September 17, 2020
When I was studying architecture in the 1980s, the treatises and manifestos of famous architects were required reading. One of the most popular was a collection of essays called Towards a New Architecture, written by French architect Le Corbusier in the 1930s. Corbu, as we called him, was one of the pioneering Modernists, urging architects to move beyond established cultural norms in their designs. “Architecture,” Corbu said, “is stifled by custom. It is the only profession in which progress is not considered necessary.”
Despite facing continuous opposition over the past twenty some years, the global Health Freedom movement has grown in numbers and public awareness. The foundational approach to our conversations about vaccines and vaccine safety, however, has remained largely unchanged. If the movement is to continue gaining traction, that conversation needs to expand not only in volume but in depth of heart and breadth of patience. As a state senator told me, we cannot expect to continue saying the same things in the same way but with louder, angrier voices and expect positive results. We need to grow towards a new conversation.
We know that public discourse about vaccines is not easy. Presently, it has two major components; arguments about science and deeply personal accounts of vaccines gone wrong. The science discussions tend to devolve quickly into feuding facts and dueling data, while parents’ heart-wrenching stories of their children’s injuries are simply dismissed out of hand as hysterical mothers trying in vain to find something to blame for their child’s injury. At a recent legislative hearing in Colorado, there was an audible, collective gasp when a vaccine proponent viciously told a packed committee room that vaccine injuries might be “emotionally real but they are not scientifically real.” During the summer of 2019, a three-day Vaccine and Health Choice Summit was held at the Colorado State Capitol. Throughout the 15 hours of professional, information-rich presentations and conversation, not one Democratic legislator even managed to poke their head in the room to see what was happening. Not one. Numerous efforts have been made at local, state, and national levels to have public debates on the subject, but the vaccine proponents consistently refuse to engage. Having productive conversations in this hostile climate is clearly a huge challenge. And yet, it is imperative that those who are interested in expanding the conversation explore creative and effective ways to do so.
There is a concept about the development of wisdom known as the DIKW hierarchy in which data inevitably leads to information, then to knowledge, and ultimately to wisdom. It is a widely accepted and interesting notion that, like so many 19th– and 20th-century social and scientific concepts, might make sense in a linear universe with known variables. However, that is not where we live—the universe holds more unknowns than we could possibly imagine and moves with a complexity we are just beginning to comprehend. David Weinberger, in his February 2, 2010 article in Harvard Business Review refutes the idea that knowledge derives from filtering information:
It doesn’t. We can learn some facts by combing through databases. We can see some true correlations by running sophisticated algorithms over massive amounts of information. All that’s good.
But knowledge is not a result merely of filtering or algorithms. It results from a far more complex process that is social, goal-driven, contextual, and culturally-bound. . . . Where the decisions are tough and knowledge is hard to come by, knowledge is not determined by information, for it is the knowing process that first decides which information is relevant, and how it is to be used. . . .
The image that knowledge (much less wisdom) results from applying finer-grained filters at each level, paints the wrong picture. Knowledge is more creative, messier, harder won, and far more discontinuous.
If mere information could shift the tide, the movie VAXXED: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe would have changed the world. If flawless, accurate data could change hearts and minds, any random 30 pages of Mark Blaxill and Dan Olmsted’s Denial (Skyhorse; July 25, 2017) or J. B. Handley’s How to End the Autism Epidemic (Chelsea Green Publishing; September 19, 2018) would immediately clarify the issue for any reader. And if there were any true cultural interest in learning from the unvarnished history of disease and the medical industry, Dr. Suzanne Humphries and Roman Bystrianyk’s book, Dissolving Illusions (CreateSpace Publishing; July 27, 2013) would have radically altered the course of the global vaccine paradigm. But these and many other brilliant books are thrown onto the official pyre of “misinformation” and tragically ignored.
So, we end up with one side’s demands for “peer-reviewed studies” fighting with the other side’s calls for “double-blind placebo testing.” While vaccine supporters decry the “anti-science” attitudes of the vaccine hesitant, those who question vaccines push back against the veracity of safety studies funded by the very corporations that manufacture the products in question. And so it goes. Both sides sparring. Both sides throwing punches, counter punches, and blocks. Both sides trying desperately to win the fight, but never really making progress in terms of gaining a deeper understanding of each other or expanding our wisdom about the issue at hand. Both sides demand they are “right.” And both sides retreat to fearful, dark corners where those with whom they disagree are perceived as the “other” and labeled as evil enemies.
This is the easy and time-honored path that history shows leads to failure and additional conflict more often than to any satisfying resolution. But the ideas and ideals of medical freedom are too important to stay caught in this seemingly inexorable web. Advocates for honest cultural cost/benefit analyses of vaccines have the challenge of contradicting the deeply held, carefully crafted, and well financed narrative that “[all] vaccines are [completely] safe and effective.” If efforts to bring the conversation from information to true wisdom are to be successful, the conversation needs to not merely be reframed but to be entirely restructured. The message needs a seismic shift away from even the perception of “angry mothers complaining about their children’s injuries” to one of intelligent, well-informed citizens patiently offering their experiential knowledge for careful consideration.
Of course, mothers are justifiably angry. The rage and deep accompanying guilt that parents of vaccine-injured children bear are unimaginable to any of us with healthy children. These parents followed the rules. They respected the white men in the white coats. They obediently held their babies while nurses injected those chubby thighs with products that caused irreparable harm. Then they are branded as delusional and left not only with the devastation of injured or dead children but also with no legal recourse for any semblance of fair financial compensation.
And yet, while justifiable anger can be an effective spark, it will not sustain a potent conflagration. Clarity of purpose, message, and intent are the fuel, oxygen, and heat required.
To be clear, I am not, in any way, calling for containment of the conversation. It must burn bright and fierce. But, to reach new terrain with meaningful dialogue, the conversation must become more akin to Tai Chi than to the present bludgery. We must be willing to let go of any need to “be right” or “prove our point.” A friend of mine, Donna Kazee, recently posted:
We will never all think or feel or live alike, and finding a way to navigate this existence our own way while simultaneously allowing others to do so as well is critical. We have tough decisions to make as members of communities and nations and the world as a whole. It would behoove us to remember at each juncture what it feels like when our rights are trampled and when we are disenfranchised. This feeling is why I’ve sought out people very different from myself to interact with and learn from. I fundamentally disagree with many of my friends on many issues, but I understand why they hold those positions and take those actions. However, I see more and more people suffering and thinking if only their issues were at the forefront, if only their people had control. . . . It’s not that easy. The goal is to divide and conquer, so I choose to resist that. On all sides.
. . . I enjoy hearing opposing views. It’s how our conscious capacities expand. We all need to work towards harmony as the elite continue to divide us.
If we try, we all have the ability to understand others’ viewpoints, even while respectfully disagreeing. The easy way out is to jump to petty insults and offensive labels. The serious work involves deep listening, empathy, and a willingness to suspend judgment. Perhaps, if we encourage deeper inquiry rather than soaking people in a deluge from our fire hose of facts and data, the conversation could truly ignite. There just might be folks, even (dare I say?) Democratic politicians, who may not support our positions but who may be vaguely cognizant of some tiny crack in their dogma, who may hold one small doubt about the value of vaccines or the validity of vaccine mandates. Our being in constant attack mode does not give them a chance to process, to come to terms with, whatever it is they are experiencing. The natural response when under attack is to resist and shut down.
This conversation is too important to be stifled by custom, the movement too important not to progress. Perhaps if we engage in a new conversation in a new way, those with whom we disagree might be willing to interact in an impactful discussion. If we take the first step out of the fight-or-flight mode, maybe we can create a space where wisdom can enter.
If others feel respected, perhaps they will respect. If they feel heard, perhaps they will listen.
~ Phil Silberman