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Davis, California

Monday, August 2, 2021

This Little Piggy Went to Market

We’re all gonna die. No, really, they mean it this time; we’re all gonna die. Someone in Mexico thought it would be a good idea to make out with a pig, and now we’re all fucked. Proper fucked.

But that’s not the bad news.

Thus far, it appears this thing is going to go the same way it always does. The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration and a whole host of other public health organizations are going to spend billions of dollars buying two drugs (Tamiflu and Relenza) from two pharmaceutical giants (Roche Holding AG and GlaxoSmithKline) which hire at least 18 distinct lobbying firms in the U.S. alone to protect their monopolies on the production of those drugs.

Then the government is going to dole out many more billions to those companies so they’ll research new drugs, which will of course be monopolized. Meanwhile, the FDA will give the go-ahead to turn the whole country into a giant clinical trial by authorizing the use of Tamiflu and Relenza on groups of people they had previously banned the drugs from being administered to (after reporting in 2003 that Tamiflu was dangerous to children under one year of age, the FDA has just authorized its use on children under one year of age).

This is standard operating procedure. Substitute JPMorgan Chase for Gilead Sciences and we’re back to talking about the financial crisis again. And as in the case of all recent crises, this is just another way to funnel dollars up the income scale.

But that’s not the bad news.

To facilitate the transfer, the news media will flood the airwaves with tales of hospitalizations (due to dehydration), school closures (due to lawsuit leery administrators), travel restrictions and embargoes (due to a misunderstanding of the biology) and isolated deaths (due to being young or old). They’ll submerge us in imagery dating to the days of polio, Spanish flu and the Bubonic Plague. They’ll inundate our waking hours with special reports outlining what would happen to a world paralyzed by the horrors of this new uber-flu. They’ll run dramatizations of theI’ve fallen and I can’t get up variety (which will at least be somewhat of a public service, since laughter is the very best medicine).

This happens all the time. Remember anthrax? Yeah, me neither. But I do remember that I’m supposed to have enough duct tape and plastic wrap on hand to mummify myself in a cocoon of paranoid false comfort, and that’s all that matters right?

So as we sit chugging Airborne thinking about how fucked we’ll be if we got outside without a backordered N95 respiratory mask from 3M (I’ve already seen some people around Davis who were apparently well prepared for this contingency), we’ll be given the best advice the medical profession has to offer: Get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids and wash your hands.

But that’s not the bad news.

The people who bike around campus wearing those masks might be onto something besides the wrong side of the path (hate mail can be addressed to kccody@ucdavis.edu, per the usual); because humanity may actually, genuinely be about to eat the giant proverbial shit-burger. If we do, all the Jews and Muslims and otherwise kosher folk who always did warn us about getting too close pigs would laugh their asses off in a fit of pious shadenfreude were it not for the fact that they’ll be just as dead as the rest of us. And wouldn’t it be ironic if Mexico turned out to be the source of a disease that killed millions of white people instead of what usually happens, which is historically quite the opposite?

The scary thing about new viruses is that no one, not even the Asians, has any idea what the hell they do let alone what they’ll do in the future. Viruses have the capacity to mutate rapidly, and we could very well find ourselves in a real life version of Andromeda Strain where the thing makes people do all kinds of crazy, self-destructive shit like propose a federal spending freeze, reject unemployment funds, declare hate-crime legislation tantamount to thought police, propose budgets without numbers, use cow farts to explain global warming and tea-bag the president with severe amnesia for the past eight years.

But that’s not the bad news.

Because this disease barely kills anyone; swine flu’s symptoms are remarkably, startlingly, shockingly similar to those of (ready for this?) the flu, and right now we’re facing something even less spectacular than the massively inflated bird flu outbreak in 2005. Or the SARS outbreak in 2003. Or the West Nile outbreak in 2001. Or the other swine flu outbreak in 1976.

Every time there’s a disease that could potentially impact hundreds of millions of rich people with a chronic deficiency of melanin, as opposed to ones which already kill hundreds of millions of poor people who’ve hoarded aforementioned melanin, you can count on the news media to evoke the specter of a global pandemic (which is redundant, but whatever). And when there’s a massive fraud on a truly global scale taking place in the halls of political power and finance to be distracted from (stress tests, anyone?) what better way to do it than with a runny nose and sore throat?

So to my fellow college students, so young and full of life, I say this: The only thing I’m worried about any of us surviving is Houseboats. (“Swine flu? Fuck that bro! Watch me hit this two-story beer bong and jump off the roof!”).

Ultimately, in all seriousness, what this teaches us is that globalization is more than an economic phenomenon; it’s an ecological one. We’re experiencing just a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the fracas we’ve created in the biosphere. The diseases, pests and parasites we’ve shuttled around the globe have ravaged native populations and undercut systems that have taken hundreds of thousands of years to mature, destroying not only the inherent value of those ecosystems but their potential economic worth as well. Over the past few years in Northern California alone we’ve seen Sudden Oak Death, the glassy-winged sharpshooter and Colony Collapse Disorder in European honey bees (the European honey bee itself having decimated native bee populations a long while back).

We homogenized ecosystems at the same time we were homogenizing labor markets, in both cases forcing everything to compete with everything else with increasing intensity and frequency and with increasing strain on the underlying resources. And it’s this convergence of economic and ecological globalization that will continue to give rise to pandemic scares and, eventually, a true plague. The chaos and competition that are created when things become so interconnected so quickly favors, in both markets and ecosystems alike, shot-term exploitative strategies which are unsustainable over long-term mutualistic ones which are.

So sure, we’ll pay billions to stockpile vaccines for the flu that already happened; that’s a strategy for short-term mitigation, but it can’t hold up indefinitely. Yet at the same time, it’s unthinkable to invest in systems for reforming or eliminating the practices of factory meat farming and industrial agriculture that spawn these outbreaks. So while that’s a strategy for long-term, sustainable existence, it unfortunately has the disadvantage of upsetting the status quo so cherished by the economic elite.

Thus, as long as regulations are lax, trade is free and markets are king, E. coli, salmonella, bird flu, mad cow, swine flu and ManBearPig will infect, infest and inflict until we get our manure coagulated enough to start managing things with more than just the next quarterly earnings statement in mind.

That, however, is very unlikely to happen, which means no matter the outcome of this particular episode there will be another one; and it will be far, far worse.

That’s the bad news.

 

K.C. CODY wrote this before he saw Monday’s “Daily Show; it’s not his fault that great minds think alike. Think different to kccody@ucdavis.edu.

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