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720 pages, Hardcover
First published January 11, 2022
“Does this look like a dystopia to you?”
The answer, implicit in the man’s question, was that a dystopia doesn’t look like anything; indeed, that it can look like anywhere else.
“And in the same way, nothing has really changed here. America is a country with sin at its heart. You know what I’m talking about. One group of people sent away from their land; another group of people stolen from their land. We replaced you, and yet we never wanted to replace you— we wanted to be left where we were. None of our ancestors, our great-great-great-grandparents, ever woke up one day and thought: Let’s sail halfway around the world, be part of a land grab, pit ourselves against some other native peoples. No way, no how. That is not how normal people, decent people, think— that is how the devil thinks. But that sin, that mark, never goes away, and although we didn’t cause it, we are all infected by it.
So I gave him my short speech about infectious diseases and how I spent my days trying to anticipate the newest ones, playing up the statistics that civilians love hearing, because civilians love to panic: How the 1918 flu killed fifty million people, which led to additional, but less disastrous, pandemics in 1957, 1968, 2009, and 2020. How, since the 1970s, we’ve been living in an era of multiple pandemics, with a new one announcing itself at the rate of every five years. How viruses are never truly eliminated, only controlled. How decades of excessive and reckless prescribing of antibiotics had given rise to a new Family of microbes, one more powerful and durable than any in human history. How habitat destruction and the growth of megacities has led to our living in closer proximity to animals than ever before, and therefore to a flourishing of zoonotic diseases. How we’re absolutely due for another catastrophic pandemic, one that this time will have the potential to eliminate up to a quarter of the global population, putting it on par with the Black Death of more than seven hundred years ago, and how everything in the past century, from the outbreak of 2030 through last year’s episode in Botswana, has been a series of tests that we’ve ultimately failed, because true victory would be treating not just each outbreak individually but developing a comprehensive global plan, and because of that, we’re inevitably doomed.
Over the years, I’ve been astonished at and dismayed by and fearful of how acquiescent the public has proven to be: Fear of disease, the human instinct to stay healthy, has eclipsed almost every other desire and value they once treasured, as well as many of the freedoms they had thought inalienable. That fear was yeast to the state, and now the state generates its own fear when they feel the population’s is flagging.
“Each of them wanted the other to exist only as he was currently experiencing him as if they were both too unimaginative to contemplate each other in a different way.”