By Jeremy Brecher
Labor Network for Sustainability
April 28th, 2020
Warning: I have gone viral and seized “Jeremy Brecher’s Corner.”
My ancestors used to get around by rat. Rat trappers, like the ones above, worked in cities like Galveston, which was ravaged 100 years ago by one of my notable elders, the bubonic plague. It was a brilliant scheme, attaching itself to fleas that made their way on to rats, making it easier to span international shores. Photo Credit: Mark Boyd.
When I look at the so-called “world order” of the human race, I lick my chops.
In the good old days, my ancestors used to be able to conduct pandemics around the world without interference. And it looks like the good old days are coming back!
We bugs used to be able to get around just about any way we wanted. One of our favorites was through water that was polluted with human waste. But then some humans noticed that where the privies ran into the water system there were more infections. So, they began building clean water and sewage disposal systems.
But my disease ancestors figured out that humans were just building those systems for the rich, so they started by infecting the poor and then jumping from them to the rich. Unfortunately, the rich eventually figured out that if you wanted to protect yourself from epidemics you had to protect everyone – they called it “public health.” Once that idea caught on, it was a lot more difficult for us diseases to spread. They developed all kinds of clever techniques to block us from spreading, from vaccines to social distancing. It was a hard time for us infectious diseases – a lot of us were practically eradicated.
Ahh, the Spanish Flu–family folklore for the ages, sometimes referred to as the “Mother of All Pandemics.” It not only spread itself during wartime–which made social distancing for humans a challenge–but it also mutated into a far deadlier virus that caused the famous spike in deaths during the second of three waves. Photo credit: With masks over their faces, members of the American Red Cross remove a victim of the Spanish Flu from a house at Etzel and Page Avenues, St. Louis, Missouri. 1918, St. Louis Post Dispatch Photo Credit: Wikimedia
But humans seem to have given up on common defense against us. Now it’s every human for themselves out there. They’ve dismantled their public health systems. As one of them put it, they have a health industry but no health system.
They’ve crippled the very organizations that they set up in order to fight us. So many countries have weakened their public health systems that we diseases can go safely to every nook and cranny of the globe. They’ve undermined their organizations for global collective security against us. And, unbelievably, some of their leaders are campaigning against these organizations and trying to undermine them further! Hallelujah!
National borders bristle with soldiers, weapons, and immigration barriers, but you can’t kill a virus with a gun. I jump across national borders without even knowing they are there.
Cholera. As the World Health Organization says, “Many people think of cholera as a 19th century disease. This is true for high-income countries. But elsewhere, cholera never went away.” Above, you can see how my cagey cousin stays alive while decimating populations in African countries.
The corporations that control most of the world’s productive resources, far from joining together to fight me, send their lobbyists to prevent governments from requiring them to make vaccines and personal protective equipment to fight me. It doesn’t seem to bother them that the predictable result is workers who get sick or have to stay at home.
And individuals try to protect themselves one by one. They’re letting us use the oldest trick in our book – go find the poor and vulnerable, infect them first, and then use them as a base to attack the rest. Even a dumb virus can figure that one out. Comrades: Divide and infect!
It gets better than that. We viruses actually have a fifth column of human allies who are making it even easier for us to decimate humanity. We have human agents – leaders, movements, and governments – who are actively campaigning against the intelligence agencies that are uncovering our strategies and inventing way to block them. (They’re labeled the “scientific establishment.”)
We have human agents – often the same ones – who are using the medical emergency to get human groups and nations to attack each other rather than joining together to attack us. They are dismantling the few remaining barriers to our triumph.
Then there’s Measles, which had the world fooled into think it had given up entirely with the development of a vaccine. But with some human parents forgoing vaccination for their children–and eventually a shortage of vaccines–it makes it easy to creep up again, then allow for rapid spread across international waters thanks to air travel. Photo: Two nurses in Samoa wearing masks during the measles epidemic in 2019. Photo Credit: Jenny Meyer
I think I’ll go back to the virus breeding ground and tell all the aspiring little viruses: Get busy! It’s an open season on humans out there!
I only hope that the day will never come when humans will take a lesson from us viruses and start transcending national borders and the illusion of individual self-protection and start to combine their forces against us.
Jeremy Brecher has participated in movements for nuclear disarmament, civil rights, peace, international labor rights, global economic justice, accountability for war crimes, climate protection, and many others. He is the author of fifteen books on labor and social movements, including the national best seller Strike!. He has received five regional Emmy awards for his documentary film work. He is currently policy and research director for the Labor Network for Sustainability.