I'm on a number of listservs for my research. It gives me a window into people's thoughts about certain topics, and it helps me think about the sorts of concerns that my subjects might have about the relevant topics.
I've noticed that people are signing their posts "blessings". It makes me realize how far removed I am from most of American life in my own daily life. I'm sure it's meant to be a respectful way of signing off, but I find it very confrontational. Clearly I have issues with public announcement of religious faith, or even public forms of spirituality. I'm not sure why. I guess I am generally distrustful of the need to proclaim one's beliefs so visibly. Though...I did buy my last set of checks with "Pro-Choice" emblazoned on the background (which I do regret, now 2 or so years later), so I'm not sure why I'm trying to pretend that I'm any different from anyone else. My publicly declared beliefs aren't religious, but I take them seriously, and I want people to know my position. Hmmmm....why do I interpret religious faith as distinct from political faith or moral beliefs?
One of the more remarkable moments in the last few months of fieldwork was having a physician say, after I'd turned off the recorder, "I'm talking about faith." I was a bit jolted by the claim, and he smiled and said, "Faith in science." He was playing with me, by starting out proclaiming that one had to have faith, after we'd been talking about the scientific reality (according to him) of the vaccine, and then announcing that there was a faith component. But of course, science is a faith, even if its empiricism feels more compelling to me than religions' forms of faith. This seems to be a central struggle that my subjects who are opposed to vaccination are dealing with -- whom should they believe? The CDC? Jenny McCarthy? Why is one source of information more credible than another?
Over dinner last night, my Ride-Arc posse and I were talking about wikipedia and students' fondness for citing it in their papers. I feel strongly that students shouldn't be using wikipedia. Perhaps more than anything, it's that they fail to use multiple sources, and they depend far too much on wikipedia's accuracy. Though a number of other people have tried to argue with me that its public forum monitors its accuracy and is self-correcting, I still maintain that one cannot depend on a single source, no matter how publicly monitored, for one's information. The problem of how one identifies legitimate information actually ties back to my research, as informants have angrily described stories of harm caused by vaccines, or a group I've been working with claimed that Detroit had passed an incredibly racist law, which I later found out was actually a satire published on a blog (noted on the site as a satire). Yet for both these groups, the information they discovered was sufficient to confirm their fears. There was little critical interpretation to the information they'd acquired. [This has been a debate in my personal life, as well, with a friend who is determined to show me Hillary's evil ways, but only presents part of the story, or misrepresents the information because it suits him to do so. I tend to be much more of a realist, hardly believing either Obama or Clinton is immune from human fallibility...but, this is a bit of a tangent.]
I guess, faith to me seems narrow-sighted, or at least potentially dangerous. (Really what this points to is my inability to believe in much of anything. I would even say my only belief is in skepticism, though this gets incredibly exhausting. I fear I am becoming a contrarian on principle, a fault of my liberal arts' education? The dangers of relativism and postmodernism as taught in the late 90s? Or just me, being difficult?) Still, as I find with my informants who believe strongly in their position (whether they are pro, anti, or moderately against vaccines), it's hard to really weight information equally. Information that discredits one's belief tends to get shunted aside. I know that I do this all the time. I think I've been guilty of it during the democratic presidential candidate process -- among other things. So I would be naive in expecting others to be any better at parsing information. In other words, what I find most compelling is to understand what drives people's interests in certain kinds of knowledge rather than assessing whether their knowledge is in fact correct. How do we aggregate and collect information and negotiate between the media onslaught that modern technologies permit?
Unrelated news: I still want a dog. Falcx, the feline, would not approve. Also, I don't think I can return to the world of renting with both a cat and a dog. However, if anyone has a low-cost rent-a-dog, I might be in the market.