Don’t be a jerk

According to a recent study, almost half of all African Americans believe that HIV was designed by humans, and 15% believe it’s a form of deliberate genocide against Blacks. (White readers who find this far-fetched should recall that early media reports of the Tuskegee syphilis study were also dismissed as too incredible to be true.) Presidents Mbeki of South Africa and Mugabe of Zimbabwe have also made similar statements, as has this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, a Kenyan. The UN says 3.1 million people died of AIDS in 2004 alone and still the basic facts of its transmission aren’t widely believed. As if that’s not bad enough, similar sentiments have caused problems for polio vaccination programs lately. We have a vaccine for that one, we were well on our way to actually eliminating it worldwide, and now this! Bill Gates, bless his heart, is spending his money as fast as he can to end these diseases, but science clearly isn’t enough.

I think the moral here is that if you’re a bastard some of the time people won’t trust you when you decide to be nice. If your culture goes around bombing people back to the stone age, there will be some understandable scepticism when you decide to heal them the next day. If we don’t want epidemics raging on our doorsteps (and killing off our supplies of cheap labour) those of us in rich nations will have to stop being such assholes. So try to be nice as if your life depended on it, everybody.