A Lot of Things Go Around in Airplanes Besides People

The flu is going around, and so on Monday I'm going to drop by the Doc's and get a shot. No sense in taking a chance. I understand that this strain is a real killer. You remember my first prediction for the future? Basically that we baby boomers are going to stifle the coming generation. Well, my second prediction is for a worldwide rash of new and unpleasant diseases. Shortly after the middle of this century, the nearly instantaneous transportation of goods and people to any point on the globe provided an efficient means of spreading disease. Before this, mutations of viruses and bacterial organisms might have cropped up in relatively isolated places, say the middle of Africa, afflicted a small number of people and then died out for want of hosts. Now, even a relatively weak or inefficient disease, finding a much larger pool of potential hosts, has a good shot at survival. The spread of the fatal blood-transmitted disease AIDS is a case in point. Originating in rural regions of the central African nation Zaire, this viral disease spread within only a few years to every point on the globe. Even as late as 1950 the likelihood of escape from a small, isolated group would have remained low.

New diseases as well as mutations of old diseases and otherwise benign micro-organisms happen all the time. Mostly, they find no niche among the higher organisms and are not of great concern to us. Occasionally, the new critter will find a happy home in people or animals and, in its salad days, cause considerable damage. Usually, however, the disease burns itself out on a small population group, and never becomes a problem for the whole community, simply because it doesn't get much of a chance.

As communications improve, the introduction of these otherwise inconsequential pathogens into the world at large will be more likely and their spread be more rapid and thorough. Heretofore, the very backwardness of much of the world has been an efficient barrier to the spread of new diseases. The rapid incorporation of physically isolated parts of the world, such as the rural areas of Asia, Latin America and Africa, or politically isolated areas, such as China and Russia, into the world community, will provide an even wider pool for both the origination and communication of disease. The fledgling complaint that once made its tedious, perilous way from hand to hand is now whisked like royalty from jungle hut to corporate boardroom.

As a concomitant to this spread of disease, I also expect to see a general tightening of borders and a growth of impediments to communication. That this will manifest itself in an increase in the rigidity of class structure, reducing, if you will, the communication between people of various social strata. Even now, in 1988, we see in the general reaction to the rash of Socially Transmitted Diseases a resurrection of social barriers.

Combined with growing conservatism, fear of disease will likely diminish much of the cheerful social and sexual liberalism that has occasionally blessed our society. It sure was fun while it lasted.

November 12, 1988

The title is a play on J. Edgar Hoover's remark concerning Communist infiltration in the United States government: "A lot of things go around in the dark besides Santa Claus."