Thursday, October 8, 2009

Response to Arthur Caplan's Hysterical Rant on

Holding a Mirror up to Arthur Caplan: Health Commentators Must Refrain from Hysterics or Should Have Their Agit Prop Refused by MSNBC
Matthew J. Bell October 8, 2009

Enough already with all of the alarmist and unbalanced ranting and pontificating by Big Pharma propagandists. Commentators, reporters, professorcrats, and so-called "experts" ought to be required to maintain at least the semblance of objectivity or find another line of work.

A cardinal rule for responsible dialog is the commitment to avoid straw man attacks and to interact sober-mindedly with the strongest formulation of an opponent's position that is available. Arthur Caplan, however, is apparently either ignorant of sophisticated vaccine dissent or, what is more likely, he is such a zealot for pharmaceuticals that anyone failing to show the requisite obeisance for almighty Science is guilty of profaning the temple of Asclepius. In Caplan's estimation, apparently, it is an article of faith that "sophisticated vaccine dissent" is impossible.

Arthur Caplan professes not to be able to imagine what rights are being violated when health workers are pressured into inhaling or otherwise receiving the latest witches' brew into their bodies in order to keep their jobs. Perhaps he studied bioethics in a vacuum, isolated from any political context. Perhaps he didn't pay sufficient attention to political philosophy. Or, what is perhaps more likely, Caplan thinks that his PhD and his bully pulpit put beyond question his own view about how the various pertinent rights should be ranked.

Caplan's hysterical rhetoric seems to reveal quite a bit about either the limits of his imagination or about his inflated estimation of his own opinions. But, his ridiculous and one-sided caricature of vaccine-dissent goes no distance towards addressing what dissenter's suggest are the relevant issues or allaying what to many people are salient objections. In other words, his opinion piece is irresponsible.

Caplan bestows upon himself the title of vaccine thought-policeman. And Caplan, like "most" (to echo Caplan's own vague generalizations about the supposed beliefs of "most" rally-goers) thought-cops, alludes only obliquely to "all the evidence of safety and efficacy of vaccines" that vaccine dissenters "ignore", but he doesn't scruple to provide any examples of this alleged evidence - though it constitute a veritable mountain. And, as is typical for vulgar propagandists of his ilk, he doesn't deign to quote his opposition at length or to enter into an actual point-counterpoint debate.

Instead, Caplan paints dissenters as malicious and selfish. According to Caplan, health workers who refuse the vaccine essentially want to claim for themselves the "right[s] infect [their] patient[s] and kill them" and "to create havoc in the health care workforce ".

Caplan "understand[s] that there are a few people who have medical reasons" for declining to receive flu shots. Presumably, Caplan is here "allowing" for persons with conditions (like egg-allergies) to forego flu vaccinations. Such merciful "allowances" are not an affront to his worship of Science since, in this case, Science itself grants the indulgence.

But, he certainly will not tolerate any deviation from Orthodoxy - specifically no one is permitted to deny the dogmas of vaccination. Caplan even recites a line from the "Hymn to the Flu Shot": "The vaccine will save lives." (I suspect that high-level initiates like Caplan think it prudent, at this point, to forbear pronouncing the "Amen" audibly, lest the cowans get the wrong idea.)

Hence, medical doctors who advise that the Swine Flu "Vaccine May Be More Dangerous Than [the] Swine Flu" itself are, in virtue of this heterodox (even blasphemous) profession, treated as heretics. To Caplan it is doubtless surprising that medical doctors of this type can cease fiddling with their leeches long enough to type articles and, surely, no such doctors would consent to appearing on video to propagate their medieval views, lest the recording equipment steal their souls away.

(Oops! See, e.g., and

Philosophical dissent is completely out of the question, in principle. Hence, persons who might argue for giving priority to particular prima facie ethical duties (like respect for personal autonomy), which priority Caplan would not endorse, should be compelled to recant their heresy or should be fired. (Hopefully Caplan would encounter resistance if he tried to arrange ritual stake-burnings.)

Caplan ends more subtly - and deceptively - than he begins. In conclusion he writes that: "health care workers' own code of ethics dictates that they put the interests of others — their patients — [before their own interests]".

This is "subtle" in the sense that his rebuke here is mild compared with the frantic upbraiding he opens with. It is "deceptive" because it ignores the fact that some vaccine dissenters likely believe that their refusal to take a vaccine WOULD benefit their patients.

First or all, we should qualify our praise of the immediate benefits of the vaccine. Vaccine-boosters themselves should have to admit that "Even those first in line for [flu] shots [in October] won't have immunity until around Thanksgiving."

(MIKE STOBBE, "Swine flu: 10 things you need to know," AP Medical, Tue Sep 1, 11:22 am ET,

Perhaps all health workers should be suspended until Thanksgiving so that they do not "infect and kill" their patients in the meantime.

(And, in passing I remark that it is beyond belief how a medical ethicist can conscionably conflate "infection" and "death". I take it that not even all "infected" persons will even display clinical symptoms of illness - whether they be health workers or patients with some other ailment other than swine flu - let alone die merely in virtue of being "infected".)

Second of all, vaccine dissenters may be mindful of factors such as the possibly non-negligible risk of vaccine failure (i.e., when a vaccinated individual fails to elicit adequate antibody production and, hence, fails to obtain the intended "immunity" from the vaccine), vaccine-induced illness, and the possibility of transmitting foreign animal pathogens to their patients. And these factors ignore personal factors such as exposure to foreign animal enzymes (such as reverse transcriptase) and exposure to a cocktail of potentially harmful or fatal preservatives, germicides, and adjuvants. (See, e.g., Catherine Diodati's privately published book, Immunization: History, Ethics, Law and Health.)

But Caplan, in his capacity as archpriest of the vaccine cult, can dismiss these concerns with a few solemn intonations and pronouncements (one can almost hear the choir, perhaps with organ accompaniment, singing about the glories of flu vaccines as mankind's "best protection [for] babies, pregnant women, the elderly and the frail") and a wave of his hand.

Such objections ("fears" to use Caplan's disparaging term, evocative of superstitious peasants hiding from an eclipse) are obviously "irrational". After all, regardless of the content of the arguments and the caliber of the source materials, anyone without a column on MSNBC, or without a book from a University publishing house, or without the approbation of the Orthodox, obviously has nothing rational to say.

And Caplan has the perfect solution for this rampant "irrationality": Health workers (and perhaps all of the lowly non-initiated population) should be treated just like enlisted military or immigrants and should be forced to submit to vaccinations.

And we have seen that Caplan arrives at this prescription by entirely ignoring the opposing arguments, demonizing vaccine dissenters, and giving dire prognostications about ignoring the oracles of Orthodox Vaccine Science. For a moment, Caplan seemed on the verge of linking all of this vaccine-refusing lunacy with the Mayan calendar.

In other words, Caplan's opinion piece reads rather more like an apocalyptic or prophetic treatise than a piece of philosophy or science. (And, for those keeping track, the “science” in view is the one with a little "s". That is, the discipline that concerns itself with the continual and patient collection and meticulous analysis of evidence and counterevidence and not the ersatz version with the big "S" which, in this case, busies itself with the repetition of sanitized corporate press releases and the protection and propagation of the poisoned needle racket).

But dealing honestly and rigorously with the opposition's arguments, and dealing soberly with risk assessments, is the least that those who claim to be doctor's of philosophy ought to do. (And dealing respectfully with the opposition is just a function of common courtesy.)

It's time for Caplan to "man-up" and start acting like the director of a philosophical center and not like the hierophant of bizarre cult that believes that the earth will be destroyed if we do not inject diseased animal matter into ourselves without delay. Or else perhaps MSNBC should consider filing Caplan's future pieces under the "Religion" section, in the subsection of "Scientism" or else should perhaps refuse his propaganda altogether.


Caplan's opinion piece can be read here:

Sobriety Checkpoints on the Road to Totalitarianism

Sobriety Checkpoints on the Road to Totalitarianism
by Matthew J Bell

One of the hallmarks of totalitarianism is the attempt, by the ruling class, to regulate the lives of the population. Moreover, a primary concern amongst the ruling class is the instillation of obedience in the citizenry - obedience to the ruling class. Furthermore, one facet (although certainly not the only the only one) of this "obedience instillation" process is the utilization of the police forces.

Now, I must preface my further remarks with the following emphatic statement: I am NOT "anti-police" in some unqualified sense nor am I of the opinion that the majority of workaday patrol-persons and "beat cops" have nepharious intentions. I have no doubt but that, aside from the few "bad apples" that plague every bunch, the majority of police officers are just ordinary folks with an extraordinarily dangerous job. But, the fact that I harbor no ill will toward our officers - and I do NOT harbor any ill will - cannot prevent me from criticizing policies and procedures according to the dictates of my conscience.

And, in that vein, I must confess that I perceive that a number of police policies and procedures are, despite the stipulated good intentions of most police officers, contributing to a formation of a species of totalitarianism here in the United States by effectively coercing and instilling obedience in the population. And I remind my readers that "the population" is none other than the "We the People" whose country this is supposed to be.

Amongst the tactics apparently used to instill obedience is the tactic of the creation of fear in the population. It is perhaps unfair to suggest that this particular tactic is a "police tactic" per se, as the media, NTSB, NHTSA, etc., arguably play much more significant roles in this regard. I include reference to this tactic, as this tactic is relevant to the present discussion. However, I will leave aside the problem of determining whether it should rightly be called a "police tactic."

A pertinent example the fear-instillation tactic could be the instillation of the fear of drunk drivers. Drunk drivers are presented as "putting us all at risk" - even though the statistical probability of any one of us, individually, encountering such a driver is quite low, and the probability of being killed by a drunk driver is even lower.

Note well, however, that merely acknowledging the low probabilities does NOT in any way diminish the trauma of drunk driving accidents that do occur. But, that trauma alone is not clearly enough to justify the police intrusion of "checkpoints" that disturb hundreds of drivers, approximately 97% of which turn out to be law-abiding.

(For the 97& statistic see the NTSB press release at the following URL, which release related that the percentage of drivers at roadside "surveys" who were discovered to be "legally intoxicated" was 2.2%. 100% - 2.2% = 97.8%.

(In a similar way, the fact that the statistical likelihood of dying by a lightning strike is also extremely low does not make being hit by lightning a pleasant experience for those unfortunate enough to be hit. But, the horror of being hit by lightning does not seem to have prompted the legislatures to direct police to ticket people for being outside during electrical storms - even though, if police did so, they would surely save SOMEBODY'S life.)

Another totalitarian obedience-inducing tactic is the deliberate application (and repetition) of suggestive language. While I am not competent to chronicle the progression, over some interval traversing the not-too-distant past, Americans have gone - in these sorts of contentious, "civil rights" contexts - from calling persons with both guns and (legitimate) badges "police" or "peace officers" to calling them "authorities". I suggest, though have not the space presently to argue, that the word "police" did not serve to instill the proper submissiveness in contentious contexts.

One will likely read that "Authorities in [such-and-such city] are organizing a checkpoint". Who is organizing a checkpoint? "Authorities" are organizing it. Presumably, we are to understand that this means the police departments with the permission of the city councils, etc. But, the value of the word "authorities" seems to be, in part, that the validity of the checkpoints is more readily accepted. After all, if the "authorities" set up the checkpoints, who is some John Q. Citizen to object? (Note, again, that the use of the suggestive word "authority" does not eliminate recalcitrance, it just arguably minimizes it as well as allowing the recalcitrant to be labeled "disobedient" or, in some contexts, "subversive.")

Every properly educated citizen knows that you don't refuse to "comply" with (obey an) an "authority"! "Authority," after all, is a term of power.

Yet another tactic used to instill obedience is lifted directly from the pages of Skinnerian behaviorism. (Although here, I am afraid, I must again qualify my comment. For this is tactic is not really a separate tactic from those already identified. It is, perhaps, better to say that this point looks at the checkpoint tactic in general.) The existence of such a thing as a "checkpoint" seems to be a case study in operant conditioning. It is difficult for me, not being a behavioral psychologist, to tell whether the checkpoint is best viewed as a positive punishment or a negative punishment - perhaps it is a little of both. But, it seems clear that a primary goal for the checkpoint-technique is psychological: namely, to "increas[e] ... risk perception" - a phrase occasionally employed by the NHTSA (see, e.g.,

But the phrase "increas[e] ... risk perception" has a double meaning. For the "unimpaired", the checkpoints increase the perception that the risk from drunk drivers is so high that drastic and intrusive measures are needful - and this in spite of the low statistical probability that a given motorist will encounter a drunk driver, as mentioned above. For the "impaired" driver - that 2.2% of motorists - the presence of checkpoints increases the perception that it is well nigh impossible to escape the long arm of the law.

There are other tactics as well, of course. But, presently, I do not want to try the a reader's patience further by multiplying examples.

Let me end, then, by reiterating and restating my opening comments. I believe that the police are engaging in practices that contribute to the formation, in America, of a totalitarian system of interference and control. But, I am NOT imputing malevolence to the majority of workaday cops, nor am I suggesting that most police would even consciously recognize (let alone endorse) what I perceive to be their role in employing the sorts of authoritarian tactics that I enumerate above. (I do not blame workaday cops any more than I would blame workaday teachers if I perceived that teachers had inappropriate roles thrust upon them - e.g., as babysitters) I believe that police are victims of the injustices engendered by totalitarian polices and procedures, just as much as non-police. And, to a large extent, workaday cops are "just carrying out orders" - somewhat like bank tellers are forced to charge exorbitant fees and exact oppressive interest charges. I do not hate them personally, even if the system that they serve is odious and despicable.

I do hope that more people - including (or even especially) officers - would take a few steps back and perhaps look at police policies and procedures with new lenses, situating these policies and procedures in the larger context of a country with a declining economy, that is in the midst of prosecuting two imperialistic foreign wars, and that has allowed severe reductions in hard won civil liberties dating back, not just to the 1960s, but to the Magna Carta.

Perhaps, in this context, the best starting point is this: pondering the old adage ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?', that is ‘Who will guard the guards?' Having set up police as unquestionable and irresistible "authorities" what sorts of checkpoints and other intrusions will we have to submit to next?

"The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance." ~ Attributed to Thomas Jefferson.