~Pericles of Athens
By Adriana Gamondes
We seem to be entering a media era that should be called the “Analogy Wars.” If the looming threat of legislation to remove vaccine exemptions and jail dissenting parents weren’t bad enough, we’re also being bombarded with cheap analogies for parents who opt out of some or all shots for their children—like being compared to “Holocaust deniers” or drunk drivers. In the legislative buildup to compulsory vaccination, the media’s anti-choice proponents put civil rights and a basic comparative accuracy at risk.
As many have remarked, it’s strange to see conservatives arguing the liberty position on this issue while some of worst attacks on consumer freedom are coming from seemingly progressive publications and politicians. Not always—Forbes is an openly neoconservative/neoliberal rag. But the pseudoliberal mavens of force in the media are more likely to induce mental whiplash by snatching and subverting progressive brand logos—views on civil rights, environment in the form of climate change, gay marriage and all things equality-ecology-peace-freedom—then slapping the symbols haphazardly over their suppressive campaign.
The practice has been referred to as reverse culture jamming. Borrowing a description of it from UC Santa Cruz anthropology professor Susan Harding’s Get Religion, industry mouthpieces are attempting to pass off corporate and institutional ideology by “appropriating, poaching, channeling, ventriloquism” and “revoicing” the message into a progressive journalistic “pitch” in order to shepherd an errant faction of mainstream progressives back towards the approved and conditioned thoughts and beliefs—or “memes”—from which they’d wandered.
The humanistic and ecological sounding rhetoric means absolutely nothing. For the purposes of the pharmaceutical industry and public health authorities invested in defending the absolute safety and effectiveness of the vaccination program, these journalistic “weapons manufacturers,” whose explosive soundbites and empty allegories—most of which couldn’t legally be issued by industry itself— are uncritically spread through cooperating media to be detonated by policy makers.
But in general, compulsory medicine proponents tend not to dig too deeply into their intended comparisons, instead reducing them to sound bites when elaborating on the analogies and any analysis of the source would inevitably argue a reverse position.
For example, vaccine industry PR defender Dorit Reiss manages to make an awkward matching game of humanist-sounding comparisons in one paragraph, starting with Jesus and ending with AIDS. In criticizing a blogger who protested the use of hate speech by vaccine industry defenders, Dorit points out “the notable lack of any crucifixions of antivaccinationists on the news,” then argues, “First, there are no debates about vaccination. These debates are an invention of anti-science people which is similar to false debates in other fields of science, like climate change, GMOs, evolution, HIV/AIDS, and many other areas...”
In Dorit’s game, commercial biotech products are as safe as evolution, HIV and climate change are actual. If you disagree that the proven safety of GMOs and commercial vaccines belongs in the lineup, you’re “anti-science”… and you also apparently believe you’re the Second Coming.
Consider the source. Before she became a busy crusader within the vaccine-autism controversy with the magical ability to time travel between dozens of media comment threads simultaneously, Reiss wrote a thesis in stealth support of the privatization by multinational corporations of French telecommunications.
What does one have to do with the other? Long story short, in the 1990s, the transfer of once-public France Télécom to a multinational conglomerate (now Orange S.A.) was arguably part of the fire sale of public services and management of resources—like water—to transnational corporate interests in Europe. These mega corporations used the European financial crisis and correctable problems in public services as a fulcrum to lobby the corrupt EU to entrench neoliberal globalization in Europe.
Corporatizing media is one thing. Public services certainly have problems but as we know from the organized cable monopoly in the US, so do privatized services. And it gets worse. Remember Nestle CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe saying water should be privately controlled and is not a human right? Brabeck was remarking on a done deal which has greatly contributed to severe drought in California and elsewhere. And remember the trade of a sacred Native American site to Australian mining corporation, Rio Tinto? Rio Tinto, along with BP Oil and others, set the stage for Indonesian death squads in West Papua which suppress labor and land activists. Add to this the privatization of postal services, TSA, Port Authority and Common Core. That’s neoliberal globalization in a nutshell—emphasis on “hell.”
There’s nothing “free” about the market ideology of transnational oligopolies which have no loyalty to any country or population, only a legal obligation to shareholders and growth. It’s foreign conquest—though that’s alright with Reiss, who argues that small domestic telecom companies would not have been able to enact the transfer from the entrenched French public service, so she’s all for globalization. In light of the general trend, it may not be an accident that Reiss went from one issue to another. The CDC is already partly privatized (through corruption, conflicts, regulatory capture and revolving door employment practices and the rest) and there have been discussions of fully privatizing public health.
Reiss doesn’t criticize that it happened to French telecommunications, why it happened or the predictable increase in corporate bias in French media, but divertingly critiques one problematic corporate strategy—suing government to torpedo regulations that hinder profits. At the time she claimed this was going too far—though currently she supports regulatory capture. In other words, they can buy control, just not sue for it.
What Reiss also didn’t delve into was the chilling number of suicides—now over 30— of French telecommunications workers, which began before she wrote the paper, in response to coercive policies and an environment of fear instilled by multinational consulting contractors overseeing the transition.
Death did not make the cut for Reiss within that issue, nor does it in the vaccine debate—unless the deaths can be ascribed to those who resist corporate control, which, within the current US vaccination debate, are negligible since, so far, none have died from measles in ten years while, according to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, over 100 deaths have been logged in association with the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. Even the New York Times reported that pertussis outbreaks are largely due to vaccine failure.
If someone were making a career of distracting from corporate-driven fallout, there’s a whole world of white collar-wrought mortality in the medical field alone, such as the rise in anthropogenic superbugs and medical error, which is currently the third leading cause of death in the U.S.; and prescription drug deaths, which now outstrip car accidents. Beyond this, there are the 25,900 deaths a year from unsafe consumer products and 33.2 million annual injuries from same at a cost of $700 million. Joel Schwartz of the Harvard School of Public Health estimates that 700,000 Americans die of industrial pollution every year. And 56,000 people die every year from unsafe work conditions. There’s a booming market for deft depersonalization and death apologism—enough to keep Reiss busy for years.
What’s interesting is that Reiss is now a champion of the same spirit of tort abuse for corporate advantage that she lightly criticized in her review of European telecommunications privatization —arguing to sue and fine families who fail to vaccinate on schedule.
To borrow from Hindu scripture, Dorit Reiss is become corporate neoliberalism and the destroyer of consumer rights.
Striking With a Borrowed Sword
As far as Reiss’s sincerity on the issue of climate change, stumping for GMOs produced by multinationals like Monsanto might spoil the effects a bit.
Though Monsanto sold its oil company to BPH Billiton in the 1980’s, it maintains powerful ties to the fossil fuel industry. Monsanto’s CEO is simultaneously director of a dominant mining and fossil fuel contractor, Tetra Tech. And Monsanto—along with petroleum players like Exxon, Shell, Koch Industries, etc., and the pharmaceutical industry—dominates legislative think tanks like ALEC which, incidentally, lobbies to privatize nearly everything. Monsanto and the Koch brothers teamed up to combat GMO labeling.
The reasons for public mistrust of corporate practices and policies run as deep as interwoven industrial interests, though the media usually chalks up the straying of consumers from public health doctrine to fanatical superstition, hatred of science or other problems with critical thinking. So it doesn’t matter if most vaccine safety advocates say they’re not “anti-vaccine” any more than they’d be “anti-water” for hesitating to eat Gulf shrimp after the BP oil spill—for an analogy. It doesn’t matter if most say they’re for choice, the removal of toxic ingredients, more transparency and accountability, a roll-back of industry’s tort protections and fair compensation for injuries rather than the contentious kangaroo court that is the current Vaccine Injury Compensation Program and other legitimate demands. In the cross-hairs of PR machinery, consumer advocates are not what they say they are, cannot define themselves or their positions. Instead the corporate media are anointed definers, ironically borrowing from gospel to cast aspersions on consumer activists using absurd parables to make stinging comparisons.
Bottom line, it’s just hard to pin an extremist label on moderate consumer activists for the purposes of casting them as dangerous and analogizing them to terrorists—the better to craft an entering wedge for a rollback of wider civil and environmental protections. Which is the whole point that many are missing.
Actually not that many are missing the point: according to a USA Today poll, 92% of Americans think vaccines should be a choice. But most Americans didn’t want Citizens United, yet here we are—corporations are now allowed to give unlimited campaign donations to the beltway bandit of their choice. The medical mandate campaign is a direct consequence of this and also a similar wag the dog campaign. Bad analogies—to terrorism, Holocaust denial, AIDS denial and climate change denial, etc. — are the fleas that come with it.
Bill Maher complained about it recently on Real Time during a discussion about the measles scare and push for forced vaccination:
The analogy that I see all the time is that if you ask any questions, you are the same thing as a global warming denier. I think this is a very bad analogy because I don’t think all science is alike. I think climate science is rather straight forward. You’re dealing with the earth. It’s a rock. I’m not saying I know how to deal with it, but climate scientists, from the very beginning, have pretty much said the same thing. And their predictions have pretty much come true... That’s not true of the medical industry. I mean they’ve had to retract a million things and the human body is infinitely more mysterious. People get cancer and doctors just don’t know why. They don’t know why and they don’t know how to fix it. They put mercury in my teeth. I remember my father had ulcers and they treated it wrong. And thalidomide… I could go on about all the times they have been wrong. So to compare those two sciences… I just think is wrong.
But the false comparison is no accident. It was partly to keep the other side from getting to it first. It’s the perfect analogy for autism if you think about it: manmade toxic scourge polluting children’s internal environments and so forth. My recovering daughter has no problem grasping the connection. Her personal theory on Snowmageddon, 2015:
From the whole WMD-ish repetition of it, it’s likely the climate change denial/anti-vaccine trope was first crafted in an industry think tank and that it’s about a lot more than human health and virtually nothing to do with saving the planet.
As one of the authors of a recent documentary on anti-environmental PR spin, The Merchants of Doubt, remarks, the spin is not about the science, but about politics, the role of government and the dark fear harbored by industrialists that environmental regulation will be a “slippery slope to socialism.” What the most controversial environmental movements have in common—including the vaccine safety/autism movement, which the film carefully does not (include)— is that they’re all campaigns calling for government action. Apparently many industrialists would prefer not to have a government that enforced toxic cleanup, reparations or compensation for victims of industrial fallout because, in other words, this assumption is deemed “pinko.” In the weird, time-warped realm of raw power, apparently the Cold War never ended.
Though it covers “greenwashing,” one tactic the film apparently doesn’t discuss is the use of the climate change platform as a stick to beat other environmental movements with while not actually improving the issue of climate change.
I’ve noticed a certain pattern of irony involved in the climate change analogy’s misuse (sometimes with the concession of climate change science advocates), such as the fact that the publications that wield the false “climate change denial” analogy against medical choice advocates in many cases have ties to Murdoch (Vice Magazine) or Bill Gates (Slate, Upworthy, The Guardian’s Global Health blog, guest editor for Gizmodo and The Verge, etc.), both of whom are involved in oil and gas exploration and production—Murdoch in Genie Energy and Gates in in Neos Geosolutions, a mining technology company backed by Goldman Sachs and Saudi investors. At different times, Gates has also had enormous holdings in Shell oil and other fossil fuel producers cited for emissions disasters which resulted in a catastrophic human health toll. Even Sony, which released Merchants of Doubt, is a member of a type of informal Japanese business collaborative called a “keiretsu” that maintains interlocking business relationships and shareholdings with Japanese petroleum through TonenGeneral Sekiyu (Esso and ExxonMobil Japan) and Kyokuto Petroleum Industries.
One threat carried by climate change genuinely does relate to preventive medicine—the risk novel disease pandemics as climates shift along with pathogens. But there’s irony within this threat as well, as the LA Times remarked regarding Gates’ oil holdings in Africa:
The Gates Foundation has poured $218 million into polio and measles immunization and research worldwide, including in the Niger Delta. At the same time that the foundation is funding inoculations to protect health, The Times found, it has invested $423 million in Eni, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and Total of France — the companies responsible for most of the flares blanketing the delta with pollution, beyond anything permitted in the United States or Europe.
Indeed, local leaders blame oil development for fostering some of the very afflictions that the foundation combats.
Oil workers, for example, and soldiers protecting them are a magnet for prostitution, contributing to a surge in HIV and teenage pregnancy, both targets in the Gates Foundation's efforts to ease the ills of society, especially among the poor. Oil bore holes fill with stagnant water, which is ideal for mosquitoes that spread malaria, one of the diseases the foundation is fighting.
Investigators for Dr. Nonyenim Solomon Enyidah, health commissioner for Rivers State, where Ebocha is located, cite an oil spill clogging rivers as a cause of cholera, another scourge the foundation is battling. The rivers, Enyidah said, "became breeding grounds for all kinds of waterborne diseases."
The bright, sooty gas flares — which contain toxic byproducts such as benzene, mercury and chromium — lower immunity, Enyidah said, and make children such as Justice Eta more susceptible to polio and measles — the diseases that the Gates Foundation has helped to inoculate him against.
It’s understandable why passionate advocates for an environmental cause might ignore a few glaring contradictions in their backers or agree to act as fig leaves to make greenwashing corporations look like climate good guys in exchange for an ever-so-slightly constrained platform to air their issues. In this case, Merchants author Naomi Oreskes not only makes the climate change issue more bouyant for mainstream consumption and more attractive to corporate sponsors by disavowing pharmaceutical watchdogs— saying in effect, “I’m not with those guys!”— but loudly defends the perfect safety of vaccination.
There’s an analogy that comes to mind from Russian folklore called “lightening the troika”— when winter travelers fleeing a pack of ravenous wolves would chuck a peasant off the sleigh to keep the wolves busy before the horses wore out.
Ditching ballast to get your pet issues heard also isn’t such a mysterious MO. Politics is compromise. But why are the culprits and their PR throngs flogging a climate change analogy that leads back to their own dirty doorsteps? The same reason the pharmaceutical industry is heavily invested in Autism Speaks. It’s entryism, pure and simple—a way to fix the game, squat on advocacy campaigns that pose a threat to profits and corporate reputations and to control, divert or destroy those movements while also making money off the disaster. Greenwashing front groups are controlled by the chief emissions culprits who, facing the inevitability of increasing focus on climate disasters, stepped in to at least steer the discourse away from the most costly consequences to industry and to keep that discussion generalized and ineffectual. This is how we get negligibly beneficial incandescent lightbulb bans at the same time as “Frack Gag” laws.
The next evolution of spin—the one Merchants didn’t delve into— is also a form of entryism, which is to hijack a particular environmental platform for the side benefit of fracturing environmental and progressive unity, a tactic which goes back to Plato’s totalitarian moral theory of justice: you can’t fully capture a society unless you hijack the bleeding heart lefties. In The Open Society and Its Enemies, philosopher, political analyst and the father of the “Scientific Method” Karl Raimund Popper wrote:
Summing up, we can say that Plato’s theory of justice, as presented in the Republic and later works, is a conscious attempt to get the better of the equalitarian, individualistic and protectionist tendencies of his time, and to re-establish the claim of tribalism by creating a totalitarian moral theory… And he successfully enlisted humanitarian sentiments, whose strength he knew so well, in the cause of the totalitarian class rule of a naturally superior master race.
One way to get the better of the humanitarian element is to “strike with a borrowed sword”— one of the 36 Stratagems of battle from the Book of Qi and included in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War—getting one enemy faction to attack another, then conquering both. “If double his strength, divide him...,” “forage on the enemy… use the conquered foe to augment one’s own strength.”
Analogies and comparative references are shortcuts to making a point culturally accessible. But when progressive-sounding analogies are used by PR entities to jam a particular “culture,” that culture is likely viewed as a foe by the same corporate interests. In that sense, it’s entirely possible that environmentalists are the real targets of the vaccine mandate Trojan horse.
Once Americans lose their right to choose what goes into their bodies or the right to protest lack of safety and effectiveness of commercial pharmaceuticals, they may more easily lose the right to protest what gets dumped or mined or emitted in their backyards. With the Transpacific Partnership looming—a treaty being convened in secret and pushed for fast track authority to circumvent public input, which Robert Reich warns would allow corporations to supplant the rights of states and countries to pass or maintain laws (particularly environmental and consumer protections) that negatively impact profits— it could come to pass.
Hijacking Einstein—the Speed of Hype
Climate change is only one of the false comparisons being flogged by compulsory vaccine proponents in the media and only one of the progressive factions being sicced on medical choice advocates. For another analogy, vaccine industry mouthpieces seem to be grabbing up armloads of comparisons, hijacking dead intelligentsia and human rights campaigns from history as supposed emblems for their arguments like battle-primed would-be divorcés retaining all the top divorce attorneys in town to keep the other side from gathering forces.
Max Fisher for Vox thought it was a good pro-vaccine maneuver to point out that Even ISIS Supports Kids Getting Vaccinated, leading one commenter to tweet “Look, all I’m saying is this is the weirdest iteration of appeal to authority fallacy. EVER.”
But typically the embedded media try to fabricate positive associations for the industries they defend, such as dropping the names of scientific and literary giants throughout their arguments for mandates as a sort of palliative comparison that doubles to set up flattering analogies for use of force against consumers. Using borrowed arguments for a position is fine if the total body of work and social and political ideologies of sources actually supported those arguments. Corporate defenders could quote from Plato, Edward Bernays or Andrew Carnegie to their hearts content without causing any rolling in graves. But the very reason most humanist icons from science and literature endure in historical consciousness as shining lights of ground-breaking nonconformity is precisely because they would not have supported a corporate power grab.
PR operatives like Seth Mnookin would have you believe, for instance, that Einstein—who once said, “It is appallingly clear that our technology has exceeded our humanity”—would have been all for using force against those who question some monolithic concept of “science.” Einstein sells mouse pads, mugs… and the snuffing of civil freedoms and free speech!
It’s unclear what Mnookin’s point was by referencing Einstein in Panic Virus – his 24 chapter, bad analogy and dead celeb-laden treatise on muffling press freedom and mandating vaccines—if he had one aside from attempting to dazzle the reader into believing that he himself grasps special relativity and is therefore a credible authority on science and ethics. Relevant or not, Einstein and special relativity are evoked in a chapter entitled The Simpsonwood Conference and the Speed of Light. In chapter 12, Mnookin lectures on scientific method and rationalism in order to rationalize why CDC officials at the Simpsonwood meeting— a closed-door conference at the Simpsonwood retreat in Georgia which took place over two days in June, 2000— A) sounded more than a little alarmed at the implications of Verstraeten’s first run epidemiological data on mercury in vaccines and neurological impact; and B) appeared to be suppressing data until these data could be spun.
In reference to the above, Mnookin explains that, because Newton’s second law of motion—though contradicted by Einstein’s theory of special relativity—is still essentially true within earth’s atmosphere, we can consider it both true and not true at the same time. Or something. Was he trying to argue that Simpsonwood participants were being both ethical and unethical at the same time; telling the truth while withholding it? Was he trying to indicate that science is never completely sure and requires further review—therefore never absolute—yet can take an absolutist public position? Clear as mud.
In his footnotes, Mnookin includes some calendar poetry on special relativity, writing “Don’t worry if you’re having a hard time following this oversimplified explanation of physics’ most challenging problem. For most of us, understanding special relativity is a bit like true love. We should consider ourselves lucky if we can grasp hold of it for even one fleeting moment.”
Speaking of true love, you know who had no problem grasping hold of special relativity? Members of the Manhattan Project. Readers probably should worry their pretty heads over the use of the reference by someone appointed as an authority— not just on science but on ethics in science and the use of force and absolutism in public health. It’s not only the irrelevancy or the pretense of using unrelated science as a sales pitch, it’s also the way in which Mnookin seems to open the door to further ethical questions without delving into them as an ethicist (boringly, unexpediently) would, such as discussing how Einstein’s original vision for relativity—which spoke to the idea of a space-time continuum and peaceful means of generating power—was derailed to the great regret of Einstein himself.
Special relativity brought us the A-bomb, nuclear holocaust and the arms race. As things shift to a penalty phase in the vaccine debate, the analogy actually does work in a sense for what’s happening to the benevolent vision of preventive medicine—though not in the way Mnookin intended.
On the subject of boomeranging analogies, take this gem in BoingBoing— everyone’s old favorite, the brazen-disregard-for-basic-auto-safety/avoiding vaccination comparison: Removing the Brakes from Your Car is a Personal Decision:
Scientists may say that brakes save lives, but virtually every car-wreck co-occurs with panicked braking -- did you know that in the old days, cars didn't have brakes?
It's true: engine braking was once the norm. And back then, I've heard there were a lot fewer automotive fatalities (and there were none involving brakes, because there weren't any brakes!). Mechanics get paid to service our brakes; they make our cars sick (brakes can warp your rotors) and then charge us money to repair them. Everyone knows that mechanics, as a class, are crooked -- why wouldn't they do this if they could get away with it?
The government wants to force you to have brakes, but brakes or no brakes is a personal decision. Do your research and make your own decision, for you and your family.
Actually, comparing pharmaceutical pushers to auto mechanics works—if you’ve ever considered sprinkling graphite dust on your engine to see if the mechanic did what they said they did or if you’re going to pull out of the lot with a huge bill and more problems than you started with. And the only way the concept of “brake dissent” actually plays into the debate on vaccine mandates is the following:
Transnational auto makers X, Y and Z are the only car manufacturers licensed to sell cars in the US and, through their lobbying and influence of the legislative process, have gained total tort immunity from injury and defect lawsuits. This has increasingly become problematic since a percentage of the cars off their lines contain a flaw in the braking mechanism: the brakes may lock up at any moment, particularly when these cars exceed 20 mph. That is, if anyone is strong enough to press the brake pedal, which is designed for individuals exceeding 350 LBs.
For some years, commuters began using public transportation in larger and larger numbers. Over time, many started seeing the health benefits of reducing carbon impact, walking greater distances and not dying in a fiery crash, though most still longed for safer and more reliable cars. When the eco trend dented auto manufacturers’ profits, city after city began shutting down subway, bus and commuter rail systems, even outlawing bike riding and walking in many urban business districts. Left with no other way to get to work, some Americans brought their cars to alternative mechanics or attempted to repair the brakes themselves.
These commuters were widely reported in the press to be flagrantly attempting to drive their cars without any brakes at all, whipping up artificial public outcry against this purported disregard for basic safety. Mechanics caught attempting to redesign brakes were stripped of their business licenses and called “anti-transportation,” though in their own defense, several pointed out that if only Americans could opt for models sold in Europe with more conservative and reliable braking systems, there would be less auto fatalities. Meanwhile, a well known media defender of auto safety, who had famously goaded Americans to “Just drive your damned cars,” was caught getting takeout in a German model SUV deceptively fitted with a minivan body model sold in the U.S.
Eventually disaster capitalism grew around the increase in traffic accidents, disincentivizing any hoped-for improvement in auto safety. Sales of pain medication, prosthetics and funeral services exploded. And due to criticism over the ineptness of American drivers in the media, a massive “driver screening” industry boomed and a neoliberal scheme descended to privatize drivers ed for the purpose of channeling taxpayer funds to multinational corporations.
And all along, car makers and regulators argued that brake-related car accidents are caused by genetic “restless leg syndrome,” resulting from the poor breeding choices of old, ugly and otherwise defective ancestors. In fact, industry and regulators claimed that there had not been a 10,000 fold rise in auto fatalities and severe injuries related to failing brakes: instead, they argued, Highway Patrol had developed “increased recognition” of fatal accidents whereas, years earlier, smoking wrecks filled with rotting corpses had simply been bulldozed to the side of the road and called “modern art.” The missing were assumed to be hidden from public view in institutions or merely camouflaging their fidgety legs in professions that involved pedal-driven machinery or kicking things—like footballs, soccer balls or clods of dirt.
And that’s why the corporate media puts dibs on analogies.
Adriana Gamondes is a Contributing Editor to Age of Autism and one of the blog’s Facebook administrators.