WELL, WELL, WELL. Happy Birth Day, ACT UP, and Many Happy Returns of the Day!
The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power has just begun to flex its muscles. We are all beginning to feel better in the reflection of your struggle against AIDS. Although you may sometimes feel like the little boy whose thumb in the dike is all that stands between the next breath and the deluge, your supporters gain courage by your example.
AIDS, like the pestilences before it, has been used as a principle of division - division between the genders, between the races, between the nations and the continents. But it has backfired, and the struggle against it brings us greater power than we knew, for we are beginning to understand that there is not a single question of struggle that is not involved in yours. The struggle against sex and racial discrimination, the struggle of workers at our places of employment, the struggle for civil liberties, the struggle for housing, the struggle to choose our own lifestyle, the expression of solidarity with those struggling in Africa, in Haiti, in the Philippines, and in Latin America, the struggle against medicine-for-profit, the struggle for education, the struggle for prisoners' rights, the struggle against identity papers, the struggle to sleep when, where, and with whomever, the struggle to retain some of the breakthroughs of the 1960s to create our own forms of sociality, the struggle against drug abuse, the struggle for gay liberation, the struggle for women's liberation, the struggle for the environment, the struggle for science for the people, the struggle for sex, and the struggle for safe streets, have gained strength from your vigilance, creativity, and staying power.
Here is a birthday present. It is a history of ten plagues. It contains warnings and danger signals. It shows us how far we have come. It is a collective present which could not have been written without the help of Michaela Brennan, Silvia Federici, George Caffentzis, Evan Stark, John Wilshire, Monty Neill, Nancy Kelly, Bettina Berch, Harry Cleaver, John Roosa, Kate Linebaugh, and all the "whores, sluts, and martyrs" who supped on minestrone last Friday beyond midnight.
So, as they say in San Francisco, "let us go gayly forward."
HIV made its active appearance in the late 1970s in the United States. At the same time, in Chicago, an economic theory was propagated ("monetarism") that organized poverty, famine, disease, and dislocation all over the world in the interests of ruling classes whose corrupt desperation was personified by an aphasic actor, Ronald Reagan. Chicago also became a center noted for the adoption of free-market economic models to the interpretation of law (Stephen Possner) which ceased to pretend to justice and quantified instead the cost-benefit of life and death, and such jurists gained political ascendancy. Not long after, under the barking leadership of William Bennett, other dogs of the liberal arts joined the howling chorus for "Western Civilization." A Chicago historian, William McNeill, published Plagues and Peoples in 1976, shortly before the AIDS pandemic appeared.
He takes a long view, indeed the longest view he can, beginning with "Man the Hunter" and placing "him" within a very deterministic ecology. He notes that our survival is contingent upon survival against microparasites which inhabit our bodies (bacteria, viruses) and against macroparasites (ruling classes in their many mutations) who raid, enslave, exploit, tax, kill, and otherwise mess us up. Any kind of parasite is dependent upon its host, the HIV no less than a ruling class, and therefore it is in the interest of the parasite not to annihilate its host completely, as otherwise, the parasite too is dead. A balance, or stasis of some kind, must be accommodated. The host is permitted to live only to the extent that it works to produce a surplus for the parasite.
While McNeill does not prattle, as Hitler does in Mein Kampf, about "sacrifice for the race," or "ruthless measures for survival," he is at ease with that cool distance from events that permits him to speak of "Nature" and our "species." Susan Sontag warned against the metaphorical treatment of disease, and that is a danger McNeill has not resisted. He retains a lay person's knowledge of disease and a Chicago person's knowledge of ruling classes. He does not, for all the suggestion of a class analysis of plague and history, tell us about the lost history of our own communism. Nor does he know about the lizard.