Viruses are tiny structures that self-replicate inside your body, creating a series of reactions that are more or less harmful to you, or in some cases, even deadly. Prior to the 18th century, people often died from contracting these viruses; sometimes many tens of millions from just a single ‘outbreak’. They tried all sorts of remedies to cure or at least ameliorate the symptoms, but with little or no result. That held true until in 1796, when someone decided, based on knowledge he uncovered in an older reference recorded decades before, to try injecting a weak form of a virus into a child, investigating how well this might help make the child immune to more powerful versions of the same virus. Astonishingly, it worked, changing the world forever as to how humans can deal with viruses. It took almost 100 more years for this new ‘vaccine’ method to be properly tested and implemented on a larger scale, and now many vaccines have been developed to allow both humans and livestock animals to avoid most of the destructive viruses that exist.
Viruses are spread across all ecosystems on the planet, making up the world’s most abundant biological entity. Infection can range from simple symptoms that almost any human being can handle without treatment, including running nose, fever, sore throat, fatigue, headache, etc., while others are much more problematic and can produce severe pain, internal or external bleeding, and in some cases, death.
There are still many viruses out there, some with fatality rates around 90%, that have no treatment or vaccine, which means if you ‘catch it’, you are much more likely to die than survive it. There are also numerous others with lesser non-lethal effects that have no vaccine or significant treatment as well.
Take Influenza (the ‘flu’), for example. There are 3-5 million severe illness cases per year, and around 250,000 to 500,000 deaths annually. Influenza is typically transmitted through the air (airborne), which is the most powerful, robust way that a virus can transmit. As a RNA-based virus, Influenza is highly variable (it quickly mutates), so its vaccine is strongly recommended as a seasonal/annual ‘shot’ for people with reduced immune systems. Viruses are ‘controlled’ by analyzing numerous factors about them and the symptoms they create, and then arriving at the best decision on the type or types of measures to be taken: perhaps a new or adjusted vaccine is needed, or maybe prevention can do the job (sanitation, quarantine, etc.). In cases of airborne viruses, prevention without a vaccine is risky and may be uncontrollable to a certain degree, but in other situations, prevention is often the key.
The Zaire Ebola virus is a perfect example of how, although there is no vaccine or treatment for it yet, it can be managed to a certain extent. Since Ebola is only transmitted through direct contact with body fluids, the quicker you isolate (quarantine) infected cases, the faster the virus will disappear. It may kill many (and this is something we should strive to solve ), it may weaken some who contract it (and this is something we should strive to ameliorate), but with isolation, the virus will have less and less people to spread to and will eventually disappear. That’s not to say that it is completely eradicated, but it becomes unlikely to affect people from that particular area, or other surrounding areas. When there are no more cases of a particular virus infection, they call it extinct. However, that is not to say the virus is non-existent anymore, but rather that it is now so well-managed that there are little to no cases of infections, with practically 0% risk of new infection to anyone.
There are two crucial ideas behind dealing with viruses:
- Prevention and Treatment: Prevent an infection from happening in the first place, and when it happens have a treatment that can cope with the effects
- Vaccination: Prepare the body prior to infection, so that it becomes highly resistant / immune to viruses
With all of these viruses in the world, even with the chaotic world-wide infrastructure handicapped by culture and money, human societies are coping quite well today when it comes to viruses. If you happen to be in the US, you are much more likely to be killed by another man than by malaria. There were 14,748 homicides in the United States in 2010, while malaria infected around 1,500, and death from most of these infections were and continue to be prevented. Now put that in perspective - people are more dangerous than malaria in the US! Even worldwide, malaria kills 627,000 people and homicide is almost close to that at roughly a half million per year in 2012. From this we can conclude that human beings are as (or more) dangerous as some powerful viruses, and this is where I wanted to arrive at.
Ok now. So. If we want to solve poverty, reduce waste and crime, get rid of corruption, solve climate change, and all of our major problems that we face today on planet Earth, shouldn’t we start and build self sustainable cities, move to renewable energies, make better laws, and so forth? What if, we should not. What if the solution is a scientific education + relevant infrastructure that together can create a new kind of society? I see it is paramount to educate people about subjects like obscenity, nudity, monetary system, how their bodies work, what science is, and so forth, in order to create a saner society.
If we were to build self sustainable cities right now that can provide goods and services for free for all people living inside them, and then move people directly from this society into them, it won’t work. It can’t. It will be a disaster. What if some people feel offended by how other dress, or if choose to not dress? What if something like that leads to violent acts by some who aren’t prepared to handle it? What if some people find it ‘immoral’ to kill ‘sentient’ beings, such as mosquitoes that can perhaps transmit deadly diseases? What if some want to impose their own personal beliefs on others and maybe use ‘common heritage’ resources to build more buildings for prayer than hospitals? What if?
People from today’s society are ‘infected’ with all sorts of notions that are both unscientific and, more often than not, pose potential dangers to others. Believing that you can arrive at a much saner society by only building self-sustainable cities is like thinking that making syringes will eliminate viruses.
We need to deal with these kind of social viruses and manage them in order for them to not spread and become too dangerous. As in the case of the real viruses, social notions can become more or less dangerous, or some can pose no threat to the society as a whole, even if they are unscientific or unverifiable. If we want to feed, clothe and overall take care of all Earth’s humans and resources, and provide people with the opportunity to explore, create, relax and enjoy their ‘trip’ on this planet, then we have to make sure we can also prevent harmful social notions from interfering with such a world.
So, what then is a social virus? We wrote an article about harmful thinking that we highly recommend you to read (or re-read), but basically, any notion can be seen as ‘harmful’ if it’s not scientifically sound and/or can interfere with the equal opportunities everyone will have on this planet.
For instance, certain sorts of beliefs that are imposed onto others can be seen as harmful. Teaching your child that the world was made by an unseen entity (pick any one) and that the sole purpose of this world is to spread messages about that entity, leads toward a society of individuals with significantly reduced scientific understanding, which in turn affects both them and others through their overall lack of involvement in society due to their inability to do so. This is not to say that everyone must somehow put something significant and positive into society, or else the rest of us will view him/her as a social virus - not at all - but we must understand that scientifically ignorant people, especially if they represent a majority, can have a significant backlash on the overall evolution of our scientific and technological knowledge and development, and society as a whole. Additionally, multiple contradictory beliefs tend to seriously conflict with each other, sometimes leading to extreme violence.
For instance, there have been millions of deaths in the name of various religions, along with the cultivating of so many scientifically illiterate people who are mentally unable to make any positive contribution to society as a whole, or worse, may have caused negative impacts. However, the key is in the way these religions are interpreted. Some types of biological viruses can be harmless, or even beneficial, if properly managed. Many people who are religious are not at all harmful to themselves or to society. More than that, many have contributed or are still contributing a significant amount to scientific knowledge. Therefore, a ‘vaccine’ is needed to make sure that ‘notions revolving around’ religions cannot lead towards detrimental situations for society and the individual. While one can certainly lead a happy life by reading the Koran, and may be inspired to pursue a scientific understanding of nature, another could choose to kill other people by doing the same. That is the social-virus that I want to define: not religion or any such clusters of ideas, but how these ideas are digested by people.
Therefore, it’s not that the Koran should become ‘extinct’, or any religious groups or notions, but instead for humanity to be able to manage these notions in a way that they cannot be harmful. I suppose most religious people can agree that killing, or even harming, other humans or other creatures in the name of religion is not a step forward, especially if we are to live together on planet Earth. Also, killing Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, or any religious people or groups, is like killing people that are infected with a biological virus and expecting that to solve the problem completely.
Like with real viruses, there are many different types of social viruses that can spread, mutate, and become dangerous, and again like with the real ones, social viruses can be either eliminated through a ‘vaccine’ or well-managed and cured. Both methods can lead to a stabilization of a saner world-wide society.
I perceive science as a form of vaccine. When children are taught the methods of science, the likelihood of social viruses ‘infecting’ them later on is very low, almost non-existent, but that is not to say it cannot happen. I am not religious at all, so I can never kill ‘in the name of’ Allah, or God, or do any harm because of such notions. However, if I am ignorant in other areas of understanding, I might make fun of fat people and they might kill themselves because of my social ignorance. Get it? As I said, there are many social viruses, so there is need for many types of social vaccines. You cannot expect one type of ‘vaccine’ to cure them all. There are many scientific or so-called ‘critical thinkers’ who still think we can solve problems through politics and are simply unable to question the system we currently live in. By doing that, they promulgate a global system that kills, directly or indirectly, many thousands of people a year (starvation, severe stress, lack of healthcare, etc). Even scientific notions such as “evolution” can be interpreted in ways that are unscientific and harmful: there are groups of people who still agree with a Hitler-like ‘survival of the strongest’ idea, thinking that only healthy people should survive in our society.
The more you learn and deeply understand about many subjects, the more ‘scientific’ your thinking will be, but it’s not a process that has a finite goal. Just as some viruses mutate and new vaccines need to be developed, the same goes for social viruses that can mutate and we’ll need to develop new methods of coping with them. For instance: new pseudosciences can arise even from relatively recent domains like quantum physics, and we have to be able to deal with that as a global society. In reality, there is no such thing as ‘critical thinking’, since there is no end to learning and you can only be critical in the areas you know most about. Even in those areas, you still may not know enough, since new discoveries continually invalidate our ‘current’ understandings.
However, ‘vaccines’ may not be available to some (like education) or they often arrive too late (after a social virus has already infected them), so we need more than that. Remember what the basic ideas are behind dealing with a virus? Vaccination, Prevention, plus Treatment.
We can ‘vaccinate’ people with education, science, and teaching them long-understood problem-solving skills, how to investigate, etc, but doing that in a society like the one we currently live in is likely to lead us nowhere. Why?
Well, there are numerous reasons, some of which have to do with the fact that most individuals must manage having a ‘job’, and thus do not have the time or energy they need to learn many new things; cultural differences play another role, since children are influenced in their thinking by the tribe (country) they are born in (the authority), as well as all of their parent’s biases; money plays a key factor in ‘promoting’ many social viruses - think about the idea of ‘beauty’ that’s promoted by so many companies, just to sell clothes or beauty products, that make many people feel ugly or inspire them to make fun of others, just based on their looks. Another influence of money that is even more severe is when it influences health care. Let me exemplify:
I’ve always had a problem with my eyesight. In daylight, I have hardly no problem seeing, but when it gets darker, I struggle to see; everything is blurry to me. I decided to do something about that and went to see an eye specialist, in a place where they also make eyeglasses. Following my checkup, the doctor said that I need glasses. I asked her if contact lenses would be better at correcting my vision and she almost laughed. She said it’s silly to wear contact lenses. They’re dangerous. You can get an eye infection from them.
Ok, I said… I told her that I would be back because I need to think about it.
In the meantime, the thought came to me to go for another eye exam, but this time where they make contact lenses. These exam services are free under certain conditions here, so I thought I should take full advantage of that. Just as with the previous checkup, their doctor went through all of the exam stages, and then she told me that I really need contact lenses. Glasses, she said, may gather bacteria on their lenses, scratches, get dirty, and so on, therefore contact lenses are cleaner and the best option for me.
Ok, I said… I told her that I would be back because I have to think about it :).
To make this picture more complete about what I need for my eyes, I found a free LASIK surgery eye control. LASIK is an eye surgery done with laser. They change the shape of your eye in order to correct the vision. I went there and, after the checkup was completed, guess what? The doctor said LASIK is the perfect solution for me. There are far more risks wearing contact lenses than having this surgery. And eye glasses…, well they may not correct your vision entirely and it is not comfortable to wear them everywhere if you have an active life.
Ok, I said… I told him that I would be back because I have to think about it :).
All of the doctors I went to recommended only what they had to sell me. I was amused by the entire situation because it was so obvious that they ‘care’ mostly about selling their particular services/products, no matter what the ‘best approach’ happens to be for my eyes. Although they were doctors, they had different opinions about the same issue and their opinions were directly influenced by money.
The thing is, my eyesight is not that bad, so LASIK surgery is not likely my best bet, especially since it has some side-effects that I had to read about on Wikipedia and specialized medical websites, since the doctor failed to tell me about them. Some of these side effects may be irreversible, so a honest doctor would have told me about these. It’s true that contact lenses pose more of a danger of eye infection than LASIK surgery poses, but both risks are low. In any case, they should have told me about these risks, no matter how low or mild they were.
None of the doctors talked about the risks of adopting their solution; only about their benefits, and the risks of other alternatives. It’s as if they were competing… 🙂
It was quite an interesting experience to me as I saw first-hand, in a matter of just one month, how 3 doctors told me very different things about the ‘best’ solution for my eye problem.
So you see, although these doctors may be scientifically literate about that particular subject, their ‘opinions’ change due to monetary influence. If the LASIK doctor would have recommended me to wear contact lenses because a LASIK may not be needed for my eyesight, the company he works for would automatically lose 2,000 Euros. If I had told him upfront that I could not afford LASIK, maybe he would have been more honest about it. The same goes for the other two. They probably fear that they could not sell as many eyeglasses or contact lenses if they were sincere, but if all of them were consistently honest (had no reason to hide important information), humanity would certainly have a much more balanced system in place that truly takes care of life, rather than bank accounts.
This example is one of the most ‘non-harmful’ scenarios out there, considering that people are sometimes killed because of the incentive to make a profit. There are plenty of online sources showing how big such institutional corruption is.
Let’s go back to the real viruses for a minute:
A single strain of the influenza class of viruses killed around 50-100 million human beings in 1918 (perhaps the greatest human loss-of-life disaster). That was partly to blame on the poor infrastructure and knowledge at the time, but it was also exacerbated by perceived monetary gain/loss that lead to the quick spread of the virus. James Niven, Manchester's Medical Officer of Health at that time, tried to prevent many deaths by advising the city officials to put the city into quarantine and stop the virus from passing from one human to another. This would have saved many thousands of lives, both in and around the city. Unfortunately, they ignored him, as there would have been significant monetary loss to them in closing production facilities or cinemas, or even negative cultural effects in closing down the church, for instance (people may have revolted because of that). In other words, money and culture immediately got in the way of taking a more scientific approach to maximizing health, and many people died as an indirect result. This is the same situation that we face right now, and this is also why, besides ‘vaccines’, we need to develop the infrastructure as well (prevention and treatment).
But without an integrated infrastructure, social viruses cannot be managed.
As in the case of real viruses, we first need regular ‘social vaccinations’ of people with science (literacy, relevant generalist education, technological skillfulness, etc.) where possible, but it is imperative that we also need a relevant infrastructure that can maintain a saner society. Both are crucial, and both are fully dependent on each other. Throughout all aspects of the infrastructure, we must strive to eliminate the incentive for social viruses to arise. For instance, providing what people need and want will eliminate the vast majority of homicides; an abundance of partners (the ability to meet more people that are like-minded) can significantly reduce or eliminate jealousy; the removal of monetary profit will eliminate the incentive to lie, cheat and ‘devour’ resources for a personal gain; and the list goes on and on. There are millions of types of physical health-reducing viruses out there, but there may be billions of mental health-reducing social viruses that we have to deal with.
Keep in mind that it took about 100 years for real vaccines to be widely implemented, and perhaps another 100 years for it to become a common thing, creating an infrastructure to cope with them. Another interesting aspect is that people feared vaccines, at first. Since the first vaccine was a weaker form of virus extracted from an infected cow and injected into a human child, people feared that cow features might eventually appear on their bodies. As a result, there were many anti-vaccination movements and opinionated exaggerations at that time. This is quite similar to what we are working hard to achieve, and the reactions that some people have about what we propose. The way people feared that vaccines might cause cow features in people, is the same way people fear today that in such a society that we describe (based on abundance and automation, global society without a need for trade, leaders, laws, and so forth), technology will somehow control their lives or that they might somehow become robots without feelings, or that others will more easily control everyone under a global society.
Another very important aspect is that perhaps, like in the case of real viruses, some social viruses will never disappear since they are ‘airborne’ and are thus hard to deal with, while some others may remain very dangerous. However, we can call them ‘extinct’ if they do not pose any significant danger to society overall, and we should strive to improve this situation even more. Thus, many notions that are harmful to oneself and the society may still exist in such a society, much like those ‘eradicated’ viruses still exist in today’s world, but will be near to 0% as efficient in ‘infecting’ other people or pose a danger to the global society as a whole.
It might take 100 years to implement this kind of world, or maybe it will take 20 or 2000, but we must start to distribute the ‘social vaccine’ and focus on creating the infrastructure. It may happen in small steps, but this kind of approach (from infrastructure to education) is the only solution we see for creating a sane-enough society that can sustain its sanity, and continue becoming even saner. When that guy invented the first vaccine in 1796, he had no idea about how the vaccine would be distributed on a world scale or how the infrastructure of cities would evolve to cope with the many types of viruses that exist. Today, we already have a very solid plan to showcase what the infrastructure can look like, as well as how to cope with social viruses. Maybe it won’t be that, but it’s the best path forward that we have so far.
Help us cope with social viruses and create a stable, smarter, saner world that we can all enjoy!