I can’t sleep. I think I know what’s going on. The body politic is overreacting. And to the wrong danger. It is targeting people—not the virus—with deadly force. As if America has been seized by a cytokine storm.
Since 9/11 our government has hunted enemies at home and abroad, tracking potentially disagreeable thoughts, words, and deeds. Vast resources have been devoted to data-mining our lives and transactions, the way an immune system tries to detect the presence of alien cells.
Public safety bureaucrats have vied to fulfill the security mission. The CDC refocused on preventing terrorism more than disease. The DHS took border inspection duties away from the Agriculture Department, slackening food-safety enforcement—unless a poisoning seems political. The DHS also engulfed FEMA, reshaped it to contend with dirty bombs instead of hurricanes, fires, earthquakes. People replaced nature as the primary adversary.
Our reward was Katrina.
I’m sad to note that the private sector wholeheartedly embraced the War On Terror. Big telecommunications companies invited the state to spy on their customers. Our greatest aircraft manufacturer conducted secret flights to convey kidnapped captives to be tortured. The Pentagon privatized warfare, shoveling tax dollars at paramilitary companies to pay contractors generously to die off the books. America’s glowing Web-search pioneers consented to stifle thoughts and words.
Now the popular social networks have just shut down antivax pages, groups, and circles. They banned certain antivaxers, including Fitch, without explanation.
More recently, it failed us against H5N1. As with Katrina, America proved helpless against a natural threat that Washington itself had warned was “inevitable.” In the wake of the cynicism stirred by the swine flu pandemic, corporations saw little profit in preparing for bird flu. When it came, they fired millions of workers. The government was so obsessed with finding and countering the dangers posed by human beings that it did little more than recite: Stay home & wash your hands.
Left without reliable water, power, food, medicine, and security, citizens took survival into their own hands. In keeping with our society’s finest traditions, many acted sweetly and effectively. The LES DIY, for instance, served as a kind of immune response to bird flu. The group put forth social antibodies to the helplessness, fear, and sickness that H5N1 was spreading.
A Better Enemy than Flu
Now Washington began to recognize a peril for which it had prepared: People. That would be us. We can be seen, defined, controlled.
The government desperately moved to assert itself. Washington nationalized the state militias, handed total power over our most useful communications medium—the internet—to giant corporations, and started conscripting flu victims. Hup two three four became the state’s latest mantra.
H5N1 wouldn’t listen.
Then came the shape of a familiar adversary—terrorism. Like an old microbial foe, the horror in Houston triggered the organized fury of American bureaucracy. Here at last appeared the enemy the state was geared to fight.
There was no time or need to determine if God, man, or incompetence had brought us Houston. Agents activated everywhere to fight terrorism by any means necessary.
Now America is aflame, flush with political toxins. We know they can’t kill H5N1. Will they kill us?
‘Nina’ just called, using a concealed number. She wouldn’t say where she was but sounded pleased to have heard from her friend that I’m concerned about her. Her voice was cool, suspicious—maybe a little weak. I said I’d be happy to have tea with her if she’s around. That made her laugh. I didn’t know what to say when she asked if I’m living with someone. I told the truth—to Anna as well. That ended both conversations. I hope Nina calls again.