Disease Politics

The Strain Season 4 Poster

The Strain (Season 4 poster)

I finally caught up on The Strain, a vampire-type apocalyptic TV series based on the novel trilogy of the same name by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. I am not a big fan of this series, especially the current, fourth, season. However, I truly enjoyed the depictions of politics behind the vampire takeover.

It takes less than a month (only 23 days!) to take down the USA and presumably just a bit longer for the rest of the world. Novels mention a few exceptions, e.g. the UK, that owe their luck to their geographical location — vampires are unable to cross moving water unaided by humans — and prompt isolation. In about ten months after the coup, the USA transforms into a vampire version of the Nazi Germany with collaborators, mad scientists, concentration camps, forced breeding, and blood farms.

Obviously, something of this magnitude requires a solid plan and years of careful preparations. According to the flashbacks, vampires started the ground work years before the series events and relied (predictably) on exploiting the human desire for eternal life. Nothing’s new here — humans are their own worst enemies. What was truly interesting is how vampires pit humans against each other in a political game.

Politics of Real Pandemics

Disease outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics are very common even in highly developed countries with their advanced medicine and historically unprecedented hygiene standards. Accordingly, every government has contingency plans for viral outbreaks. The global coordination is done by the World Health Organisation (WHO). They create worldwide contingency plans and set rules and policies that other countries should follow. It is hard to say how effective existing plans and frameworks since the last truly devastating pandemic was the ‘Spanish flu’ 1918-1919 pandemic. Later flu pandemics were much more modest in scale and resulted in fewer deaths. However, 2011 WHO’s Report of the Review Committee on the Functioning of the International Health Regulations (2005) in relation to Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 states:

Pandemics can be fearsome teachers. […] We were lucky this time, but as the report concludes, the world is ill-prepared for a severe pandemic or for any similarly global, sustained and threatening public health emergency.

The report goes into a quite detailed examination of problems that the WHO and its member-countries faced during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. Bureaucracy, liability and legal negotiations, communications, and conflict of interests presented the most challenge. It is also worth noting that in 2010 when the pandemic subsided, the BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) accused the WHO with an improper handling of the H1N1 pandemic. The allegations included exaggeration of the pandemic’s threat and potential deaths, Emergency Committee experts conflict of interests, and attempts to increase profits of pharmacological companies. The WHO had to issue an official statement to refute the accusations and reassure the public that they are working on transparency and better definitions of pandemics.

The 2009 flu pandemic forced governments and the WHO to review their contingency plans. At the same time, I am sure they became much more careful in their public communication. They might even try to downplay risks and spread of a disease in order to avoid criticism expressed toward the WHO in 2010. The latter can be very dangerous.

How to Take Over the World in a Month

The Strain‘s recipe for an apocalypse is simple: Exploit inefficiencies in epidemics contingency plans and put some pressure on various companies and political entities.

  • Politicians value their re-election more than human lives. So, just scare them with a PR disaster or withdraw campaign funds.
  • Corporations always go for money. Offer them a profitable deal.
  • The general population is easily gullible (‘Nice people made the best Nazis’ @Naomi Shulman). Feed them some propaganda, promise safety, jobs, and some comfort.
  • Criminals… well, they are criminals. They do not care who they are dealing with and what are consequences of those dealings. Hire them or kill them.
  • Governments are paranoid and quick to retaliate. Drop one small nuclear bomb on a famous landmark. The global nuclear war is assured.

Those few left are easy to hunt down and dispose of. And the rest of the world will happily help with it.

The vampires are strategic geniuses. Deception, fear, and dīvide et īmpera principle are the most used tools in their arsenal. Physical violence starts only when they amass enough bodies to take on the military. The organised resistance is wiped out within hours and fighting stops.

The Strain has no faith in our social and government institutions. It depicts the majority of people as petty creatures not worth saving. I believe its world is too grim to be true. But the show gets one thing right — our internal squabbles and inability to put the common good above our desires will be our undoing. 

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