Thursday, December 23, 2010

Intellectual Ebola and HIV.

The Ebola virus was first recognised in 1976 and is one of the most deadly viruses on earth. It has a mortality of close to 80% (depending on the figures) and cuts a spectacular path of destruction. Spread is through the exchange of bodily fluids(including semen). The illness initially resembles a a typical cold but rapidly progresses to altered consciousness, bloody vomiting and diarrhea, bleeding, and a quick and gruesome death.

First recognised in 1981, the HIV virus is also spread by bodily fluids.  Infection initially causes a cold like illness and then the virus apparently seems to do nothing for a long period of time. The host, bearing no stigmata of the disease or any ill effects, carries on with the same behaviours that initially caused infection. Slowly the individual realises that something is wrong as opportunistic infections take hold. Without treatment, the mean time to death is ten years. Untreated, mortality is close to 100%.

The mode of death between the two illness is worth noting. In Ebola, the stigmata of the disease become readily apparent and the patients death is spectacular. In HIV, death's ensnarement is more leisured. For a long while the individual appears unaffected, even healthy initially, dying only years after infection.

The HIV virus is estimated to have killed approximately twenty five million people. Ebola, on the other hand, has killed roughly 1,800.

Two viruses, roughly discovered at the same time and with approximately the same mortality, yet the the death toll of one is four orders of magnitude greater than the other. Why?

Ebola's spectacular viciousness in claiming its victim alerts those unaffected of the danger in their midst. The malignity of Ebola is obvious and individuals can easily recognise the danger approaching and take appropriate steps to stop it. The afflicted are obviously unwell and the unaffiliated flee from them. Ebola consumes it's host before it is able to spread. It path of destruction thwarted by its obvious efficiency in killing.

HIV, on the other hand, is a more congenial fellow. After a mild illness, it leaves its host alone for years, minding its own business and slowly spreading. Bearing no stigmata of illness, the afflicted does not affront anyone and normal precautions are not implemented by others, allowing the virus to silently spread. The threat of HIV is not obvious, yet it kills to a greater degree than Ebola. It's evil is subtle as opposed to Ebola's gaudy display.

HIV is a less apparently obvious killer than Ebola, and its this subtlety which makes it far more dangerous. It's subtlety allows complacency.

Ideas can resemble viruses as well. Some, such as fascism, are seen as malignant early on and thwarted.  Others, such as communism, are just as malignant but for many years not recognised as such by huge swathes of the community. Over a hundred million dead trying to implement the Communist idea, that superficially, was meant to make the better place.

What got me thinking about this topic was this comments thread over at Jim Kalb's. Commentator Thursday wrote.
Yes, they do. Slumlord/The Social Pathologist, he who has posited absolute truth as the sole basis for conservatism, and the one who pointed out the Feser article to me, has made the argument that everybody is always the worse for having sex outside marriage. Plus, being raised in church and going to church schools, we were always being told about how the minute you had premarital sex, your life would just fall apart and you would be permanently damaged by it.
Perhaps the most dangerous ideas are the ones, which in the short term, seem harmless or are beneficial but which are toxic in the long run. The aim of diabolical genius is to allow tactical victories whilst aiming for strategic defeat.  The bovine populace, fixated as it is on the "here and now", never sees anything in particular going wrong in any single or particular act, yet not being able to see the big picture, wonder why society is crumbling around them.

Take radical liberalism for instance. It seems to have wilted both the identity of the West and its ability to respond to external threats. This comment by Steve Sailer deserves quite a bit of reflection.

In WWII and the Cold War, we faced enemies the caliber of Wernher von Braun and Andrei Sakharov. In the War on Terror, however, a strikingly large fraction of Muslim would-be terrorists, such as the recent Underpants Bomber and the Times Square Fizzler, are screwups.
Criminal masterminds turn out to be more common in movies than in real life. Even Osama bin Laden got lucky. A video shows him admitting gleefully that he hadn’t expected the World Trade Center towers to come down. And without George W. Bush’s campaign against airport profiling of Arabs, Mohammed Atta likely wouldn’t have even made it onboard.
Conservatives of all stripes bemoan the rise of Islam, but they look at the problem the wrongly. Sailer has got it right. Objectively, the Islamic world would be utterly crushed by a determined West. Islam is only relatively strong because the West's current cultural ideology renders it weak. Islam is opportunistically expanding in the West.


Secular democratic liberalism may yet  prove to be Western Society's cultural HIV.

(Image from Life magazine)

15 comments:

David Collard said...

First, thanks for putting me on your list of non-boring bloggers.

Second, I like most of what you have said here, but I think there is a more fundamental point. And that is that the real problem we face in restoring moral behaviour is yet another example of "the Prisoner's Dilemma".

In the absence of a widely-held moral consensus, people will be too tempted to defect. Once enough people defect, ill effects will be observed widely, but no-one will sheet the blame home to himself.

Reversing such a trend and getting moral "buy-in" then becomes impossible, because there is little personal advantage perceived, given that there is no way to ensure that others will follow suit. It is a "prisoner's dilemma" problem. There is no way to force individual actors to all act in the common good.

Religion, or a strong "shame culture", would do the trick. But both of these are in decline.

The best solution probably involves the use of low-cost personal political activity. With the Internet, this would include the use of blogs and comments to do things like "slut shame", and to "name and shame" undesirable and absurd behaviour ("cougars", "man-whores", "manginas", etc.)

I think this kind of culture war has some chance of success because of the ubiquity of the Internet; the safety of anonymity; and the opportunity for individual action by "irregulars". It would be rather like a cultural guerilla war.

Anonymous said...

The current economic collapse is actually part of the solution.

Shame is one thing, consequences are another.

Our current welfare system and family court system shield people from their bad judgment and you can see its effect on the single mother rate in the U.S.

The single mother rate was 8% in 1980, 30 years later it is 38+% and rising.

You take away the economic "safety net" and bad choices start to have real life and immediate consequences and behavior changes.

One of the worst things a society does is run around doing everything "for the children" It leads to crushing taxes, tyranny and social decay.

All for a greater good.

The economic collapse is going to force many of these programs to shut down.

This is good thing.

The Social Pathologist said...

@David Collard.

You're not boring.

In the absence of a widely-held moral consensus, people will be too tempted to defect

I agree, social norms are a big influence on behaviour for a majority of individuals. The people are really the sheeple.

I think this kind of culture war has some chance of success because of the ubiquity of the Internet; the safety of anonymity; and the opportunity for individual action by "irregulars". It would be rather like a cultural guerilla war.

Agree. Personally I do think the balance of power has shifted. The print and mainstream media are hurting, the internet is pulling the rug out from under their feet. The climategate commentary was virtually absent in the media yet was everywhere on the internet. They media does not control the terms of the debate. Intelligent people now go to the internet for their information, the proles on the other hand don't care. Facebook provides enough info for their lives. Just take a look a the format of the The Age. More and more it resembles a trash women's magazine. Lots of lifestyle and fashion info to cater towards the superfical class.

The internet is the new public cultural forum. I'm not saying this from a techno-geeks point of view, rather from the point of view of a socio/cultural observer. The quality, wit, humour and analysis on some of the blog posts puts the journalists to shame.

I hope to explore this theme further in the new year.

@Anon

Very pertinent points. The social welfare state doesn't just attempt to alleviate poverty. It also facilitates the destructive patterns of behaviours which are undermining our respective countries. The bountiful days are over, the upcoming lean years will cause cultural changes.

Merry Christmas to you both.

Robert Brockman said...

I suspect the solutions to these sorts of problems may be far more straightforward than is generally considered.

I now know of the existence of several people who have what I call "The Essential Sweetness." They seem to just love everyone basically all the time, without pretentiousness or judgment. They can be firm to protect their boundaries, and will act to discourage people from engaging in immoral / corrupt behavior, but never in a mean or arrogant way.

It's almost as if these people have a "piece of the True Jesus" in them. They seem highly resistant to worry and fear, and have a very graceful performance degradation curve under stress. They seem pretty happy and radiant, too.

Rather than focus our efforts on shaming people who engage in misbehavior, I propose that we focus our efforts on the following enterprise:

1. Find more people with the above characteristics.

2. Do what is necessary to obtain said attributes.

3. Marry one of the above people.

4. Make little adorable loving people with said spouse.

Anonymous said...

The below could be considered a direct paraphrase from Sowell's "Intellectuals and Society". If you are thinking along the same lines as Sowell, you have great company!


Perhaps the most dangerous ideas are the ones, which in the short term, seem are harmless or are beneficial but which are toxic in the long run. The aim of diabolical genius is to allow tactical victories whilst aiming for strategic defeat. The bovine populace, fixated as it is on the "here and now", never sees anything in particular going wrong in any singular or particular act, yet not being able to see the big picture, wonder why society is crumbling around them.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Anon.

Thanks for your kind words. As I've said before, I've not read any Sowell, though I've heard his name crop up in discussions in the past(and the comment that my reasoning is similar to his).

Tom said...

Okay, as it my place here, I'll be somewhat contrarian.

So, I'll make two claims. First, wealth will cause freedom, including (or especially) freedom from the dominant morality. Once society no longer needs the cohesiveness of a universally held morality to survive, it's a continuous Sisyphitic battle to keep the established morality. Once the fences of economic or military necessity are removed, the sheep slowly spread themselves across the valley.

Of course, just because it's a battle that cannot be won does not mean that it should not be engaged in. Injustice will always be with us, and indeed, is the natural order of things, but it is still every man's duty to fight against it.

(2) The only way to be certain to prevent bad 'innovations' of morality is to prevent *all* innovations of morality. After all, the worst effects might not be known for generations.

However, it's no real surprise that we look down upon those religions that have done exactly that - namely fundamentalist Islam.

Christianity originally happily accepted slavery and women as chattel. We innovated what we consider forward apparently successfully. Did that mean that first 1600 years of Christianity were immoral and the practitioners bad people for not recognizing what we now realize is obviously immoral?

Of course not. But in realizing that the ultimate definition of morality was not held by our ancestors, it would be hubris to believe that *we* hold the ultimate definition of morality.

It is the duty for every man to fight for they believe is moral. But I think that such a fight must be tempered with the understanding that until death we cannot claim to know the absolute truth.

I will advise, cajole, counsel, enlist, impel, incite, induce, influence, lead, propagandize, proselytize, reason, and urge people to my morality.

But I will not condemn those who do the same for their morality.

(And will the innovations that I support possibly turn out to be poisonous? Yes, it could very well be. But then, so could have the innovations that led to the church I support. Nothing is without risk - both innovation or stasis can lead to catastrophe.)

Thursday said...

There is a third possibility. What if liberalism is really like a bad case of herpes. Extremely annoying, can take you out of commission for a while, but basically it won't kill you.

David Collard said...

I was tempted to argue with a few of the points above. Then I realised that such an approach is itself a time waster for a social change "guerrilla fighter". I would add to my earlier points that if one wants to effect social change in what one sees as a desirable direction (socially very conservative in my case), don't waste time in too many pitched battles on the Internet. Simply state your point and move on. Don't be deflected by wasting time and energy arguing with people who clearly share none of your values, or who use cant expressions that suggest a lack of thoughtfulness.

It is all about getting maximum results for a minimum, preferably personally enjoyable, effort.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Tom

I think the appeal of certain types of morality is contingent on the societal circumstance. I basic survival societies under a lot of threat, authoritarian style will be obviously self-evident and consistent with survival, but during periods of peace and prosperity it's likely that liberal values will gain more appeal. A lot of the consequences of liberal morality are cushioned by the presence of wealth.

@David Collard
It is all about getting maximum results for a minimum, preferably personally enjoyable, effort.

Agreed. Though a lot of it isn't that enjoyable. I see it as a bit of a duty.

You're right, you can't fight every battle, but sometimes you've got to make a stand. There is just too much "heresy" and "stupidity" out there and it tends to infect and influence otherwise good people.

I've got a lot of respect for a lot of the American bloggers, they're not always the sharpest tools in the shed (some are very good) but they're out there doing the gruntwork; much like the early Christian preachers. Conservative revival won't be achieved by the "talkers' but by the "doers". Faith without works is dead, if you get my drift.

I actually think it's an exciting time to be a conservative, since there seems to be some original thinking going on, instead of the deferential referral to the dead.

Culture is now being shaped by the internet, by-passing the lefty gatekeepers of the media. It's important that good thinking conservatives occasionally take the intellectual battle to the foe. I don't think a lot of people really appreciate the significance of this.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Thursday

What if liberalism is really like a bad case of herpes.

Herpes is not such a bad disease if the host is healthy, but if the host is weak or compromised in any way it becomes a far more serious, and sometimes fatal, condition.

Personally, I think socio-cultural ideas can be classified in to three categories.

1)Those that are outright malignant and any society that embraces them rapidly dies.

2)Those that are positively good and encourage societal flourishing.

3)Those that don't kill a society but impair it and stop it from reaching its full potential. Islam and Confucianism both produced stable societies but they remained stagnant.

Personally, I think liberalism is not such a bad thing, provided it is kept in check. As Tom seems to imply above, Authoritarianism tends to stifle any innovation.

M. Simon said...

I had lots of sex outside marriage. Lots and lots. Without it I wouldn't have been able to help my mate through some very serious difficulties.

BTW I am convinced with out a doubt that the Head Office sent her to me (I did ask for a hard case).

We have been together for 36 years. Still going strong (four children).

So always is a rather strong term. Having given you a counter example I think it shows error on your part.

In your practice of medicine I'm sure you have seen medicines that are bad for A and good for B.

Also note that I was severely abused as a child. That abuse gave me a window into my mate's problems. So I turned a curse into a blessing.

Cut and dried formulas are not the panacea you claim. Which is why I'm no fan of organized religion.

===

Re: Islam. Spot on.

M. Simon said...

David,

I think your approach (comments and anonymous comments) are dishonest. Why not just tout the advantages of your position?

As to sexual morality. Birth control has changed the effective costs of various behaviors. Not to mention effective treatments for STIs.

If you really want traditional social relations to return you need to lower the age of marriage and encourage early marriage.

In the 60s and 70s Jewish men had the highest average rate of promiscuity. About 12 partners before marriage. Then ask yourself why? - Because Jews tended to go into the professions which had a long educational period. No money for a family during that time.

With "everyone" doing college we are now all Jews.

===

The point of the above? Cultural rules vary according to social/technological conditions. The "eternal verities" are mostly conditioned by time and place.

Of course the "eternal verities" position is rather popular still. You can avoid thinking that way. And you know - thinking hurts. To varying degrees. Which is why most people tend to avoid it as much as possible.

===

Fiddler On The Roof is very good in looking at how adaptations are made to new realities. The answer: a little at a time. And it makes no one really happy.

M. Simon said...

Tom,

I had not read your comments before making mine. Good stuff.

The Deuce said...

Tom:

However, it's no real surprise that we look down upon those religions that have done exactly that - namely fundamentalist Islam.

Christianity originally happily accepted slavery and women as chattel. We innovated what we consider forward apparently successfully.


Hmm, if I may offer some pushback here. Christianity didn't happily accept slavery and women as chattel. More like awkwardly. The ideal treatment of women promoted by the New Testament, as illustrated by the way the Marys are presented for instance, is certainly not as chattel. And slavery is looked at with a jaundiced eye, with Paul beseeching a man to release his slave, and with Christian slaves being advised to seek their freedom from human masters if it's possible to lawfully do so.

It was relatively easy for Christian society to adopt better treatment of women and freedom for slaves because there was nothing in the Scriptures contradicting these cultural innovations, and several precedents suggesting that those courses of action were actually closer to the Christian ideal.

If Christianity had Scriptural passages saying that women *must* be cheated as chattel, or that slavery is a positive good (as Islam does) we'd be in much worse shape. Islam can't make these "innovations" because for them it wouldn't be allowable innovation withing existing scriptural parameters, but just simple apostasy.

That's their real problem - not lack of innovation, but an evil founder and role model and scriptures with evil teachings.