For days now, I’ve been fighting my way through Bill Gates’s disturbing new book on How to Prevent the Next Pandemic, and I’ve found myself wondering about one question above all:
How are we to explain Gates, exactly?
I know that for many of you he is a calculating conspiratorial goon. Pretend for a moment that he’s not, though. Imagine, for the sake of argument, that he’s every inch the obtuse, naive and self-important former software developer that he seems to be. How did he get this way, what does he even think he is doing, and what can it mean?
Remember that this man has billions of dollars. A whole world of unusual vices stands open to him: He could hire a mercenary army to invade some country and proclaim himself god-emperor for life. He could retire to a tropical island with his favourite mind-altering substances and a harem of nubile young women. He could do both at once, and other things besides. Instead, he has chosen the path of moral vanity, perhaps the least interesting vice of all, founding a ponderous grantmaking foundation and pooping around the globe in manboobs and ill-fitting polo shirts, pronouncing to all and sundry on subjects he hardly understands.
A commenter points me to Jeffrey Tucker, who, as it turns out, has done critical work towards developing a Theory of Gates. At Microsoft, Gates oversaw the development of poorly secured software overrun by computer viruses. Afterwards, Tucker notes, he
… started dabbling in other areas, as newly rich people tend to do. They often imagine themselves especially competent at taking on challenges that others have failed at simply because of their professional successes. Also by this point in his career, he was only surrounded by sycophants who would not interrupt his descent into crankiness.
And what subject did he pounce on? He would do to the world of pathogens what he did at Microsoft: he would stamp them out! He began with malaria and other issues and eventually decided to take on them all. And what was his solution? Of course: antivirus software. What is that? It is vaccines. Your body is the hard drive that he would save with his software-style solution.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I noted that Gates was pushing hard for lockdowns. His foundation was now funding research labs the world over with billions of dollars, plus universities and direct grants to scientists. He was also investing heavily in vaccine companies.
Early on in the pandemic, to get a sense of Gates’s views, I watched his TED talks. I began to realize something astonishing. He knew much less than anyone could discover by reading a book on cell biology from Amazon. He couldn’t even give a basic 9th-grade-level explanation of viruses and their interaction with the human body. And yet here he was lecturing the world about the coming pathogen and what should be done about it. His answer is always the same: more surveillance, more control, more technology.
Once you understand the simplicity of his core confusions, everything else he says makes sense from his point of view. He seems forever stuck in the fallacy that the human being is a cog in a massive machine called society that cries out for his managerial and technological leadership to improve to the point of operational perfection.
There’s a lot to recommend this view. It explains specific things, like Gates’s fondness for mRNA vaccines, a genetic equivalent of computer code. More than that, though, it elucidates Gates’s failure to appreciate the essential intractability of many ancient human problems. Gates dreams of saving mankind from disease and poverty – things that are so much a part of what it means to be human, that it seems an error to call them problems in the first place. We are mortal beings; not all of us can be wealthy; we’ll all die of something. Gates the software developer has no experience of problems like that.