Sunday, May 10, 2009

Evil Swine Flu

Flu viruses seem to move around a lot. They change. That’s just part of what they do. Most of the time, humans are immune to them. But sometimes, once or twice every hundred years, they are not. This is, as one might want to put, normal procedure for nature. That’s just what it means to be part of the process. It’s simply a matter of probability that some flu virus will end up killing some human individuals. That’s not bad, or evil, or terrible. It’s, of course, tragic for those who are affected. But there’s certainly no one to be blamed. Nothing immoral hinges on viral attacks. At least not on the flu side.

But that’s not the only side of things. Evil, real and stupid as it tends to be, appears mostly on the other side: the human one. Swine flue is not an exception. It has allowed many, too many, to show their stupid, irrational, and sometimes evil side. It all begins with this new virus appearing somewhere (Mexico) and with causal connections with some one (pigs). That’s all we need to draw all the bad and stupid inferences.

Russians and Chinese were the first ones. Stupid step number one: ban all pork meat coming from Mexico. They probably heard that the virus will not be transmitted by pork meat unless that piece of meat will eventually wake up and sneeze on them. But they couldn’t care less. Some, even started killing all their pigs (they probably had very few of them).

Then followed even more evil, and more stupid, decisions. Stupid step two: ban all flights from Mexico. It only took a few days to confirm that the virus also appeared elsewhere, with enough disconnected cases from the epicenter to conclude that you need not go to Mexico to catch the flu. Yet, they banned the flights. This, as one would put it, is not only stupid and expensive, it’s also xenophobic. In a globalized world like ours, banning flights from affected areas seems like the most straightforward recipe for disaster. This time we have Argentina, China and many others together.

China, it seems, did something even more stupid: send a huge airplane to collect all your citizens from Mexico. To make any sense this stupid measure presupposes that some other stupid things happen: i.e., the actual flu-virus being sensitive enough to citizenships, so that it could only attack Mexican, but not Chinese, citizens, while both shared the same environment. Nonetheless, the Chinese government was stupid enough to collect their pure, healthy individuals and bring them home. What’s the news a few days later: not surprisingly, China now has swine flu cases of their own. It did not work for them to ask all Mexican tourists, as friends reported, not to take cabs in China.

This swine flu context has been unique: it has allowed for citizens and government to show their true global self. Most of them simply freak out. Don’t go to Mexico! Avoid traveling there! Don’t let them in. New York City presented its own outbreak, yet the Federal Government, and even University officials, recommended people to avoid traveling to Mexico only, not New York City. Of course! New York City is the cleanest most hygienic environment on earth. The few cases would not spread at all in such a place.

Things got worse at the individual level. Western Europeans, who love to claim they are on top of things, the most educated and reflexive of them all, could not refrain from expressing their own xenophobic trends: like the French. Let’s ban all flights from Mexico. They couldn’t make it, of course, because their Union, makes it difficult. But they did manage to nurture their racist pandemonium.

We are now in Paris for a summer visit. Relatives visit us, as is normal, to spend a few days here. Things have changed for those Mexicans traveling from Mexico into (at least) France and (quite possibly) Europe.

First, before take off, all French citizens who have been exposed to the very same environment as their Mexican flight-peers, seclude themselves: they don’t want to be near the Mexicans. Nobody reminded them that, during flights, airplanes are very tightly closed, no fresh air for the French! So no matter how far they would place themselves, they would run the same risks. The good thing is that, thanks to this incredible form of French nationalist stupidity (am I repeating myself?), the poor, unhealthy, virus-carrying Mexicans where left with all the good seats, sometimes even three places per head. It was like flying in business-class for tourist costs.

Second, after landing, flights from Mexico city would arrive at a different, very distant gate. Mask-wearing French officers would receive those Mexicans to check all those filthy passports and make sure they won’t carry any swine-flu. The good thing, again: things were a lot faster for all those terrible Mexicans. Ironically, with such a specialized treatment, they were probably given the healthiest environment.

The situation is, certainly, not a funny one. Swine-flu is a serious matter. It is a serious test for all our actual scientific abilities. But it is also a serious test for our political intelligence. Most, if not all, the non-Mexican counterparts are shamefully failing.

Shame on you!