The anti-vaccination crowd wants the same thing as the rest of us: good health, happiness, and a long life. Some of the ideas they’ve picked up from the Facebook Journal of Science and Medicine on how to achieve those things are deeply wrong, but that does not make them evil.
If you read stories like Boy spent 47 agonizing days in ICU with tetanus. Parents still refuse vaccines, Anti-vax parents sue to keep unvaccinated kids in school during outbreak, or I’m 16 and my dad refuses to get me vaccinated, him and our doctor falsify vaccine papers so my school thinks I am up to date but I’m not then it’s hard not to feel enraged. The harm is real and the ignorance is frustrating.
But imagine that you really believe vaccines are harmful; reasoning from this mindset it makes sense to obstruct vaccines in any way you can, as you really you really believe it will harm your child. From their world view allowing your children to get vaccines would be similar to casually allowing your children to get addicted to heroin. I think we can agree that “47 agonizing days in ICU” is better than a lifetime of severe autism. This is a false dilemma of course, but from the perspective of the poor boy’s parents this is the choice they’re facing.
I feel this is an important point to make, because just dismissing these people are evil (or even stupid, for that matter) is not helping towards correcting some of the misapprehensions they’re suffering from.
This kind of reasoning can be applied to many topics. How do you expect a religious person to be quiet if they genuinely believe that a non-believer will spend an eternity in hell? From their world view not attempting to convert “heathens” would be similar to casually looking on to someone’s suffering. They attempt to convert people because they care. This is why I think calls from fellow atheists that religion should be kept strictly a private affair are unrealistic.
Many – though not all – conspiracy theorists strike me as well-intentioned. I suspect that one reason some appear a bit angry and, eh, unhinged, is because they’re frustrated that everyone is being deceived by some evil entity (often the government in some form or the other).
I think this sort of empathic reasoning is vital, as it allows us to understand people’s frame of reference, spot the flaws in it, and (hopefully) fix them. With “empathy” I do not mean emotional empathy, merely cognitive or intellectual empathy. It can be applied equally well to hateful and evil views, such as those of Anders Breivik or Brenton Tarrant. I have zero emotional empathy for these people, but I do think we need to intellectually empathize with their world view and frame of reference to fix some of the problems we have in our society.