The Viral Millenium

Beyond legion... The enemy according to Pogo

3/21/02

A 21st century concept was recently spoken in my hearing, probably from the radio, with no explanation or amplification, but simply as the phrase: “viral marketing.” The in-depth story was unnecessary. The idea blossoms before the mind’s eye, obvious and complete. Information technology today permits product promotion not merely to individuals who read certain periodicals or drive past certain billboards, but holographically, with perfect ubiquity. The Primary Care Physician on my medical plan is a very modern anti-aging specialist who describes his practice as “holistic”, by which he means treating the whole person - organic, systemic and molecular, physical and psychological, from head to toe, looked at every imaginable way. Notwithstanding that this cannot really be done, holistic medicine does not refer to the holism evoked by viral marketing. The paradigm is, of course, viral HIV, in which the cause and source of the entire disease is “located” in every part of the victim at the chromosomal level. Like a hologram. To imagine it (and we must remember that it is not at all an imaginary thing) we must conceptually dispense with the notion of discrete or distinguishable parts, things like infected limbs or places where one might better attack the problem than other places. You can't excise the diseased portion, or create firewalls or bulwarks between areas which are sterile as opposed to contaminated. All of it is everywhere. It is a context common to modern viral pathology and medieval mysticism. And now, apparently, the ad biz.

Advertising’s primordial medium, like the stuff of Augustinian reality, is human intelligence. To stand aside from it is to stand apart from up and down, from time and space and meaning itself.

Now, on the verge of perfect communication (not, of course, the willingness or ability to share ourselves perfectly, but the means to speak to anyone or everyone, by e-mail, cell phone or tv, regardless of their location, with perfect ease), the exploitative mind might aspire to “placing” a message absolutely everywhere at once, so that the shape of it is less like a flier under your windshield wiper and more like a color placed in the lenses of your glasses or a thought placed in your brain through a speaker in your tooth. Information now scoots through wires like quicksilver, gushes from satellites, soaks the earth with lightspeed rain. We are living in times in which Madison Avenue might, with some hope of success, insert a soft drink preference directly into our racial memory. Utilizing the science of groupthink and the devastating knowledge that we owe our personal definitions to the collectives in which we swim, products, the cars we drive or the idiots we vote for, might be so presented to us as to be inseparable from the parameters of our being.

The holographic model is creeping into our consciousness as our problems and possibilities become increasingly non-localized.

Where‘s the staff infection? Where’s the anthrax? Where’s the Nazi lust for world domination? Those mercurial swarms of reactionary microbic life, those innumerable subversive leaflets approach but fall short of the holographic paradigm. With massive effort, you can locate such things. You can evacuate and disinfect the entire hospital. You can carpet bomb Berlin or Hanoi or Central Afghanistan with a vast, fiery shampoo, leaving behind not a single zealot, not one box knife.

Jihad is viral, a struggle replicated in many souls, the marching orders of an army without commanders or barracks or front line trenches. Its hideout is not in some part of the world, or some members of human society. Au contraire. There is some jihad in all humans. The search and destroy technique is inappropriate, unless, like the Reagan approach to eliminating flammable undergrowth from the National Forests, you burn down the whole damn thing and let Mother Nature start over.

An officer dressed in mid-twentieth century military garb is updating us from the tv as I write. The uniform is from an era in which it was advantageous for both sides to distinguish their own combatants from the enemy’s on a conventional battlefield. He is describing “pockets of al Qu’eda and Taliban terrorists” remaining in the geographic theater of something called “Operation Anaconda”. The enemy has been 95% cleaned up (or was it mopped up?) and only a few vile residues remain. (Decked out in bulky cloth headgear so as not to mistake one another for U.S. Special Forces people.) He reported that his soldiers had “taken out” three busloads of Afghans on a road just outside their operating area, after somebody in one of the buses responded to their warning barrage by returning a shot out the window. A fourth bus, following at some distance behind, was subsequently stopped. It was, he said, full of civilian families, and since nobody in that vehicle had fired on his troops, they were allowed to “go on their way.” It is nice gestures like that that win over peoples’ hearts and minds. American families would want to be treated like that, after all, if Afghan troops were hunting down terrorists in Nebraska.

The reason why our invincible armed forces will be powerless against the current foe, nothing less than all-pervasive evil (correctly identified by our president insofar as he has understood its multinational character), is because military thinking depends on borders and boundaries, fortifications and troop formations and capital cities, or at the very least, uniformed infantry in foxholes and hideouts. Remove from the armed forces the intimidation of fear and the ability to locate an appropriate target, and you are left with an edgy, bewildered pack of thugs with bombs. (My lack of faith in Dubyuh’s intellect, incidentally, is uninformed. For all I know he is in the White House study right now, surrounded by books and articles, carefully thinking the whole problem through.)

Terrorism is viral because it is not waiting to be discovered in the Tora Bora caves or the alleys of Beirut. It is already present before us as the shape and fact of our fear. It is objectively present as the other which is called into being by who we ourselves have become. Where will the next terrorist attack be detected? Where will it not? Having globalized our corporate ambitions, we now live in a world, a human cosmos, which resists globalization on all sides. We have fortified ourselves in absolute military might, an instrument of certain death to our enemies, and we therefore are besieged by enemies who do not fear death. Put the microscope anywhere at all, and there is your next suicide bomber. Point the searchlight in any direction, and there is your Axis of Evil. What resists us and seeks to negate us (with extreme prejudice) is as close to us as our own agenda because it is the corollary and consequence of our agenda. Like the wrath of God, it can be escaped only by a change of heart.

Or perhaps, cognizant of all that, we choose to press ahead anyway. Teilhard de Chardin had a grand vision, in the killing fields of Verdun, of the “planetization” of man. Frolicing wide-eyed in some romantic, shell-pocked, chlorine-reeking hybrid of Alice’s Wonderland and Dante’s Inferno, he saw the “warm, living line of the Front” as a violent but awesomely beautiful cosmogenesis, Christ the Omega breaking through the crust of “decrepit civilization.” Like the WTO’s dazzling promise of One World, of souls from every tribal backwater happy as teletubbies on the nether side of an evolutionary leap to the Pax Coca Cola, Teilhard dared to dream that there was purpose and meaning and implacable necessity in the blasting to bits of 6000 human beings per day for five unspeakable years since clearly, just over the hill, just past the birth pangs, just beyond this little nasty spell, lay a brighter world of human unity. In the 80 intervening years since that particular aborted Second Coming, the horror of human emergence has proceeded unabated. As of last night’s world news, the present moment has continued to be a passage of fire, an unholy travail of stupid brutality, with no resurrection in sight. The WTO’s hallucinatory Valhalla doesn't, obviously, hold a candle to Teilhard’s, but it does share this much: It puts the goal of man’s striving conveniently in the future, which, as luck would have it, is exactly where we were headed anyway. But the jury is out on whether any significant change occurs in history. The past and the future probably contain comparable levels of excellence. Progress is a linear idea, and excellence is not linear, not a goal for action. Like corruption and everything in between, it is a timeless status quo, a virus if you will. It is ubiquitous and eternal and holographic and omnipresent, as immediate as good and evil, shining in the face of every man who has ever lived.

You can see the error of it, can't you? Isn't it absolutely obvious? Like the human body of the pre-holistic physician, we've divided time up into parts, and the tough part is always right now, and the good part is always long ago or up ahead.

War is the child of hope, and hope, like the historical Christ, is the child of time.

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