Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ostentatious Caring In Toronto

The cab driver wanted to know if I had been part of the AIDS conference as he drove me from my home to the airport. It was over and a lot of people were leaving town that day.

No, I told him, I hadn't partaken in the glitzy concernfest though it had been active just down the street at the glorious Tent City the night before.

I hadn’t known what to say to my neighbour when she asked me if I’d been to see it, her eyes wide and steamy, as if she had perhaps just caught sight of either of Moses on the Mountain or Jesus rising from the Crypt.

"Um, no," I said, awkwardly.

What I wanted to say was that never had so many performed so many feats of ostentatious caring in so short a time. If any one has the injury reports of dislocated shoulders from patting themsleves on the back, let me know.

And how perverse it all is too! The progress of AIDS represents the greatest public health failure in human history. Unlike the plague, we knew how the disease was spread and we had the opportunity to stop it. We chose to quarantine the helathy instead of the ill and now, millions of dead later, we still want to quarantine the well and let the ill get on with infecting or not infecting—it’s the honour system—as many as taste and opportunity permits.

Let me be brutally frank on two points. Firstly, if we had ignored the human rights ninnies and quarantined the sick in the 80s we might have stopped this illness in its tracks. Secondly, from a purely epidemiological point of view, there is no percentage in prolonging the lives of people who may spread the disease.

Quarantine is primary, treatment is secondary. But the "activists" have turned reality on its head. Drugs are being withheld, people are being killed. By whom? The government, of course. That same government that failed to protect its population from AIDS when it mattered.

AIDS, according to another neighbour, was started by "the government." It is surprising how many conspiracy theories there are these days that otherwise intelligent beings seem to be prey too—a kind of intellectual AIDS it might be called—existential doubts about the very worth of our societies, our form of government, our lives. We exagerate every flaw of reasonably-but-not-absolutely- good cultures and romanticize very dangerous and destructive cultures based on a strage notion that all cultures are created equal.

My neighbour has a grain of truth here but it's just a grain: Governments, by not quarantining the ill, certainly participated in the spread of the disease. Ditto for the World Health Organisation and the UN.

My cab driver had a memory I thought conveyed pretty well my general sense of what the mob (as David Peterson might describe the unwashed body of non-Liberal Party cognoscenti) really thinks in spite of the opinions of the cowed crowd that poses as the illuminated. He told me he remembered a City TV interview wth a man who had AIDS but didn’t want to make love with a piece of rubber and didn’t see why he ought to give up his God-given right to his pleasures.

My cousin (who I was being taken to the airport to travel to) said, when I told him and his wife the story, "He should be arrested." Nice guy, my cousin, and always partly right (sometimes wholy): they should all have been "arrested," which was the misleading way human rights advocates misrepresented quarantine.

For how many years now have so many avoided sex because of AIDS? How badly has it coloured our world? If the only way to be free of the illness is abstinence or prophylactics and the infected die, it doesn’t take a genius to see that, between life and death here, something’s got to give.

I had a great weekend with my cousins and aunts and, upon return, as I ran with my suitcases to catch the bus, the driver, seeing I was a mere 5 feet away, gunned the engine and peeled away. The AIDS conference being over, the caring is put back in the cupboard and the everyday cups are brought out. Tannic acid, anyone? [spit] Welcome to Toronto.

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