506. The family (X)
The AIDS pandemic demonstrates that technological advance and social liberalism do not automatically lead to progress—for the pandemic could not have occurred without a confluence between social liberalism and novel technology: firstly, the virus was quickly spread by cheap international air travel (the reputed “patient zero” was an airline host—he infected a great many men on his travels); secondly, without antibiotics to meliorate the traditional venereal diseases it would not have been possible for the virus to spread so quickly—whereas in the past a venereal disease might have slowed a person’s sexual adventures down; thirdly, the development of cheap plastic hypodermic needles made drugs, such as heroin, more accessible to a mass market—so providing the basis for a major transit point for the virus; fourthly, the legalisation of homosexual activity provided an environment that combined with two factors above—a globally mobile population with no biological limitations on their sexual activities—to create a perfect environment for a novel virus to spread; fifthly, aside from formal decriminalisation of various sex acts, there was a general culture that held free sexual expression was in the main normative.
If any one factor above had not been so, AIDS would not have been the pandemic problem that it turned out to be. Without international air travel it would have spread much more slowly—possibly remaining in Africa for decades; and if antibiotics were not available there would have been a greater check on the men who indulged in unrestricted sex—people would have been slowed down with the clap. Male sexuality, thanks to testosterone, really is more active that female sexuality—men do think about sex all the time. When man meets man for sex this natural exuberance is given full play; and without the old diseases to slow this down you have a recipe for disaster.
Susan Sontag was correct to identify AIDS as a disease that served as a metaphor for the computer society—the term “computer virus” was coined when AIDS was at its height, the illness was a disease for a highly-networked globally mobile technological society; a place where frictionless movement was now the norm. Networked free capital flow is feminine, and homosexual men are more feminine than not—hence they were at home on the new feminine global network, as was a virus. Homosexual men, often with a higher than average intelligence and a flair for aesthetics, were particularly vulnerable because they seamlessly transited this networked world—a world where an investment banker in London could summon an interior designer from New York for his wife, deliver him for the consultation via Concorde, and then have him back home in time for dinner (did he have time to cruise on Clapham Common in between?).
AIDS also refutes Francis Fukuyama’s contention that the American liberal democratic state is the end of History—a state where all social contradictions have been resolved, with scientific progress as the motive for the resolution. AIDS demonstrated that liberal democracy and technology could lead to a conflict between the interests of society, the individual, and particular sub-groups; and that this could not be resolved within a liberal democratic framework or by technology.
Castro’s Cuba stopped AIDS dead by quarantining people who contracted the virus; the liberal democracies could not, so facilitating a pandemic that killed many valuable people—liberal democracy’s own logic forced it to take policy decisions that killed individual citizens, impaired the economy, and retarded technological advance; and this contradiction has still not been overcome; there is no cure for AIDS, and homosexual men are, in fact, worse off than they were before liberalisation—every sexual encounter has a spectre over it, a spectre created by liberal democracy and the technological society.
In Fukuyama’s view, it should not be possible for an authoritarian state to pursue a policy that resolves a contradiction between general and particular interests with greater satisfaction than in a liberal democracy; yet this is what happened, ergo Fukuyama is refuted.