Ebola outbreak: there is no hope for us if we cannot first overcome our striking arrogance

Seems to me, the favoured way of starting an article like this appears to be a harsh reality check presented by way of a difficult-to-fathom collection of numbers. In keeping with that, I could start with a series of shocking statistics about ebola related death rates. But I won’t. Aside from saying that the current death toll stands at something like 4,447, with as many as 10,000 people per-week likely to be infected in various places across the world very soon – whose figures do you trust? – I don’t really feel there is much point. The fact that the word outbreak is now openly being used in both the media and the medical community should tell us everything we need to know. Of course, the definition of outbreak varies depending on the thing that happens to be outbreaking, but in this case we’re talking about a disease that is more expansive in its reach than what medical experts believe to be normal or has historically been the case. Either way, over 8,000 people across our globe are believed to be harbouring this nasty, deadly virus, and there will be more deaths on the way very soon. We can play it cool and manipulate the figures as much as we like, but one aspect of the truth is difficult to argue with: if we were ever expecting ebola, we were looking the other way when it finally arrived. Now it’s here, it’s becoming obvious that if we do know what to do, we’re not in agreement about how to do it, or even if we should bother to at all. Lots of weighing-up is going on, yet some people’s scales are more wonky than others.

By today’s social media and Google-won’t-load-my-page-and-it’s-been-a-full-5-seconds-I’m-considering-going-to-another-network standards, ebola is, of course, nothing particularly new. The mysterious haemorrhagic fever first cropped up back in 1976, in what we now call the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ever since then, it’s more or less silently been wiping out unfortunate poor people who never stood even the remotest chance against ebola to begin with.

Then it came to the west, and people started to actually give a shit.

For me, the worst thing about something like this – aside from the obvious worst thing, which is that innocent people are losing their lives daily in a horrible virus atrocity that cannot be stopped – is just how much there is to think about. And it’s not like that information is forming an orderly queue, either. It seems each facet of it is vitally important for us to not only know right now, but act on, delegate and decide.

Do we start with worrying about closing borders? Or should we focus on a cure? Should we do both simultaneously? Equally, it would seem sensible to accept the fact that ebola is in full-flow and fight the symptoms, rather than just leaving people to rot in a room while we figure out how not to catch it – to accept that only by trying to help those who are sick can we truly understand the thing in its demolition-heavy active state. Keep looking, though, and you tend to see the same thing rearing its ugly head, time and time again: wherever your starting point is, not even the experts in ebola seem to really understand exactly how it can be transmitted. For me, while swiftly dodging the tricky subject of border closing, etc, this is a very good place to start.

Since the outbreak’s beginning, we’ve been told that ebola can do this or does do that. Not possibly, but more or less definitively. For example, it can’t be transmitted through the air – don’t be silly, it doesn’t have wings. It can be transmitted by direct contact, however…whatever that actually means. Aside from stating how ebola can be passed by infected bodily fluids, nobody is keen on specifics here. But in a world where every new day begins with a new contradiction – in the past few days those contradictions have become so striking and obvious and dominant that it is hard not to darkly laugh – it’s no longer possible to have an accurate idea of what we’re talking about. As I type these words, I wonder if ebola can be transmitted through layers of plastic, or if its next mutation will present in different, unexpected symptoms that are entirely invisible to all and utterly without any warning whatsoever.

One look on social media, and across the news, will tell you that steadfast limits have already been set for the ebola virus. In what can only be deemed an act of pure human arrogance and immense scientific indulgence, alleged experts who don’t even understand how precaution-taking-people are getting horribly ill are saying that deaths in the UK are possible but not likely (at the time of writing). Worse, it sounds a lot like these experts haven’t even seen the film Outbreak – if they had I think they’d be much more worried. This comes merely days after ebola claimed various people in other parts of the world where the exact same thing was also said to be true.

Then there’s the evolutionary standpoint, which is downright ugly. To say that viruses have the upper-hand on us would be something of a major understatement. And, in truth, it could – and very likely will, unless I’m being arrogant – genuinely be the thing that kills us all. Viruses don’t care much for limits, and they don’t really ever die, either. The best that can be hoped for a virus is that it will transfer to another less-fortunate species who will then have to deal with it for a few hundred – preferably thousand – years before passing it onto something we consider even less worth having around us. Who knows exactly how the hell ebola got here to the human population. The point is that our magnificent arrogance is standing like a massive brick wall between us and any kind of positive progress.

Nowadays, we are all ebola experts, and that saying could be taken a little more literally than I intended – thanks to the fact that, by the looks of it, the average non-expert person has about as much chance of recognising someone with ebola symptoms as a WHO professional. Not to devalue their (the experts in question) hard work and supreme understanding of what’s going on here, but only a few days ago people seemingly in-the-know were shouting adamant that someone with ebola could not get on a plane without being noticed as an obvious threat by those around them.

That was fine, and it sounded comforting for a while, but then we learned that a nurse had displayed signs of ebola just the day after getting off a flight to the United States. More alarmingly still, the authorities are now monitoring x amount of people who were on that flight for possible ebola symptoms. Thing is, with the influenza season now teetering upon us, it’s going to be tough to tell the difference without dragging each and every one into a booth and performing an awful lot of expensive blood-work.

One of the most irritating things about all this, for me, is that we have seen infections and viruses spread a million times before. Every year we all put as much distance as is possible between those who are sneezing all over the place, and many of us still fail miserably to not become targets. So, in theory, we should be well-practiced for this kind of outbreak, should we not? In a way, when you simplify things, ebola is like the common-cold but a million times worse. Look up the symptoms if you want. Or just watch the film Outbreak.

Finding the reality amongst all the carnage is proving to be more and more difficult as time goes on. Just how deadly is ebola? Just how much should we be worried? Locking down entire countries is a nice idea in theory, but are any of us actually prepared for the result of that? Surely a complete lockdown would be enormously damaging to our economy just as much as everyone else’s. A true, total lockdown might involve nobody coming in or out of an awful lot of countries for a very long period of time. It sounds over-dramatic to say it, but who would deliver the precious ebay goods that many of us constantly bid for, if it got to a stage where only health experts could go in and out? Stop trade and you don’t have much left aside from an awful lot of angry citizens and not much to do. Remember, the internet relies on international commerce. If we do have to stop the wheels turning, it may cripple us, and ebola will still be there to live another day when we re-open the borders. That’s the really aggravating thing about ebola, and the kind of miserable bastard illnesses it hangs around with: ebola, quite literally, has all the time in the world. In fact, it has much more. If the going gets tough and the world does finally explode into stardust, it’ll just transfer to the nearest piece of flying space rock and wait around for a billion years or so until it finds a suitable host. Perhaps one of the most freaky things about viruses is that they always find a host, yet care nothing for finding a host. Ebola, as far as I can see it, is just hanging around, waiting to drain the life out of anyone it comes into contact with and it doesn’t even know it. How do you combat an enemy who does not even know it’s the enemy…a brilliantly adaptable enemy that (probably) doesn’t have a brain and is infatuated with taking something whole and making it zero?

A partial lockdown may be preferable, but is that any better than no lockdown at all? In truth, is there such a thing as a partial lockdown? Or is that like having a partial wee? Try having a partial wee, I dare you. It’ll only end in tears when you walk away. Tears of more than one kind, I tell you that much.

Ebola is now a pop-culture phenomenon. The Jimmy Saville of infectious diseases, if you like. The way we perceive as humans means that we have no choice but to consider ebola a vast enemy that knows only too well what it is doing. Just like Cancer, and all the other horrible fuckers out there that routinely make the human race’s lives a collective misery, ebola is malevolent and knowing and lots of little angry people seen through a microscope and that’s the way we like it – yet if this is a fight, it’s like the hand of a God smacking-out a tiny, defenceless squirrel that was never the one to gather all the nuts. Thinking about ebola this way normalises it and makes it flawed (bringing a low IQ squirrel into it just ridicules the argument, but too late now…). Yet, so far, we haven’t detected too many flaws. That’s because ebola has been around for a very long time already, and it’s had about a million more years than us to evolve. So it doesn’t particularly do flaws, or so it strikes me. It’s a hard thing to remind ourselves of, but we will never catch it up, because by the time we catch up with where it is right now, or even where it was a hundred years ago, it’ll be so far ahead that we’ll be dead in the ground and turned into carbon.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s thinking it, but I personally don’t know what to do about all this ebola worry. And I feel like I should do something, seeing as we’re all in this together. One thing is for certain: I will not be volunteering to go and fight ebola. I make no apologises for that, either. I’m scared to death and I have plenty of first-world excuses, so don’t even try me.

So the real question is…what do any of us do? Should we riot and demand to know what the authorities know…if they do, in fact, know anything? Or is the fact that we are being protected actually good for us? Can any of us outside of a very few people actually handle the truth? What if this is the end? Is it good for us to really be aware of what we are fighting?

And about that – there’s a lot of talk about us getting over-excited. Over dramatic. It won’t be the end, it can’t be, we have this under control. That kind of thing.

Now, I hate to break it to these people, but it can be the end, and there probably isn’t a great deal we can do about it if it is. If it’s coming, it’s coming, and no amount of posting over-confident statements on The Guardian’s comments sections is going to change that fact. What’s probably better is to be grateful to and for all those people who have been – and are presently – volunteering to help keep this thing in-check. They are the ones bringing the wall down, even if only in mouse-sized pieces.

There is another side to all this that’s even more troubling, and so far I haven’t read much about it: ebola could just be the warm-up act. The half-decent-but-not-amazing support gig for something far more deadly and catchy and easily transmittable. If that’s the case, we can look forward to one hell of an encore. One we will not be here to see, think or feel about. There will be no refunds, so don’t even bother to ask.

Looking at the symptoms presented by ebola does not make for a very smiley picture, if that really needs to be said. The picture is, instead, extremely dark and very grim. People who get ebola usually die a horrible death which involves lots of blood leaving the body and lots of mess you can’t so much as go near without worrying about contracting the virus yourself. If there is something out there and it is more deadly than ebola, we had better wisen up, and quickly.

So, instead of speculating and turning the other way when we hear something we don’t like the sound of, I say we face up to it. I say we explore what’s being said and listen to every argument fully before we decide it’s invalid or misled – it may be just what saves us, or saves others. Maybe the authorities will listen if enough people question the status quo. Ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, we are running fast out of time to be arrogant and headstrong and thinking we know everything. Let’s get our bloody heads together. This one could just be a biggie.


The Apprentice, episode 1, in 3 paragraphs

Potatoes which are actually experiences. Everyone forgetting everything always. Alan doesn’t have lines on his face, he has deep, impenetrable ridges of the variety that climbers look avidly for in cliff faces. Very-Shoreditch-yuppy-arty-farty-bollocks. Sword falling idiots. You are a total shambles. Slow-motion leaves and slow-motion pigeons. A woman with a very long necklace. Nick’s face, as if mere moments after a very painful operation. Potato appointment. Pure human desperation. Sarah not realising that you need actual money to buy things. No genuine people who actually live in London. Karen looking fed-up. Onlookers with smug faces. Need to sell the T-shirts! Insulting words about Gandhi. Arty farty Robert dressing up hotdogs. Obscene greed and undesirable personality traits presented as good ways to be a professionally minded human being. Alan wearing a funky purple and black tie.

Allegedly interesting tasks coming up. Endlessly frustrating hot dogs. Water on the boardroom table that rarely gets drunk and if it does, you don’t see it often. Felipe’s mole face. Multiple headscarf changes. A guy with white shoes, London hair and no socks. No shower curtain! Emotional abuse. Charles’s CV. The T-shirt fiasco and total transvestites (er, I meant travesties). Ridiculous hot dogs and Felipe’s sausage sellers. It all somehow working out. “I did manage Steven actually.” Lots of talk of instructing drivers. High heels and bags of potatoes. Incredibly transparent sales pitches. Edgy Shoreditch. Boys who can’t stop interrupting. A collection of people you very much hope aren’t the only ones left if Ebola kills everyone else. Viper! A free wheelbarrow. Karen Brady’s boardroom transformation. Fundamental business errors. Valuable sausages.

The losers’ café. Wrong reason boardroom bringing. Responsibility for hot dogs. Alan Sugar’s ever-growing ears. Boys forgetting T-shirts. Task passenger. Supposedly uplifting images of what are, in reality, imprisoned and helpless exotic zoo animals. Generic shots of London, lifeless and bleak and massive and depressing – in HD. Daft slogans. Peculiar ears. Running in high heels. Nasty remarks about northern people in general. More terrible team names. A social worker you would never want near any vulnerable person, ever. Felipe can’t high-five. Girls pushing a wheelbarrow about inelegantly. Generic sunset shot. Grown ladies turning into demented children. Horrified buyers. Shutup Steven. Big error.  Handy scapegoats. A guy saying he can make women do what he wants. Zero common sense…

Where the light isn’t: The Paedophile Hunter, Channel 4

As of Wednesday the 1st October, 2014:

I sat for a few minutes after Channel 4s new documentary The Paedophile Hunter finished, wanting to write but not knowing where to begin. This, of course, is hardly classifiable as unusual behaviour for me or anyone who chooses to spend large amounts of time trying to articulate those most weirdo and elusive of things: thoughts and all that surround them. But what made it different for me this time was just how indecisive I was about the film’s conclusion and its intended purpose. To educate? To incite? To unite? To inspire? Truth be told, I didn’t have a clue, and 24 hours on I’m still nowere near certain. I was angry, and disbelieving, and completely lacking in sympathy for men who deliberately engage in high risk, predatory behaviour towards vulnerable people, yet at the same time, I felt…sad. Not for the men, but for the world we live in, the world we appear to have failed to save. The world so many of us know so little of.

The reason why I was struggling so much with writing is probably fairly simple at its core: The Paedophile Hunter is one of those very rare, brutally honest documentaries that exists in a genre almost entirely of its own making. We’re used to hearing about vigilantes and people who will do whatever it takes to keep vulnerable people safe, but what we aren’t used to is seeing them stare right at us, through the screen, as if this is all fairly normal. That’s exactly what we were confronted with tonight, when Stinson Hunter, self-confessed professional paedophile revealer, showed up on Channel 4, all (metaphorical) guns blazing. With no distance between him and us and us more or less sitting in his front-room while he groomed the groomers, you couldn’t not look at the screen. And at times, the level of disgust that transcended the boundaries of the television was nothing less than stratospheric. You were right there with him and his no-holds-barred buddies, and a lot of the time, for me at least, it didn’t feel anything other than 100% captivating. Confronted by such alarming behaviour, the only thing you could do was say “wow, this is absolutely terrible.” The scope of this brutal urban theatre, combined with the quality of the filming and editing, meant that it was easy to get lost in thought and a miserable kind of somewhat thrilling contemplation. Sometimes, I even managed to forget that this was about real life. That’s pretty scary.

The most disturbing thing about the film – if it’s even possible or right to rate the level of disturbance when all these things are so blindingly messed up and downright wrong on so many obvious levels – was, for me, just how pathetic the moment was when Stinson finally cornered one of the men he and his posse had worked so hard to entrap. You hear about sexual predators being particularly devious and manipulative. A realm of human being who only exists to cause misery to the most vulnerable of people in our society. Yet never was a man more feeble than when on screen here, all wide eyes and absolutely no idea of the trouble he was in. No clever excuses and no threats made, and they were all like that, really, with very few exceptions: all proper victims, if we can use that word. Utterly bemused about what the hell was going on around them, at times you could actually see their lives being hollowed out from them, right before their eyes. Their careers gone, their marriages in ruin. You could actually see them going through a moment of spiritual understanding where they knew it had finally happened and caught up with them: they had lost everything, and it was always going to end this way.

And the worst, most horrible part was that some of these men looked like they’d known it was coming and they’d been preparing for it for a lifetime. This considered, it’s no wonder that Stinson lacked sympathy in every conceivable way.

The question of whether or not what Stinson does – has done, on numerous occasions – is wrong or right is one that will no doubt be pondered over intensely as the reviews come in, but I don’t think that’s where we should be focusing our efforts – it’s happened, we watched it, we wanted to watch it, those are the facts and I don’t hear anybody saying that he should stop. What concerns me is that for every man that Stinson goes after, another ten are working harder, and smarter, to evade capture. To minimise every trace of their abusive behaviour in a way that cannot be seen and outed so easily. That’s what really scares me.

You look at Twitter and the evidence is strong that people like (or should I say appreciate?) what Stinson is doing. Some think that this man and his gang should be knighted. And you can’t blame them at all, can you? Because if it takes vigilantes to do what the authorities should already be leading a welfare revolution in, then there is something seriously wrong with this picture. Without doubt, we are in big trouble.

Stinson argues that what he is doing is right on every level. It’s hard to argue with his reasoning, too: when he baits and invites these men into his home, he doesn’t use threats of physical violence, and he does not restrict them from leaving whenever they choose (although you could argue that the bullying level is so high and intense that it over-rides some individuals’ cognitive ability to leave). In fact, his biggest offence is playing these villains at their own despicable game. That said, such things hardly seem necessary. When you have enough intimidation on your side to sink a small island – not to mention a video camera capable of beaming those images into the public domain in a mere matter of seconds, and a very receptive, enthusiastic following – you don’t need to make a fist or own a weapon. Words and a barrage of insight about how much trouble one is in are clearly enough.

Much as I agreed with what Stinson said when he argued that these men were doing this of their own accord, and he was merely the catalyst for their demise, difficult questions couldn’t help but arise. Ones I didn’t really want to think about, but found myself musing deeply. Ask yourself: what happens if gangs of more ruthless vigilantes begin to appear? And what about the enormous potential for the public to harrass mistaken identities?

Another thing I worry about is the pact mentality of people who condone such behaviour, without – and this is just potentially, because everyone is different – thinking for themselves. There is the danger, here, of losing ourselves in mass hysteria that may build and build. Of not stopping and thinking and gauging every case on its own merit. I’m not saying any of the men shown in the documentary shouldn’t have been exposed – thinking about it now, I still feel that they all should. I mean…who would want to turn back the clock and give them back their anonymity? Then again, why do these things still nag at me? And what happens if a Stinson Hunter appears on every street corner out there in a matter of weeks? What happens then? Will paedophiles find a way of entirely bypassing the thugs completely? Will I ever stop repeating myself?

Then there are all the other troubling things that this documentary illuminates: if we’re all looking one way, what’s happening over there…or over there? There are so many aspects to abuse and grooming and internet safety that it is impossible to cover them all in one blog post, but here’s a taste: men aren’t the only people who abuse children and young people. People abuse people, and those people can be female, too.

And for all the people out there thinking Don’t be ridiculous, a woman would never do something that terrible to a child or young person, I urge you to keep an open mind and consider the lessons that history has taught us so very many times. From now on, we need to be even more careful and be vigilant about awareness in ways once unimaginable. After all, abuse happens where people aren’t looking. Worse, it happens where they wouldn’t even think to look.

Then there’s the controversial question or notion of paedophilia as a condition, or worse, an identity, which further complicates things. Massively, when you think about it. The stigma of the creepy old man does nothing but serve as a source of amusement for some, while missing the point at best and distracting us from the more complex arguments that some paedophiles keep putting out: that somehow, this is right and acceptable. Creepy old men are the cliché of yesteryear that nobody takes seriously anymore, aren’t they? They’re the caricatures that lack the depth of nastiness that are actually out there. Real, dangerous paedophiles, on the other hand, are increasingly showing themselves as organised, determined individuals who point-blank will not stop. Worse, the paedophile can be anyone, and they don’t have to subscribe to a certain image (contrary to popular belief on social media, they can’t all be recognised by their dress code and their ownership of specific types of glasses). Even more unsettling, to really get to the crux of why this issue is so horrendous can only be done by considering what to do about the problem…which at the moment is not much, if anything at all, bar act when information is available, very often too late. Some experts who have conducted years of research in the field suggest that paedophilia is an ingrained personality trait. Something as difficult to remove as sarcasm or someone who can’t help but laugh at pathetic jokes. Other experts, conversely, believe in the idea of treatment very seriously and are saying that we should treat all paedophiles medically, without exception. For them, paedophiles are just as much victims as the individuals they pursue. For these experts, their evil is not a horrifying choice or learned belief, it is an affliction which we all must pay, literally, to have healed. So that one day, they might be what society calls normal…

Chances are, it’s going to be a long time – if it ever happens – until the two divisions come to universal agreement. Which is why we can’t afford to be lazy any more. The question is, what to do next?