Anti-Vaxxers and the Schism in American Culture

Courtesy of Mercury Messenger

By V.B. Price

As an 81-year-old fully vaccinated, often masked-up male in moderate good health with a pacemaker who has so far managed to escape getting sick with COVID-19, I was heartened when I read recently of UNM’s and NMSU’s decision to require COVID-19 vaccinations for faculty, students, and staff this semester. I was also relieved that the conservative Albuquerque Journal hadn’t gone over to the dark side but instead opined in an editorial that a mandate for vaccines was “likely our best bet to keeping NM safe.” And despite an apparently nasty and disruptive outbreak of anti-mask protesters at an APS meeting last week, an opposite trend may be in the air. Even FOX News’s Sean Hannity has taken to admonishing his viewers to get vaccinated if not masked up.

But we have bewildering and saddening news that Republican New Mexico Rep. Yvette Herrell has signed on to a bill that QAnon operative Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia supports to pull millions of dollars in federal funds from universities that require vaccinations, including UNM and NMSU. The bill is not likely to get enough votes. But that a New Mexican lawmaker would consider undermining the institutions of higher education in her own state because of a conspiracy theory, redoubles my desire to make sense of the anti-vaccination movement and what seems to be a deepening schism in American culture.
What is going on? I can’t answer for certain. But it does seem to me that many people in our country are playing by a different set of rules about reality and truth, rules that differ radically from the fundamental rationality of the scientific method that underlies the inventiveness and effectiveness of the technological society in which every one of us lives.

Without the scientific method and the technologies it makes possible, we would have nothing upon which we’ve come to depend — no electricity, no internal combustion engines, no clean water, no airplanes, no cancer cures, no telephones, no televisions, no refrigeration, no mass-produced clothing, no public health system, no dams and highways and automobiles, no computers, no Internet, no medical science, no hospitals that save lives, no assembly lines, no reliable food supply, no microwaves, no solar energy, no natural gas. The scientific method is at the heart of American Pragmatism which believes that what works is true. Vaccines work. The magical thinking and radical skepticism of anti-vaxxers do not work — do not protect them from the spiking COVID-19 that is killing and sickening so many unvaccinated Americans.

The scientific method in its simplest form observes needs and problems, asks questions about how they can be met and solved, proposes tentative answers, makes predictions based on those tentative answers and then tests their predictions against what actually happens. It’s looking for evidence, for theories that work. Science stands against rumor, gossip, superstition, and the monsters of fear. It is not in itself an ideology, or a religion, or a dogma. It is a way of seeing if our ideas are true or false in the real world.
By pulling away from the scientific method, many Americans must feel estranged from the society in which all of us live. They must feel that they don’t belong, that their version of reality is missing from the general discourse. Their frustration leads to rage. And rage is the high-octane fuel of political manipulation. It seems entirely possible that the paranoid fringe of the Republican Party is the creation of the billionaire elites, that the top of the hierarchy is creating fear in the dispossessed, and using it to manipulate elections and secure a hold on power.

If the Heritage Foundation, and other conservative think tanks like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), funded by Big GOP money, are supporting efforts to undermine the validity of the vote in Arizona and elsewhere, as the New Yorker has pointed out recently in a piece called The Big Money Behind the Big Lie, then what else are they supporting in the Republican Big Tent? Do they have the blood of the sick and dying on their stock portfolios?

Published with edits, permission from Price’s weekly Mercury Messenger. To read and subscribe visit