Viral swarming

Robb., J. (2007). The coming urban terror. City Journal. Summer 2007. Available online: (from Global Guerrillas).

A few days ago, John Robb emphasized the danger of engineered viruses. The piece was a hit, being featured on adayinthelife, Ed Driscoll, jilosophy, Noisy Room, and Zenundit, among others. However, a focus on bioweapons overlooks a much more serious threat: bioswarming.

Certainly cheap, available viral technologies will hardly be an unreserved boon, but limits on conceptual complexitiy may prevent much harm. “Engineering” viri requires either the computational power or cognitive skill to model an unimaginatively complex program’s interaction on a world that’s exponentially more complex yet.

A graver threat, and one more in keeping with Robb’s affection for swarming and distributed action, is a natural plague. And considering that viri thrive on several forms of diversity, the fact that man is now an urban species is alarming. Especially when you consider that much of the Gap hosts large, urban, and poor populations that lives with minimal hygiene and a great genetic diversity (all the better for viruses to evolve in).

Human diversity is here to stay, and is indeed a weapon that works against any one virus being able to cut down a large swath of mankind. The rest of the risk factors, though, can be lessened through economic growth. “Cities” as we know them are much better than those in the Gap — indeed, by Gap standards we barely live in “cities” at all. But as long as the Gap exists, it (and not some crackpot scientist) is the most likely source for a plague. Indeed, nearly disease we know about is Gappish in origin (HIV, the flu, SARS, etc.).

Plagues are just one reason why a lassiez-faire attitude toward shrinking the gap is not just genocidal in effect against them, it is democial in effect against us. “Devil take the hindmost” translates to “just kill a lot of people generally.”

Shrinking the gap is the greatest human genetic engineering feet in the history of man. For the first time ever, genocide will not be a regular method of group-level selection. For the first time ever, mass rape will not be a regular method of group-level propagation. Such a breathtaking change is already the case among 2/3rds of humanity. We should shrink the gap not only to make their lives better, but to defend ourselves, too.

Shrink the Gap. Declare war on genocide. Overthrow the state of nature.

One thought on “Viral swarming”

  1. Curious – why does a high genetic diversity lead to increased risk of viruses? Wouldn't it lead to a more resilient population where there's a better chance that a certain chunk of the population is able to fight the virus? I don't know much about biology and a search just turns up gobbledeegook that is over my head.

    I remember something from Guns Germs & Steel about European diseases born in European cities destroying American populations. However it worked the other way as well – the interior of the Congo remained inaccessible for Portugese colonists largely due to disease.

    My laissez-faire attitude (not set in stone, I'm thinking of doing a research project or something on it to learn more about it) is born mostly of pragmatism – after all, our intentional and militarized efforts to “shrink the gap” so far have been disastrous.

  2. Adrian,

    Yes, and yes.

    Diversity in host environments allow organisms to evolve more rapidly. You are also right that a more diverse population is less likely to fall to any one virus.

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