Pigs on the wing

2009-08-05 10:54
Despite the enormity and incurability of AIDS, I'll bet that most people in a position to read this are more worried about losing their internet connection than contracting HIV. 

Now you could chalk this up to positive thinking, but it might also have something to do with the fact that, for most of us, the pandemic is only a matter of concern when we're at a dinner party and need some emotive evidence to support our claim that the county's going to Hell in a hand basket. Thabo Mbeki may have had more than his fair share of crazy ideas, but I think he was uncomfortably close to the truth when he made that less than spurious connection between HIV/AIDS and poverty. That's real poverty, by the way. The one without electricity.

Even closer to our middle-middle class, urban home is our general apathy for road death. We all know that barely a minute goes by without some chump getting their innards smeared across a highway, but nobody ever thinks it's actually going to happen to them. This is because each and every one of us thinks that we're the most awesome driver in the world, and everyone else behind a wheel is an imbecile. Besides, the car adverts tell us we can go around U-bends at twice the speed of sound without so much as the CD skipping, so it must be safe. But the fact that we're required by law to wear seatbelts and crash helmets is irrefutable proof that we're a species that needs protection from its own stupidity.

And do I even need to mention alcohol? Booze is such a brainless, poisonous life-fuck of a narcotic that it makes tik, heroin and all the rest seem about as dangerous as a particularly weak cup of Earl Grey tea. More than half of all road deaths and (reported) cases of domestic violence (give or take a percentage or two) are directly linked to alcohol. Dop kills way more people than all the scary illegal narcotics combined. But a good drink (in other words, three or seven drinks, in SA-speak) is an obligatory component of almost any leisure activity. Sports, braais, the festive season, dating and divorce all seem so meaningless without booze that, as a non-drinker, I barely have reason to ever leave my house.

But nobody's really scared of any of these things. We have condoms and airbags, so we mostly ignore the AIDS and road safety warnings. As for booze, well, there simply aren't any. Unlike everything else you put in your mouth and swallow, alcohol products aren't even legally required to list their ingredients, let alone include a warning label that it might well turn you into a sociopathic arsehole with an incomprehensible predilection for wearing a stupid hat. And of course, it's freely available wherever you go, and advertised on radio, TV and in print, as if it was as harmless as sugar-free gum.

Now this is not to say we're a fearless society. Quite the contrary. We're scared shitless of things like crime, illness and the threat of war. Not actual war, you understand. The threat alone is an efficient, highly profitable form of fear-mongering. Some lucky American companies made more money than they could ever spend fighting a war against terrorism in countries most citizens couldn't pinpoint on a map if their safety depended on it.

That's the one thing all our fears have in common. Everything we're told to be scared of is making someone, somewhere, an obscene amount of money. We're not that scared of crashing our cars (not profitable), but we are scared of having them stolen, or getting hijacked. So we fit alarms, radar tracking devices, and insure the crap out of everything. Despite the indisputable risk of tragic results we buy guns. We install security gates, electric fencing and anything else we can afford to ward off the menace we can't stop talking about. Interestingly, nobody I asked has one of those ultra cheap smoke alarms. Weird. Maybe fire is a low-profit fear.

And we're scared of illnesses. Not HIV/AIDS of course – that only happens to homosexual drug addicts who shag squatters. But we crap our pants at the thought that a young, healthy white boy can pop his clogs after contracting swine 'flu. It's just as tragic as if he had died in a car crash, but far more scary.  H1N1 may sound like a rating we used to get in the military that declared us fit enough to shoot our future leaders, but it's just the latest virus in a long line of non-event scares that has caused ordinary decent human beings to act like complete idiots.

Much like the avian 'flu, SARS, Mad Cow and Ebola (remember those harbingers of the Armageddon?), swine flu is selling newspapers, face-masks (yes, you actually read that) and oodles of anti-viral drugs.

According to a Financial Times (US) report, "analysts expect to see a boost in sales from GlaxoSmithKline, Roche and Sanofi-Aventis when the companies report first-half earnings lifted by government contracts for flu vaccines and antiviral medicines."

Meanwhile, epidemiologist Tom Jefferson is quoted in Spiegel Online as saying that the scare is nothing more than the result of the pharmaceutical industry licking its lips at the prospect of a profitable pandemic.

So if you're still worried, here's a few quick facts to help you feel less scared, and more like an idiot. Fact 1: smoking, bad eating habits and your very own gun is far more likely to kill you than swine 'flu. Fact 2: Out of the 480 South Africans who have contracted H1N1, only two (so far) have died, so you'll probably live long enough to get hijacked another day. Fact 3: Face masks do absolutely nothing, other than make you look like the dumbass you are, and Fact 4: You should really look into buying a smoke alarm. Fires are freaking terrifying. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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