Both nouns in the title are double-barreled. Viruses are both real and metaphorical. Ignorance denotes lack of knowledge as well as the decision not to pay attention, not to take someone or something into account. The little I know about physical viruses I owe largely to Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything”. I know, through a life of personal study, a lot more about metaphysical viruses like the world’s religions.
2018 is an appropriate time to reflect on both types of viruses. We use the word and its derivative a little too nonchalantly when we hear at the pharmacist’s that “there is a flu virus going around” – which is intended to induce both a kind of fatalism and the avoidance of the pointless, excessive, dangerous use of antibiotics : “What you’ve got you can’t do much about. Tough it out.” And then there is the fact or fantasy or photo that has gone “viral” on Facebook – meaning it has been disseminated in quasi-real time virtually universally.
The time is ripe to talk about viruses, if only because this year we commemorate the centenary of one of history’s most lethal viral epidemics, that of the Great Spanish Flu of 1918, originally a non-lethal swine flu that mutated into the catastrophe that claimed as many lives as the Great War that had just ended – at least 20 million. That killer virus came and went … into hiding (somewhat like a not-yet-martyr terrorist); both can emerge to strike again at any time. Other viruses since 1918, among the 5000 we know, continue to claim millions of lives : rabies, yellow fever, ebola, polio and AIDS. “Smallpox alone”, wrote Bryson, “in the twentieth century killed an estimated 300 million people.” Fortunately for all of us, after destroying countless lives for 3000 years, it was declared eradicated in 1979.
The 20th century also gave us a virus of a different kind, but one potentially just as, if not more, dangerous : a new version of religious fanaticism we call Islamic Terrorism. Already it has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, including those of its principal victims, Muslim co-religionists. And like Ebola, AIDS and even Spanish Flu, it is ready to come out of hiding at any time, leaving pools of innocent victims’ blood and sowing the fear that is intended to terrify us all into . . . submission.
We have no choice but to continue to search for remedies for both physical and spiritual viruses, and to invest whatever it takes to eliminate, or at least limit, the death and disaster they wreak. This Blog is my way of contributing to the elimination of religious illusion, the source of murderous fanaticism. Not much maybe, but I feel it is my duty. People familiar with my personal history know why.