21. The Roots of Anti-Vaxxer Conspiracies
Most of us are small fish in a very large pond, but the egos of some refuse to accept that. Then as now, many nineteenth century anti-vaxxers were driven not by reason and logic, but by an emotional need to become big fish. As such, no facts or reasoning could get them to alter a position that they had not reached based on facts or reason. They figured that they had discovered a nearly effortless shortcut – reading a few pamphlets then, watching some YouTube videos now – that gave them superior insider knowledge. The possession of such knowledge made them feel smarter than genuinely smart people – the experts who had put in years of hard work and study to understand complex things.
In the weird world of dumb conspiracies – be they anti-vaxxer, flat earth, 9/11 trutherism, Q-Anon, etc., – the believers are suddenly smart according to those who believe as they do. Although without any significant accomplishments or merit, belief in the conspiracy makes them “enlightened”, and allows them to lord it over everybody else. Without significant effort or serious study, they can still act like and be accepted as experts within their niche group, and validate each other’s need to be acknowledged as smart. That instantly transforms them into big fish in a small pond, and nothing will get them to leave that pond. The 1885 Montreal anti-vaxxers, like their ilk today, were not so much proselytizing their anti-vaccine conspiracy as they were defending their own egos.