The other day, the song "The Water is Fine" came on the radio as I was driving. If you're going to read this piece, I recommend watching the video or just skimming the lyrics so that you have context.
As a recusant lover of shitty pop music, I enjoyed it well enough... for twenty-five seconds. Then the singer got to the bit where he proclaimed that he "won't get vaccinated", and my brain experienced the equivalent of tapping the brakes of a front-wheel-drive car on an icy road.
The cognitive dissonance was potent. In the middle of a song that, on the surface, seems to espouse progressive values, the quintessence of anti-progressiveness reared up. Immediately I saw the character in the song as reveling in his own stupidity and ignorance.
My reaction worried me. It felt like a knee jerk. Did I think what I thought because it was a reasonable thing to think, or did I think what I thought because I was toeing the party line? Was I enjoying the feeling of superiority? Was I merely being a good little liberal?
Most worrisome was the thought that I might just be a hypocrite. After all, I'm a gay rights advocate because I wish religious zealots and would-be arbiters of morality would just leave people the hell alone and let them live their lives. Isn't that exactly what the character in the song is saying?
Are liberals who pressure people to vaccinate their kids guilty of the same conceit as conservatives who pressure gay people to stay in the closet?
In the case of vaccination--and in most other cases--liberals have empirical evidence on their side. Getting your kid vaccinated is demonstrably beneficial to the medical health of your community. Not getting your kid vaccinated is demonstrably harmful to the medical health of your community. No like correlation exists between gay people being openly gay, marrying each other and having children, and harm to the community.
Support for mandatory vaccination legislation is substantive. Support for anti-gay legislation is not.
Liberals who pressure people to vaccinate their kids, and conservatives who pressure gay people to stay in the closet, are responding to the same human impulse.
Conservatives see a behavior, and they think "I need to legislate against that behavior because it harms the fabric of society." Liberals see a behavior, and they think "I need to legislate against that behavior because it harms the fabric of society." Conservatives base that assertion on emotion. Liberals base it on empirical evidence. Yet in both cases, emotion undergirds the assertion.
We want control. We don't like being controlled.
Can we agree on that much? Without validating the other side, without giving one inch to their behavior, can we agree on that much? Because if we can't--if we can't agree that the other side is composed of human beings just like us, and that their behavior arises from the same human needs as our own--then we lack empathy utterly. And without empathy, what the hell are we doing here?