The Vaccination Debate
One of the hottest topics in our nation's news right now is over vaccinations. Half the nation thinks people should have the right not to vaccinate their children while the other half believes people should be compelled to do so. This debate, like all of our national debates, is flawed. The reason it's flawed is because it doesn't address the real issues.
Why do we care about vaccinations? Why does it matter whether or not to someone else vaccinates their children? The answers to these questions are obvious. These things matter to us because we care about our own health and the health of the ones we love.
Yet, for reasons too complicated to address in this post, our debates unnecessarily take the form of two options. On the one side of the debate is the individual rights argument: the individual has the right to do whatever he or she (or in today's case "undecided gender") wants to do. On the other side of the debate is the public rights argument: public policy should steer the nation in the course directed by our cultural elites by the use of coercive force. (Credit to Wendell Berry's essay "Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community" for the individual/public dichotomy)
The main problem with this structure of debate is how limited it is. The reason it is so limited is because we have no sense of any form of life and structured existence outside of the individual or national identity. Our society clings to the remaining shreds of family that used to offer a semblance of this existence. But even a recovery of family wouldn't necessarily fix the structure of our debates. What is necessary is a recovery of community.
Community creates an organic society that eludes the rigid frustrations of "Public Policy" while offering structure and responsibilities which demand more from individuals than the pursuit of their wants. Certainly the recovery of the family is central to the recovery of community. But too often those concerned with the family unwittingly embrace the binary debate discussed above and fold the family into the preexisting arguments for individual rights or public policy.
The form of our debate over vaccinations shouldn't be about whether or not individuals have the right to vaccinate their children or not. Neither should it be about whether congress should pass a law requiring all parents to vaccinate their children. Neither of these options of debate deal with what's necessary. What's necessary is the actual care for those who we love and those we are called to love; our neighbors.
Too often we view the concept of "neighbor" in a ethereal and nebulous sense rather than believing our neighbor is the person who we actually live by. Likewise, our national debates about individual rights or public policy tend to assume this ethereal and nebulous sense as well. We have these ideals about what individuals should be able to do and/or what we should use the coercive force of government to accomplish while all the while our neighbor and community is right outside our door.
Our debate over vaccination should take place in community. People shouldn't be coerced by Washington to do something to their children that is pointless in their community. Likewise, if your community suffers from exposure to some sort of disease that has a vaccination then the community should take action to address this need. Not in a coercive way but in a practical and loving way. Communities organically place responsibilities on its members to act in a certain way. This is a good form of coercion, not by the use of force from outsiders but by the use of natural bonds of mutual need and love from within.
Unfortunately such a perspective is all but unheard of today. I believe the main reason is due to our need to validate our views through the central government. We've been conditioned to believe that our views only hold public weight when they are confirmed through an election or the cultural elites of the New York Times. What this has created is entire generations of Americans who believe they must validate their views and perspectives through national laws. Nothing could be more destructive to communities. Such an approach shackles our ability to work in and for our own communities because it insists on universal conformity of every community.
We have a long way to go until we begin to reverse this tide of centrism to a point where we actually care about our communities. However, one small step that can be made is refusing to play by the rules of our current debate structure. If you ever find yourself encouraging the use of centralized power to make decisions for a community you are not apart of (or even a community you are a part of) STOP. This is not the way the world works.
To conclude, I want to make the case that this perspective is actually an outworking of a Trinitarian worldview. The uniqueness of the Trinitarian worldview is that it emulates what no other worldview can emulate. The Trinity is both One and Many. Our current societal forms either promote the many at the cost of the one (public policy) or the one at the one at the cost of the many (individual rights). In every relationship this dichotomy is resisted. In marriage, friendship, and communal bonds their is a loving tension of submission and glorification between those involved; the one and the many embrace. The one and the many are not destroyed in competition but upheld and glorified in relationship. This cannot take place at a national level. This can only take place in true relationships which can only take place within community.
Food for thought.