But it reminds me of some of the reactions back when BSE was headline news all over Europe. People would say, "No wonder this is happening, this is what you get when you Go Against Nature. Forcing cattle to become cannibal carnivores! We had it coming."
This is a deeply superstitious, or should I say, religious idea. It assumes that there is meaning and direction in the world. In fact, almost nothing in the world happens by design. Only intelligent beings plan anything, and even their plans rarely come out exactly right.
The fact is that cows happily eat the unsavoury meat-and-bone meal and grow well on it. The presence of the BSE prion in the stuff wasn't divine retribution (from Jehovah or Mother Earth or what-have-you), it was simply bad luck.
Which brings us, of course, to the subject of HIV/AIDS. Homophobes have been frothing about the mouth and yelling "Divine Retribution!" ever since the first gay men started dying of AIDS. Even sympathetic commentators have gone this way. Take for instance, Nicholas Shakespeare, author of a fascinating 1999 biography of Bruce Chatwin. Here's the opening quotation of the chapter on Chatwin's participation in New York's hardcore gay scene in the late 1970s. I found this passage really jarring in an otherwise highly recommended book.
"The Greeks have the idea that there were limits to the range of human behaviour and, if anyone had the hubris to go beyond those limits, he was struck down by fate. Well, one would agree."No, Mr Shakespeare. Whatever Chatwin may have believed, the fact that AIDS killed off a lot of promiscuous gay men was not a fated comment on their behaviour from a disgruntled deity. It was simply bad luck. If the virus hadn't appeared, they would still be banging away happily at each other in ways you and I might not find to our tastes.
Bruce Chatwin to Michael Ignatieff
The AIDS epidemic is in fact just a demonstration of how a virus blindly exploits available vectors. HIV was lucky enough to find a group of animals that exchange white blood cells with each other to an uncommon extent: promiscuous gay men, haemophiliacs and intravenous drug addicts. And as we all know, hetero intercourse and childbirth also work as vectors. Look at Africa. The story of BSE is much the same, only there it's a prion, not a virus.
I wonder what moral lesson may be drawn from bird flu. Perhaps, "Thou Shalt Not Keep Ducks". It is Against Nature!
[More blog entries about BSE, HIV, AIDS, fate, atheism, epidemic, Sweden; BSE, AIDS, HIV, galna kosjukan, ödet, ateism, epidemi.]