Friday, February 16, 2007

Colour blindness

It occurred to me that HIV, wickedness and ignorance all have something in common.

They are all colour-blind.

HIV can’t see in colour. It doesn’t check someone’s colour before it infects them. It doesn’t take a quick peek to see whether it’s about to infect someone black or white. It doesn’t even check to see if someone is male or female. In fact it’s very liberal and totally unbiased. If it didn’t cause such suffering and distress we’d probably admire it for being so unprejudiced.

Wickedness also doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t decide who to corrupt by looking at their skin colour first. You don’t need to be an academic to see the appalling history of human wickedness.

Adolf Hitler was wicked and white, Idi Amin was wicked and black. Joseph Stalin was wicked and white, Haile Mengistu was wicked and black and Pol Pot was wicked and oriental. Like most serial killers each of them slaughtered largely within their own ethnic group. In none of those cases did skin colour play even a tiny role. They were all just plain wicked. No ethnic group has a monopoly, or even a majority share, in wickedness. In fact it’s fairly evenly distributed. It’s a thoroughly human failing, not an ethnic one.

And finally ignorance. Ignorance knows absolutely no boundaries and unfortunately seems to be present in epidemic proportions. Just take a look at the enormous spread of ludicrous superstitions and crazy pseudo-religions spreading through the world. Whether it follows the decline of regular religion I’m not sure but you can’t avoid the latest nutritional, self-help or other “New Age” lunacy everywhere you go.

I don’t think it’s pushing a point too far to state that willful ignorance has even played a huge role in the disastrous situation the US government got themselves into in Iraq. Pretty much everyone else in the world was saying they shouldn’t try it but their minds were closed and a determined ignorance won the day.

However, it’s not just in the west that ignorance raises it’s ugly head. Just across our border in South Africa their esteemed leaders have regularly fallen into disastrous and (verging on criminal) flirtations with AIDS denialism and the awful German Matthis Rath and his horrible vitamin concoctions that “allow the prevention, treatment and eventually the eradication of today's most common diseases”. Well, they do after you’ve made him rich of course.

It’s not just Rath though. We’ve had the misguided here in Botswana saying they can cure AIDS with apple juice and prayer and others who say that walnuts are better than ARVS. Is it improper of me to call that last one the “Nuts theory”?

It’s not been widely covered here but we had an even more remarkable case of either willful madness or possibly just badness a month ago in Gambia. Their president, Yahya Jammeh, has announced that with his own combination of the Quran and some herbs he found in the forest he can cure people of AIDS within three days. According to the Gambian State House web site ( his claims have left medical experts in Gambia “mesmerised and stunned”. Presumably because they knew he’d have them shot if they didn’t look suitably impressed.

My point is simple, if a little long-winded. There IS a strange parallel between HIV on the one hand and wickedness and ignorance on the other, but to assume that any particular group has a monopoly on either wickedness or ignorance is, in my view, wicked and ignorant.