Vaccines, Police, and the Social Contract of Trust

A few thoughts on the social function of trust in the establishment.  I don’t mean to offend anyone, and I’m not 100% sure about this, but this is what I think so far.

My kids were riding their bikes with the neighbors the other day, and pretending that the cops were pulling them over for speeding.  “If you’re going too fast, the police will give you a ticket and take you to jail!” my son said.  “Yeah,” his friend chimed in, “or shoot you!”  His mother was horrified, and rushed in to explain that police only use force if it’s really necessary, and usually they’re very nice and they help people.  I’ve seen this reaction in kids before, especially when we lived in a couple of bad downtown neighborhoods–every time the police drove by, the kids would hide, or warn their parents.  We also had a friend from Rwanda who was terrified of the police, because in his country, if the police pulled you over, they were probably going to beat you up.  We had to convince him that things weren’t like that in America.  In America, you might run into an occasional bad cop, but he was the excpection, not the rule.  In America, we trust the police.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the function of trust in modern society.  We know that some policemen are corrupt or incompetent, but in general we trust them.  We know that the government can be corrupt or incompetent, but in general we trust it–or at least, we trust the FDA, the court system, the surgeon general, and other systems that keep things running smoothly.  Even a conservative who distrusts big government is likely to assume that, in general, our food and products are safe, our justice and voting systems are fair, and our police are lawful.  It’s almost like a social contract that keeps the whole system afloat.

I think the vaccine debate is a good example of the chaos that results when people are no longer willing to start from a default position of trusting the systems we’ve set in place.  I’m not advocating blind trust in the establishment; I try to do some research on my own, and question anything that doesn’t sound right to me.  But in general, I trust mainstream American medicine, and I trust the FDA.  Without a baseline trust in the FDA, we’d have to make every medical and nutritional choice on our own, and most of us are not qualified to do that.  (Plus, who has the time and energy?)  When I see stories like this, about the FDA, the Postal Service (!), and the Consumer Protection Branch of the DOJ exposing a man who sold commercial bleach as a miracle cure, I’m very grateful for the way our government functions.

It’s becoming fashionable to resort to a default of suspicion rather than trust when we think about the medical establishment.  Aside from the fact that very few of us are knowledgeable enough to reasonably challenge commonly accepted medical practices, this creates a huge practical problem–how can society function without this common ground?  How can our government or doctors be effective if they are constantly being forced to prove their qualifications?   Obviously, they must prove their fitness for authority before they are given their position; but once a doctor has earned his MD, or the FDA has rigorously tested a medical treatment and approved it, what sense does it make to assume they are out to get us, unless we have a good reason to think so?




4 thoughts on “Vaccines, Police, and the Social Contract of Trust

  1. Though, of course, we do need some trust in our political and societal institutions, but we also have to remember that they are run by human beings, who do, from time to time, make mistakes. I think something to consider might be the motives behind those who work for and run the various institutions. For instance, people who become police officers usually do so because they want to make their communities safer, and because they want to help people. Only a few of them seek the position out of a desire for power. It is easy to trust a motive which focuses on helping others. I think the same goes with doctors. Though it is healthy, on occasion, to seek second opinions, it is more so because they are people, and they do not always agree with one another. The vaccine industry is a different story. It is run solely for profit. It is not run by people seeking to make their communities better; it is mostly run by businessmen. Did you know that the vaccine companies are not held accountable if a child has a reaction to a vaccine? The federal government pays the settlement bills. If they are not held accountable for their products, and are based around the need to make a profit, we should take what they tell us with a grain of salt.


  2. Though I do agree that we need some level of trust in our society, and in the various government bodies that run it, I feel that we must also remember that these are institutions run by human beings, who, from time to time, do make mistakes. It may be worth considering the motives behind those that run the different insitutions. Take for instance the police. Though there are always a few who sign up for the job because of a hunger for power, most people who join the police force join because they want to help make their communities safer. It is easy to trust someone with such a motive. A doctor is in a similar boat, as most of them go through years of schooling in order to help people. Even then, people are constantly seeking second opinions. The vaccine companies, on the other hand, make a product which they sell for a large profit. They are not even held accountable if a child has a poor reaction. If a parent sues, the federal government pays the settlement, not the vaccine company. Sometimes one must do research.


  3. Good points. . . . I was scheduled to be induced w/ my second baby, and I started reading too many studies about one of the drugs that would be used (cytotec). My OB (ordinarily very obliging) said, “I know it’s your body but . . . I think you need to trust me as your doctor.” I bristled at this at first. . . . but then it occurred to me,–Yeah, I can’t read through every single study on every single medication or treatment I’m ever going to use. I’ll go crazy and never get through all the information anyway. . . . This is one of the things I pay my doctor to do for me! . . . Not that I don’t do some research still. But it was like a breakthrough moment for me. (And the induction went just fine.)


  4. Fascinating points. I think one could even draw a parallel between this rising distrust in government with the already rampant (and accepted) distrust in religious authority.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s