The State Versus The Microbe

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hazarded guess is probably not far wrong in assuming that bioterrorism
is the latest conversational topic around the dinner party tables
of New York and Boca Raton. As Samuel Johnson once said, death is
a subject that concentrates the mind wonderfully and close proximity
to the Grim Reaper always makes one a little less composed than
normal and a reassuring conversation is a tried and tested outlet.
But, as focussed a subject as this may be, I personally don’t see
how anthrax and Strawberry Pavlova sit well together on the cultured

to prove it does indeed fix in the mind, I don’t remember many small
flat islands, but the closest I have personally got to anthrax was
when I once passed the Scottish island of Gruinard. This was the
island chosen by the British Military to conduct biological warfare
experiments during World War II as the hapless sheep of the island
were sacrificed to the spore clouds of military advancement.

the sheep’s chagrin, their sacrifice in the line of duty was not
needed as the weapons were deemed “frightening” in classified documents
of the time as conventional warfare proved to be enough in Europe.
Even unto this day, I am only aware of one brave crofter who has
attempted to resettle on the island.

amongst the urbanites, the media cranks the panic organ as an opportunity
to boost the circulation figures is seized. By way of example, two
hyperbolic headlines I saw recently read, “Anthrax terror grips
Britain” and, for the hard of reading, “PANIC”. As I scanned these
headlines, I glanced around at my fellow supermarket patrons and
was hard pressed to see any panic registering on their faces at
all. This is hardly surprising since no confirmed case of anthrax
has yet alighted on these shores.

will still bet I am more likely to die in a road accident than from
anthrax spores. I think most Americans have made that deduction
as well.

course, people don’t want the disease, but the media are betting
they can’t get enough of the talking heads holding forth on the
vagaries of species such as bacillus anthracis and homo
sapiens bin ladenus.

we know the State has aspirations to infinitude, but this humble
bacterium is content with its infinitesimal status. There is a quite
a lesson to be learnt from this self-effacing beastie. On its own
it is no match for the vast human body, but gang them together and
the human body’s doom is writ. Know then, individual, that the fight
against Statism is won when like minds come together in ferocious

no, this is not my main line of enquiry today. Indeed, what would
the New Yorker think of the topic of 4 million dead over the hors
d'oeuvre? Methinks I would swiftly change the subject to the New
York Giants (even though I know nothing about grid-iron football).

million or one in five New Yorkers decimated by plague. Not so fantastical
when I appeal to historical precedent in the great London plague
of 1665 and the role of the State in its handling of this deathly
affair. It is estimated that 100,000 Londoners out of 500,000 died
in that year and a look at the State’s involvement offers some lessons
into what we can expect if a major biological attack hits an American

the current anthrax cases, this outbreak of bubonic plague started
in an inauspicious manner with a couple of cases being listed on
the public mortality posters (the equivalent of CNN in those days).
But, thanks to the rather unhygienic lifestyle of your typical London
citizen, the spread of the disease began to take on exponential

behold! Like some dashing white knight of old, the State galloped
in and proceeded to make a hash of things.

first and rather strange edict issued was to kill all the cats and
dogs in London. This would not have gone down too well with ye olde
animal rights fraternity, and was admittedly a measure borne of
the knowledge of the times.

scientific theory of the time postulated that pestilence was carried
on malodorous streams of air which were generated from dung heaps
and the like. According to the scientists of the day, any beast
associating itself with such unmentionable piles was a potential
threat itself.

a bounty of two pennies was given for every mutt that was despatched
and it is estimated that 80,000 animals met their deaths. With hindsight,
it is now understood that it was the rats that should have been
targeted, since they carried the flea which carried the germs.

surprisingly, this made matters worse since the decimation of the
rats’ natural predators allowed them to breed unfettered and spread
the disease even more.

next piece of dubious, cutting-edge science which was advanced was
that bonfires scented with incense may drive away the bad air and
hence the plague. This seemed eminently reasonable and so the government
proceeded to waste large amounts of public money buying up all the
stocks of coal, wood and sweet-smelling perfumeries they could find.

this nasal-pleasing exercise was speedily brought to an end on the
first torrential downpour over London.

lies our first lesson; Science and the State working in tandem often
collude to produce some dubious, wasteful and actually harmful results.

the death toll began to rise into the thousands, the State’s next
bright idea was to ghettoise the poor by not allowing them to leave
London to escape the plague. Only those who had been issued exit
visas and those who were deemed important enough escaped the onslaught
of this terrible disease.

House of Lords had already moved to protect the Statist elite by
relocating to the countryside and those who had the wherewithal
had resorted to their country houses and relations. For some reason,
the Mayor of London had decided to stay in his palatial residence,
but had wisely confined himself to a glass cage from which he conducted

this some kind of strict quarantine procedure similar to what we
saw displayed in such films as “Outbreak”? No, the answer lies in
the politics of the State supported parish system. In scenes reminiscent
of refugees trying to leave Afghanistan, a stream of destitute Londoners
fleeing to outlying parishes was seen as a potential drain on resources.
Since the nationalised Anglican Church ran the parishes and also
had the ear of government, it was not difficult to keep the poor

very Christian, I agree. This politico-ecclesiastical monopoly ensured
that the plague had plenty more fodder. If charity had been depoliticised
and other denominations and secular groups allowed to “compete”
for those in need, the scenario may have been rather different.
Besides, charity or not, the poor should been allowed the option
of fending for themselves.

the second lesson. Welfareism working in tandem with the State can
make the lives of the poor it was designed to help so much the poorer.

and most tragically, was the State policy when it was discovered
that a family member had contracted bubonic plague. To put it bluntly,
the whole family was sealed up in the house with the victim and
left to die.

to the reasons for this barbaric policy, I am a bit vague. Since
only one person may have visibly carried the signs of the plague,
then why shut in everyone else? The theory of “bad air” being the
carrier would not lead them to the conclusion that anyone near the
afflicted person was automatically infected.

can only conclude that the government did not believe the afflicted
person was a sufficient threat to those in the same house. But,
rather than let the family members decide whether to stay or leave,
the government overruled their civil liberties in a most fatal manner.

an aside, quarantining the plagued person was the right policy since
such a person wilfully walking abroad who knew they could kill others
by a mere breath was tantamount to culpable homicide (I say that
with modern hindsight).

you do with those who are not proven to be infected is another matter
and a vital one if a large-scale attack overshadows a major city.
But, this is not so relevant with anthrax since person-to-person
transmission is very unlikely. It is the initially dispersed spores
that do the infecting.

wishing to leave the vicinity of such an attack should be allowed
to do so once it is established that they are not carrying residual
spores on items of clothing. The only location that should be relevant
is access to good medical aid in prevention and cure.

going by government’s propensity for over-erring on the side of
caution, it would not surprise me if they also ghettoised such a
low-risk area purely for the purposes of being seen to be doing

the third lesson. Panic working in tandem with the State leads to
needless curfews on innocent individuals’ daily lives.

last lesson is the saga of the “Watchers”. In order to keep an eye
on these quarantined families, the government employed their own
neighbours as informers to stay on guard outside those doleful domiciles.
They were charged to ensure that their “prisoners” did not escape
and to take whatever precautions were necessary to ensure it.

I mentioned in my last article,
the State is antithetical to the community when it takes to itself
the mandates of community. By paying this virtual blood money to
ensure your own neighbours would die is as certain a blow to the
community as the plague itself.

if you would, the resentment amongst kith and kin of departed households
when they knew that you had taken the shilling to ensure their last
days were their worst. Revenge rather than neighbourliness would
seem to be the order of the day in such a situation.

the final lesson. Bribery working in tandem with the State leads
to the alienation of one’s own community.

providence would have it, the onset of winter killed off the carriers
and the plague was stayed. The following year was the Great Fire
of London, which destroyed many of the unsanitary living conditions,
which encouraged disease to spread. No more would the plague have
such favourable conditions to spread in the capital as nature and
accident achieved what the State had eminently failed to do.

churchmen of the day sought out what sin had incurred this outbreak
of God’s wrath against their land. How ironic that the government
of the day managed to take a natural outbreak of a disease and turn
it into a form of State bioterrorism by prolonging and protracting
the effects of it.


Watson [send him
] writes from Edinburgh, Scotland.


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