sports coats. They did exactly that when the Swine and Hong Kong flus came around.
Still, I have to admit that even though Sinclair Lewis’ book on microbiology, Arrowsmith (1925), gave me a headache as a teenager, I have tremendous respect for Jonas Salk, the man who helped so many children with polio.
But there’s something much more interesting going on if you consider not my idiosyncratic objection to needles but the larger anti-vaccine movement. This often includes people who not only object to vaccines but subscribe to other conspiracy theories such as 9-11, Area 51, FEMA detention camps, and Stanley Kubrick faking the moon landing.
Setting aside whether these theories are true, I have to ask why they develop and spread in the first place. Nowadays, as soon as a major event occurs that cannot be explained with clarity and logic–and which are?–alternative theories multiply like agar in a petri dish. And why do some people swear their lives and fortunes by them?
The short answer is I don’t know. Maybe they believe these theories reflect secret knowledge (gnosis) of the reality behind the mask of civil society. Maybe they are reacting to the loss of control in their lives and these theories empower them. Or they could just have a psychological need for fantasy. It could be any of these reasons, all of them, or none of them. I also wouldn’t rule out the appeal of something “trending” for the social media set.
Clearly, conspiracy theories serve a need and are not confined to one political or ideological viewpoint. But should they be taken seriously? I’m not sure how you do that except through vigorous investigation and analysis. But even then facts are disputed and denied. Think of Benghazi, the impeachment of Trump, the death of Daniel Epstein.
Was the bullet that killed Robert Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles really fired an inch from behind his right ear? Was there a second gunman? What about the woman in a polka dot dress? There was a suspicious woman in a dress just before the Las Vegas shooting, too.
At one point in my life, years ago, I became obsessed with the JFK assassination in Dallas and read everything I could get my hands on concerning it. I remember sitting up in bed one night, not unlike Woody Allen in Annie Hall (1977), pouring over photos of Jack Ruby’s mother’s dental records. You know, because they were important to the case.
Suddenly, a gentle hand closed the book for me, turned out the light, and patted me on the shoulder. My obsession had needed an intervention of sorts. As it turns out, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
But I’m still not getting a flu shot.