I don’t want to get too tin-foil hat on you. And in my defense, I haven’t ordered my emergency rations bucket from Sam’s Club yet. (True story: Sam’s is better for this sort of thing than Costco. Who knew?) But . . .
This Ebola outbreak scares the bejeezus out of me. A few thoughts, none of which are original:
* With the number of infections already in the thousands, I don’t know that we’re in a place where the virus can be easily contained. Contagions progress in a geometric pattern, which means that the curve for the resources needed to contain them follows a similar curve.
* There is no written-in-stone understanding of Ebola transmission, because viruses mutate in the wild and the more people who are infected, the greater the opportunity for mutation. Think about that for a minute–we really don’t know the exact limits of transmission right now. And what we do know is terrifying. Have you wondered why Ebola protocols call for washing down infected areas with chlorine? Because the virus can survive for up to two weeks on a dry surface.
* We’re rapidly approaching the point where the best case scenario is a horrifying devastation that’s limited to the African continent. The worse case scenarios get nigh unthinkable awfully fast.
* Do you really want to be scared? Whether or not you realize it, Ebola is a weapon of mass destruction. What’s to stop some jihadi from going to Liberia, getting himself infected, and then flying to New York and riding the subway until he keels over? I understand that ISIS doesn’t tend to use suicide bombers as much as other jihadi groups, but this is just the biological warfare version of a suicide bomb. And can you imagine the panic if someone with Ebola vomited in a NYC subway car? Is this scenario highly unlikely? Without question. But we take drastic precautions against unlikely scenarios all the time. Just look at the massive infrastructure we’ve built for airport security based on two highly-unlikely actions.
All of which leads me to a thought about politics, that’s really not about politics:
You might wonder why the Obama administration has been so reflexively resistant to the idea of stopping flights to the U.S. from infected countries. It’s incredibly easy to get here: Just to pick a day at random, Kayak says you can fly from ROB in Monrovia to JFK for $1,459. That’s prohibitively expensive for your average Liberian, but not for everyone. Closing off flights seems like a no-brainer, yet the administration rejects it out of hand. Why? I suspect it’s because they sense how Ebola has the potential to reshuffle the political landscape. Starting with immigration.
If you agree to seal the borders to mitigate the risks from Ebola, then you’re implicitly rejecting the entire ideological framework of the “open borders” mindset and admitting that there are some cases in which the government has a duty to protect citizens from outsiders. I suspect that some folks see that as the thin end of the wedge. Because what happens then if Ebola breaks into Central America? Then you have to worry about masses of uninfected immigrants surging across the border–not to mention carriers of the virus, too. What do you do? If it was okay to cut off flights from Liberia, is it okay to try to seal the Southern border?
These things tend to have a logic of their own. Once you get majority opinion on board with protecting borders from Ebola, you’re that much closer to having them agree to protect the borders from labor market dilution.
But immigration is just one issue. Barack Obama didn’t create the Ebola virus in the basement of his secret Kenyan mosque. (Note: this is a joke, people.) But he came to office promising to unify the nation, slow the rise of the oceans, and heal the planet. Six years later we have a healthcare law everyone hates, a lousy economy, civil war in Syria, Russia annexing its neighbors, a Secret Service that can’t protect the president, an IRS that targets the president’s opponents, ISIS setting off a new 30-years-war in the Middle East, and oh, look at this–an actual plague. Next up: rain of frogs.
Ebola isn’t Obama’s “fault” in that he didn’t precipitate the outbreak. But he was sitting at the Big Desk when it happened and if things get bad then at some point people will start asking why the the president of the United States was fighting the “war on women” and going to fundraisers with Richie Rich Richman instead of getting ahead of the situation with Captain Ebs.
When institutions break down the way they have in America over the last 14 years, you enter into a world of potentialities that’s very unpredictable. The only real analog in American history, I think, is 1978-1979. America got lucky then because we got Ronald Reagan, who turned out to be one of history’s Great Men. But if you look through history, instability doesn’t always turn out so well for societies.
Okay, I’ll take the tinfoil hat off now. Everything’s fine. The professionals are on the case. They’ll deal with Ebola and this pandemic panic will, like SARS and the avian flu and the pig flu, turn out to be less awful than we feared. I’ll leave the hopeful last word to Galley Friend X:
The reason I think Ebola will not become a major world problem? Nigeria seems to have contained it. If it became a problem in Lagos, I’d think we’d have a real global problem on our hands. But they had cases, they dealt with them, and it’s been probably three weeks since there has been any known Ebola there. Think of Lagos and Nigeria as a whole as the bellwether. If the situation there stays as it is now, then this outbreak is just a regional problem, and maybe even a minor one, relatively speaking. If it becomes a real problem there again, we could be fucked.
Let’s hope he’s right.