Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"An enabling social context"

Do you know what George Will did in the 1980s? He cheated on his wife with another woman. Keep that in mind when you read his editorial on AIDS:

An epidemic requires both a microbe and an enabling social context. In Africa, aspects of modernity in a primitive setting became a deadly combination: HIV was spread by roadside prostitutes serving truckers and soldiers traveling on modern roads. Africa's wars caused population dislocations; economic development caused migrations of workers across porous borders. Both weakened families and dissolved traditional sexual norms. Jet aircraft integrated Africa into the world flow of commerce and tourism. In 1980s America, the enabling context included a gay community feeling more assertive and emancipated, and IV drug users sharing needles.

. . . . The U.S. epidemic, which through 2004 had killed 530,000, could have been greatly contained by intense campaigns to modify sexual and drug-use behavior in 25 to 30 neighborhoods from New York and Miami to San Francisco. But early in the American epidemic, political values impeded public health requirements. Unhelpful messages were sent by slogans designed to democratize the disease -- "AIDS does not discriminate" and "AIDS is an equal opportunity disease."

So, George "Sure, I Fucked Around In The 80s, So What?" Will wants to blame AIDS on an "enabling social context" that includes "assertive and emancipated" gays and "political values." He's half right.

The "political values" that promoted the spread of AIDS were those that held that its victims - addicts and queers - were disposable. Had our "political values" valued the lives of the victims - well, maybe there wouldn't be as many. But as usual, our society doesn't care until the victim is quality. By which time, it's too late.

Maybe we'll learn our lesson next time: that none of us are disposable, and that an effort to marginalize our neighbors endangers both their lives and our own. But when I read George Will, I don't have a lot of hope for that.