If we think of some world views as viruses... Would it hypothetically be possible to create a vaccine for this or, in another way, make a person immune to these views? I'm thinking racism, xenophobia, sexism etc.

And if this were possible, what would be the moral/ethical implications of this for you?

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    $\begingroup$ I think it is called raising your kids to instill them with certain beliefs. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 15, 2021 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen people change their ideas by themselves, people can't magically change their health by changing what virus they have.... I was raised in a religious family and I've been an atheist since.... Probably since I was born, never believed in anything as a child and nothing changed now. $\endgroup$
    – user81643
    Jan 15, 2021 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ @User24712 Neither are vaccinations 100% effective. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 15, 2021 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ @User24712 If you're trying to argue that vaccines are 100% effective, then you need to do some reading. They do not always stick nor do they always last a lifetime. Weak vaccines are also a thing. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 15, 2021 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ Such a vaccine would be a godsend to dictators and totalitarians. I can think of a number of existing regimes that would find such a vaccine as beneficial to their situation. There would be no need for reeducation camp for masses of people, just a jab is all that would be needed. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Jan 17, 2021 at 10:48

8 Answers 8


There is an interesting concept called memes. The term was formed in analogy to gene -- a meme is a bit of memory, a thought, which is held by people, transmitted, mutated, fit into different contexts, just as genes spread. Attention: The more recent use of the term meme to describe a catchy image or slogan is related, but not quite the same.

So inoculate people against bad ideas the same way you inoculate them against bad viruses. You confront their immune system (their mental immune system, in this case) with parts of the threat in a manner it can recognize and learn to defeat. The details depend on the age, of course.

Carefully introduce children to different ethnic groups, different gender roles, different sexual identities at an early age. Yes, that kid has two mothers and no daddy. Say that that is perfectly OK and leave it at that. Don't go into the details what those two mothers do in the bedroom until the kids are much older.

And of course teaching that that is OK means teaching a certain set of morals, just as teaching that that is not OK means teaching a certain set of morals. The moral/ethical implications are the same as for any teaching -- stand by your morals, but enable them to make their choices and accept that their choices might differ from yours.

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    $\begingroup$ The concept of memes is one that more people need to be aware of in the era of social media. Memetic viruses are much more insidious than the normal kind. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Jan 15, 2021 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs, memetics can also be over-hyped. Once upon a time, people talked about plain old propaganda. (The first Iranians I ever knew were a grocer in my hometown with an awesome selection of olives, and some academics who had fled during the Revolution. Of course that colored my view of Iran, long before people talked about memes.) $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Jan 15, 2021 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ I’m a particular fan of the ‘If I’ve tagged you in this don’t disappoint me’ delivery format. It seems so innocuous... $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Jan 15, 2021 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for proper terminology. Meme is a great word $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Jan 15, 2021 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ do this especially before and during the beginning of puberty, as thats when a human mind is most malleable. additionally, being in an environment in which these are common things and not specifically pointed out very often helps normalize this in a childs mind, making them more comfortable in such situations. $\endgroup$
    – zackit
    Mar 8, 2021 at 14:56


It's probably not the answer you want to hear, but this is something that is already possible, but not in the way you might think.

A cultural anthropologist would tell you that social norms, and mores, are learned attributes that individuals acquire during their lifetimes. Such things as behavior modeling, media portrayal, and peer interactions all influence an individuals tolerance or intolerance toward certain views. This includes sexism, racism, and xenophobia.

In a broad sense this is the same general concept behind vaccination. In biological vaccination, you expose the immune system to a stimulus and train it to respond in a certain way to that or a similar stimulus, making you immune to that stimulus. In contrast, if you, for example, have a child watch a movie where the bad unlikable people have racist views and the good, likable people are not racist, this teaches them to not be racist. I'm not saying that one exposure is enough, it takes many exposures of different types and varieties for individuals to adopt the norms and mores of their societies, but it is similar to vaccination in the sense that frequent exposures to a stimulus creates a trained response.


Vaccinating against "feelings" is very different from vaccinating against "ideas & beliefs"

Chemically preventing a person from experiencing certain feelings is something we do all the time. We give people antidepressants to keep them from feeling sad, or if you want a more permanent fix (like a vaccine), there are surgeries to remove or reduce the size of various hormone creating glands, and then there are things like lobotomies that simply prevent your brain from consciously acknowledging your feelings by destroying the necessary neural pathways for processing them.

So in theory, you could develop a chemical designed to kill off the cells used by specific glands responsible for certain feelings; so, you can plausibly vaccinate against feelings.

However, ideas & beliefs are a completely different issue. Beliefs are a function of your general learning system formed by pairing experiences with feelings. By preventing a certain kind of feeling, you can prevent people from learning certain things, but you will completely prevent them from learning anything which relies on that emotion. So, if you vaccinate against hate, you can prevent people from caring about issues like race and gender, but you will also prevent people from caring about issues like homicide, rape, and theft because we are supposed to hate those things. Instead of making a more tolerant society, you will get a more apathetic one where people will mistreat each other indiscriminately without any real consequences.

So, if you want to change a specific belief, you need to change the specific experiences that form and reinforce that belief rather than the learning mechanism itself.

The Solution: A Curated Mass-Media Monopoly or Trust

Algorithms like those used by many popular social media platforms are designed to present you with information that already appeals to you too stimulate you to further use their platform. Each one of these interactions forms a learning experience. After about 6 months of regular use, such a platform will typically radicalize a person by exposing them to repeated input of information that they already sort of agree with until they strongly agree with it.

Let's say using one of these platforms, you look up "Why did the US Civil War Happen?" Your platform will look at your search history and try to find an answer that will appeal to you; so, if you have a bunch of racist stuff in your search history, it is more likely to point you to articles about State Rights, Asymmetric Representation, and stuff like that, but if you you've done a bunch of searches about civil rights issues, it will return a bunch of stuff about Slavery. In each case you will become more sure of your previous opinion and become more resistant to the opposing opinion, in effect, immunizing you against anything that opposes the view that is being repeated to you.

However, mass media algorithms do not need to present you with things you already agree with if they have a true monopoly power. If instead of having a bunch of competing mass media systems, there was only one option, people are much less likely to leave your platform just because they do not like everything that they are reading.

Now your platform can answer questions however it wants; so, even when you ask a more pointed question like, "Did the South seceded from the union because of asymmetric representation?" the only results you will get will be debunking artiles say that, no the South only seceded from the union over issues of slavery; thus, shifting that user's perspective to agree with a point that they were previous opposed to: effectively "vaccinating" that person against racism by countering racism's formative experiences.

Modern AI is good enough now at categorizing search information to the point that computers can tell if an article or website is racists, xenophobic, sexists, etc. So, if a modern platform where to start trying to immunize against these thoughts, all they would have to do is censor everything that supports them and show you the opposing view every time you try to reinforce your beliefs.

Major ethical ramifications

1 - It clearly violates freedom of speech by suppressing minority opinions. Only some people will be able to express their view via mass media; so, if you are racist, sexist, etc., you will be denied representation both at Government and Interpersonal levels. It could also be said to violate freedom of Religion on the level that you are not just dictating what people can say, but also dictating what they can believe. Suppressing ideas because you disagree with them is the definition of totalitarianism. Democratic rule only works when all opinions are allowed to exist.

2 - This leads into a second major ethical issue which is that you are destroying the truth. Many cultures today believe in the adversarial system where truth is best found by seeing opposing points of view supported by the strongest possible evidence each side can find. This is why it is so important in a courtroom for example to have both sides represented by a lawyer. A skilled lawyer who does not need to argue against another skilled lawyer to prove his points will win pretty much every court case regardless of the truth. But in cases where there is only one logical truth, the more compelling argument will generally win out.

So, in your society, any idea that might even be related to a censored topic will also be "proven false" even when it is true; so, anything that tries to explain anatomical, cultural, or psychological differences between people will also be censored. As it turns out, there are many medicines, goods, and therapies that are race, culture, or gender specific; so, if you censor all if it, then you also hurt a lot of the people you are trying help by suppressing any product or service that is specialized to fit their needs.

An example where this has happened in real life is the pain medicine industry. Men and Women experience pain through different neurological mechanisms. Men experience it through the same mechanism that governs feeling sick, whereas women experience it through the same mechanism that governs feeling emotions. Because Feminism labeled these early claims as sexist, research into it was suppressed preventing pharmaceutical companies from funding research into gender specific pain medicine. As a result, women today are expected to take pain killers designed for men; so, they are not nearly as effective which has in turn lead to a whole new gender bias as women seeming less tolerant of pain because of how much more pain medicine they request from their doctors.


Much like a vaccine uses a weakened version of a virus to cause the body to prepare a response, simply present a flawed version of the idea you wish to vaccinate against. The vaccinated person will think everyone who holds a certain belief holds the set of mischaracterized beliefs you presented to them. Even when they hear someone telling them what they really believe, all the vaccinated person will hear is the set of moronic ideas you previously presented to them.


"Vaccinate" against an idea does not work exactly like vaccination against a pathogen. But you ask if it is possible? I firmly believe so.

The easiest way is respondent or classical conditioning (rejection of the forbidden idea is positively reinforced) plus operant conditioning (the forbidden idea is negatively reinforced).

Also, if the idea happens to have contrafactual aspects, exposure to those aspects will "immunize" against the idea. For example, let's consider the idea that group X is, say, intellectually inferior or inclined to stealing. Getting to know members of group X and not associating them with either factoid will ensure that, in the future, someone suggesting that all Xs are thieves or morons will be met with incredulity and diffidence if not open hostility. This is best done before the idea has any chance of establishing itself, but I saw it work remarkably well against pretty harsh operant conditioning.

In general, anything that has been presented to a child as "normal" or "right" in their infancy will be felt as "obvious" and "natural" in their adulthood. Be it racism or anti-racism. Proceeding against the "natural" feeling to achieve rational belief does not come naturally to most, and the brain has plenty of tricks to trick itself into changing as little as possible.

This is the root of the famous dictum of Jesuit educators, "Give me a boy for seven years, and I will give you the man."

It is almost always possible to incorporate factoids negating the forbidden idea in a larger and mostly non-contradictory framework or belief system that would first pass unchallenged, and then prove beneficial. Doing this from an early age, this practically guarantees the whole belief system will be incorporated into the subject's self-image; once this is done, the forbidden idea will lead to cognitive dissonance and be rejected.

More complex conditionings exist to insure against the possibility of a "de-programming" attempt.

what would be the moral/ethical implications of this for you?

Well, I fear that this question might have little purpose. I could say that I consider immunization against those ideas against which I myself have been immunized as a highly moral endeavour, and it would be the truth, but could I really believe anything else?


Okay, you can teach kids not to deny fact to fit their own narrative, as well as see that inner beauty is better than outwards looks, and be kind to others, even for no reason. Or, you can plant microchips that prevent them from acting on thoughts such as "Hitler did nothing wrong."


It is called brainwashing

There was a lot of research and testing of this idea on Russian political prisoners who had been banished to Siberia.

One method was to show prisoners movies of their political heroes or people espousing the 'undesired' views. At the same time they would be injected with drugs to induce extreme nausea. The idea was to make them become completely averse to what they had previously believed.

This form of torture was never shown to be effective. Of course the subjects would very quickly profess to be converted but, years later, if they became free, they might well revert to their original ideas.

Similar methods have been used in the past to 'cure' people of homosexuality. Inducing nausea whilst making them view pictures of naked men for example.

It is entirely possible that people in power who have strong and unbending views that allow of no argument, will resurrect this idea - perhaps with more sophisticated technology.

Shock collars? Truth drugs to make people reveal their true beliefs - followed by a 'correctional' course in a camp?

Some of this goes on in China today and of course an early example was the the Spanish Inquisition.

  • $\begingroup$ It also goes on in the US and UK but that doesn't count. $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2021 at 9:58


It's not invented yet, but almost. First, look at this news story and paper about NMDAR autoantibodies. The brain is supposed to be protected from immune system interference, but even simple trauma can disrupt the barrier. Antibodies that recognize the brain's own receptors can enter and exert "beneficial" functions, such as reducing the perception of stress. It is a blunt tool - not even clear it's an antidepressant - but it's a tool - one that can be sharpened.

Specifically, the barrier can be broken by ultrasound focused on a precise part of the brain. Already FDA approved for some circumstances.

But where do you aim the thing? Well, that's where intensive initiatives to understand language come in. See this news and paper. Obviously there is a lot of money behind trying to see thoughts - thoughts that someone can reach out and touch with ultrasound, and tune as they like with antibodies or other means. Note that these word maps can be generated simply by brain scanning someone listening to the radio.

These techniques can be combined with all the old-fashioned means of mind control, such as stimulation of the nucleus accumbens (or simply drug release) to positively reinforce particular thought patterns.

Wish I had less news -- sorry -- but since you asked...


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