Kurt Andersen wrote an interesting New York Times op-ed piece on Friday that offered an interesting metaphor for crazed political attacks seen lately on imaginary threats (such as non-existent health reform “death panels”) and long-standing parts of our national government. It is, he wrote, a lot like an autoimmune disease in which someone’s immune system goes nuts and starts attacking vital organs. Quoting Andersen:
It’s a metaphor, but it’s not a joke. I’ve read a lot about autoimmune diseases — the literal, medical kinds, also disconcertingly on the rise — because several members of my family have them. At some point, our bodies’ own immune systems went nuts, mistaking healthy pieces of our anatomies — a pancreas, a thyroid, a joint — for foreign tissue, dangerous enemies within, and proceeded to attack and try to destroy them. It’s as close to tragedy as biology gets.
Which is pretty much exactly what’s been happening the last decade in our politics. The Truthers decided the U.S. government was behind 9/11. Others decided our black president is definitely foreign-born and Muslim. Tea Party Republicans are convinced his administration is crypto-socialist and/or proto-fascist. The anti-Shariah people are terrified of the nonexistent threat of Islamic law infecting American jurisprudence. It’s now considered reasonable to regard organs and limbs of the federal government — the E.P.A., the education department, the Federal Reserve — as tumors that must be removed. Taxation itself is now considered a parasitic pathogen rather than a crucial part of our social organism.
Many autoimmune diseases of the literal kind, such as Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, are apparently triggered by stress. For the sociopolitical autoimmune epidemic, there are plenty of plausibly precipitating mega-stresses: the 9/11 attacks and the resulting wars, a decade of stagnant incomes, chronic job insecurity, hyper-connected digitalism, real estate wipeout, teetering financial system, take your pick.