Being a bit laid up with this cold has somehow caused me to investigate disease epidemics. from Spanish flu to Ebola to AIDS most of my day has been spent reading. If you are interested in the way a modern epidemic affected North American society I recommend the CBC’s digital archives. They have a fascinating section on AIDS. As someone who grew up after AIDS was discovered, it is hard for me to fully understand the panic that took place in the 1980’s. It was only on generation ago that people were afraid of AIDS patients, and acted with a great deal of homophobia. It took the cases of straight women, celebrities, and young children to bring some sanity to the public discourse around AIDS.
It is also interesting that the earliest cases were likely the result of HIV infection that had taken place years earlier, which further complicated the search for a cause.
Would the same reaction happen today? SARS had some similar characteristics, at least in terms of public fear, but it was not associated with an already marginalized group of people. A connection can be made to the case of a serial killer murdering prostitutes in B.C., in the sense that the problem was largely overlooked because of the group involved. Perhaps our society is not as evolved as it might be, but didn’t we already know that. In fact, I think it’s safe to argue that many of the reactions of commentators like jerry Falwell would be echoed today. It is easy to find religious leaders who condemn homosexuality and believe that its practitioners should be punished. I have always found this line of thinking preposterous in an ethical system that promotes love of the other. Falwell’s argument that God loves people and punishes sin, could work in theory, but falls apart in practice. To be fair, I don’t believe that God punishes anyone, since the sufferings of life are random. But more importantly I don’t believe there is anything wrong with homosexuality. I don’t have a large theological or philosophical argument. I just have a feeling in my heart, and a thought in my head, that love between two people, even if it is consummated homosexually, is always legitimate.
But I am way off point now. If a disease demonstrating the same baffling circumstances as AIDS arose today, the internet and 24 hour media would likely create an even larger panic with much more misinformation. H1N1 certainly proved that. People may be more skeptical in light of the large number of media induced scares we’ve experienced in recent years. Perhaps we won’t take it serious enough. Watch some of the CBC archive material, if you weren’t around, you will be shocked and amazed.