Monday, March 02, 2009

I don't want anyone happy right now

I've been reading Randy Shilts' And the Band Played On, so I am of course feeling suicidally depressed. If you haven't read it, it's a fantastic and detailed recounting of the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, complete with horrifying descriptions of young gay men dying suddenly and without warning.

It's a useful reminder that when the pandemic was first detected, it was not the slow, chronic killer that AIDS is now. Rather, the onset of the disease was detected by the appearance of Kaposi's Sarcoma and otherwise healthy young men would find themselves felled by common infections sometimes only months later. Drugs like AZT lengthened that, but it was only the introduction of the anti-retroviral cocktails in the mid-1990s that really meant AIDS was no longer a short-term death sentence.

I bother to write this because it occurred to me that many of my fellow grad students -- and probably all of the undergrads at my place of learning -- probably do not remember the palpable fear of AIDS in the early 1990s the way I do. I was very young, but was also a young news consumer early on. (Ask my dad about me keeping up with the collapse of the USSR.)

In a sense, AIDS has become another malaria: something that kills people in Africa. New infections and deaths have been on the decline for years in the US, though of course there are always setbacks. But the real horror of AIDS seems to be something we've swept out of the public consciousness since a few years after Tom Hanks won his first Oscar.

The other powerful impression from AtBPO is to further reinforce my belief that western societies have basically lost the ability to deal with crises rationally and effectively. We've lost a form of resilience -- the ability to put petty concerns aside when disaster looms -- and certainly Shilts had no time for any of the villains in his book, including some of the more useless leaders in the gay community of the time.

SEE ALSO: Paul Krugman, here:
The sickening feeling of drift — the sense that policymakers are refusing to face hard facts, and are dithering while the world economy burns — just keeps getting stronger.
This inability to actually move forward, due to parochial issues like not punishing Tim Geithner and Larry Summers' friends because, uh, just because, is exactly what I'm talking about. The fastest road to recovery -- to controlling the crisis -- is being blocked not by inability or ignorance, but because of insufficiency: Obama, Geithner, Summers et al. could move towards nationalization and liquidation of the Wall Street zombies, but won't because they don't have the stomach for it.


Chet Scoville said...

We've lost a form of resilience -- the ability to put petty concerns aside when disaster looms

The flip side of this is that we have also become vulnerable to imaginary threats and moral panics, from Satanic ritual abuse to rainbow parties, to, what the hell, let's mention "Islamofascism." All of those tales have a kernel of truth -- there really are some predators, there really are some kids having sex before they're ready to, there really are militant extremists -- but blow them so out of proportion that our response to them too becomes utterly useless -- not out of timidity but out of overblown aggressiveness.

Prioritizing is something we seem to be very bad at doing.

Mike said...

I agree with you about Obama et al.

They should either do nothing and let those zombies die off (which would have happened if not for Bush's $750 Billion 4 months ago) or he should stop spending money he doesn't have to keep them in the zombie like state and just nationalize them.

Neither will be popular but both would be effective.

I'd prefer to just let them die, but I can understand the nationalization move too.

Sitting on the fence wioll only make this drag out for ages, cost more money and end in the same way anyway.