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In several big cities across America, simultaneously seventeen carpenters have committed suicide. This takes a while to discover, of course. But computers, digesting facts of police inquiries all over the country bring this odd fact up. And, of course, it is an odd fact. Why should this happen? No one can answer that.
But right away a search commences for the cause. One enterprising researcher, Doctor X, has a pet theory. He's nursed this for years, has written articles about it, has garnered grant monies, has headed up investigative teams. The teams, though, don't actually go out into the field and paw over crimes, they study human genes in a lab in Maryland.
Doctor X believes that there is a gene in the human which controls the act of suicide. This gene can be switched on or off, but when it is ON, the owner of the gene eventually commits suicide. The suicide gene is hard to trigger, but when some unknown factor does it, there is no turning back. That's the basic reason for violence in the world, always has been.
All the hogwash about upbringing, poverty, drug addiction, abusive fathers, character flaws, juvenile jails, starvation – all this is incidental to the suicide gene. Without the gene being switched on, nothing happens.
Doctor X is overjoyed about these carpenters because it gives him a clear field for research.
Now suppose (and I'm not here trying to mimic what has actually been done in the field of human genetics) Doctor X has mapped out seven genes and claims to know what human functions they invariably regulate. Many journal articles argue against these "discoveries," but Doctor X has been gaining adherents over the years, and his fortunes are on the rise. Not because of his science, mind you, but mainly because the idea of genes regulating behaviour in general is becoming more accepted. So he has some leverage.
Now he begins to research tissue samples of the seventeen carpenters; he has a new theory about how to analyse genes from those samples. This method is not known to 99% of human geneticists, but Doctor X has lots of equipment there in his lab, and seven people are necessary to run just several of the large machines at his disposal.
A period of silence ensues. Several years. At the end of this period, Doctor X wearily and in triumph emerges from his lab and tells the world, through the press, that he has once and for all isolated the suicide gene. In the cases of these seventeen carpenters, he has, moreover, discovered, in general at least, how the gene comes to be switched on.
Since he is backed by federal money, his pronouncements go unchallenged; it's clear that the scales have been tipped. More money is going to roll downhill towards Doctor X, and scientists want to be on the correct side of the incline. They're not stupid. They need research money, too.
Besides, more suicides are beginning to occur, and not just among carpenters. There is another group. Alaskan fishermen. They're jumping off their boats in increasing numbers. Actually, all suicides in the US are up for the year.
Suicides in the U.S., Haiti, Africa, and Brazil are all up for the year. Doctor X publishes a paper indicating that these statistics are significant.
Already, people are beginning to ignore the first odd revelation that seventeen carpenters committed suicide. That is dropping out of the memory of most Americans. Hell, we seem to have an epidemic of sorts going on, one which embraces, or could come embrace, the globe.
And now comes the sensational revelation. Artists in New York living below Houston Street are committing suicide too.
Doctor X appears on TV once every couple of months, assuring Americans that he is working on this devilish problem of trying to understand the complete mechanism by which the suicide gene is turned on. One thing, he stresses, is clear. There is a contagion of gene-activation. People are contacting other people, shaking hands, accidentally bumping shoulders, and the contact alone is somehow producing an interactive chemical effect which causes the suicide gene to activate. Therefore, on sheer probabilities, it is best to avoid crowds, and it is best to limit contacts with strangers.
Well, many people live by these principles anyway. So they were right all along. They just didn't know why.
Soon 80% of all grant monies being dished out by the feds to curb the new suicide epidemic are aimed at understanding the suicide gene better. Around the U.S., at universities, researchers are privately grumbling about Doctor X. How did he really prove that activation is created by personal contact involving a chemical triggering of some kind?
But the grumbling is private, because grant monies are at stake. Reputations can be broken by publicly taking Doctor X to task.
Rumors begin to ooze out of Doctor X's lab. X really has no way of verifying that this suicide gene controls suicide or has anything to do with that desperate act. X has been ranting of late against suggestions that exotic cofactors, catalysts, might be involved in switching on the suicide gene.
"No cofactors!" he screams at least once a day. "All you need is the gene and simple chemical triggers. Suicide has nothing to do with anything else."
Several scientists actually come out into the open and say that the whole gene theory is sheer tripe, that suicide may not even be a single phenomenon to start with. That is, there may be vastly different reasons for ending one's own life, and the assumption that one suicide is exactly like another is absurd.
To which defenders of Doctor X scornfully reply: "We have an epidemic on our hands and these people are living in the dark ages with their multiple-cause theory. We have to do something right now about this revisitation of the black plague, and these gainsayers, professional critics, are trying to take us back into the past, back into ignorance. We have to move forward."
Of course, it is impossible to set up a controlled experiment to prove that Doctor X's gene causes suicide. If he's right, mechanical activation of the gene would cause immediate suicide. What experimental volunteer is going to stand still for that?
But many researchers point out that one aspect of the epidemic essentially proves Doctor X's theory is true: Otherwise healthy New York bakers, who almost never, by actual count, commit suicide, have begun to kill themselves – and this has happened always after contact, on the lower East Side of NY, with high-risk artists and/or carpenters (whom they've contracted to do repairs in their shops).
What else does one need to prove, neatly and perfectly, in order to know finally that the suicide gene is alive and well and communicable?
But several researchers scratch a little below the surface and find that, of those bakers who apparently have come into contact with high-risk carpenters and artists, only 2% have committed suicide, and some of those had terminal cancer. But this study is ignored by the researchers who are landing grants to study the suicide gene's mechanism.
In the next several years, there are more disturbing stories coming out of Doctor X's lab and adjoining labs. Doctor X is negotiating with several large pharmaceutical houses. He is thinking of leaving his position with the government and starting his own firm – the purpose of which will be to manufacture a drug which will directly interfere with the body chemicals that react when a high-risk person meets in public an unaware victim. What a boon this will be. By prophylactic use of this drug, a person will be able to walk the streets without fear. If he meets a high-risk person and the secret chemical contagion begins to occur – which would tragically switch on his own suicide gene – the new drug will stop all that.
Several more fringe researchers make accusations about Doctor X's plans to go into private drug-manufacture. This is essentially, they say, creating a conflict in interest. Doctor X is now committed to his (unproven) theory about the way the suicide gene is triggered, since he is planning to manufacture a drug to stop that triggering process.
In fact, a number of prominent scientists are now proposing other scenarios for how the suicide gene is switched on. Some think it happens by the transfer of a virus from person to person. The virus attacks the genome of certain nerve cells and triggers, accidentally, the suicide gene. Another story: the suicide gene turns on when the temperature of the brain rises beyond a certain point, and there could be many reasons for this heat-escalation, including ordinary fevers.
Wait a minute. We thought the map was already laid out. We thought it had definitely been proven that chemical reactions were set off the victim when he contacted a high-risk person. If this part of the scenario is really up for grabs, then Doctor X's plans to go into private manufacture of a drug could really constitute an unconscionable bias – and since he is the number one government researcher on the subject of suicide...shouldn't he be disqualified and replaced?
Quietly, while Doctor X works in his lab trying to save us all, other developments are taking place which will dwarf what is occurring there. For the last several years, doctors and psychiatrists have been reporting all suicides as part of the growing epidemic. Previously, there had been some attempt to differentiate "ordinary suicides" committed for obvious down-to-earth human reasons from those triggered, most probably, by the gene after it was set off by contact with a high-risk person. But now, all that nicety has gone by the boards. ALL suicides are added to the rolls of the epidemic. Not only that, a pre-suicide state has been defined and diagnosed. No statistics are being kept, but it's estimated that 1.1 million Americans are in this pre-suicide state.
The symptoms? Restlessness, anxiety, depression. Whenever a doctor spots signs of these, he can make a presumptive pre-suicide diagnosis. Studies are beginning to show that, as time passes, more and more pre-S people are turning into actual statistics.
Although no figures are released, beyond a specialized study of 3000 men from San Francisco, the word is, pre-S invariably leads to S. It's a death sentence. Of course, when a doctor makes the pre-S determination and so informs his patient, there is a strong hypnotic effect on the patient. Very strong.
Furthermore, patients with small pimples, with minor skin rashes, with headaches, with blurry vision from watching excessive amounts of TV, are flooding into doctors' offices, fearing the worst, that they are pre-S. A certain percentage leave the office with that diagnosis.
No one knows how long the incubation period is between pre-S and S.
But the capper comes when a friend and colleague of Doctor X makes this startling announcement in a televised press conference: murder is actually suicide.
Yes, an avalanche of studies undertaken over the last twenty years leave no doubt that a murderer is actually trying to kill himself. The act of killing is merely a mask for a biochemical event, the switching on of the suicide gene.
Suddenly, all of history takes on a hue, new weight. All those wars, those revolutions, those uprisings of the poor, those squashings of the peasants underheel, those poisonings of rivers by large thoughtless corporations – it's all a death wish, it's all suicide. It's all the same game. It always was. It always will be.
If we thought we had an epidemic before, now the figures are monstrous. Every murder is now reported to the authorities as a suicide.
Now there is no turning back. No dissent is brooked. This death business is so horrible, so...contagious that we can't afford to debate strategies and underlying causes. We have to march forward in the groove established by the big-time researchers headed by Doctor X. The whole thrust of the program is now to give more money so we can progress faster. A cure must be found.
Villages, towns, cities, states are passing laws requiring the citizenry to submit to pre-S testing. Complaints that these "tests" are subjective and vague are squashed as counter-patriotic. Besides, we all know that murder and suicide are really undertaken by certain types of people, and they are not like us. They are genetically different, and who knows, maybe some day we'll be able to prove that they're genetically inferior.
In the meantime, detention centers are being set up so that those who show positive for the pre-S condition can be isolated. Speaking of isolation, in labs all over the country, chimps and gorillas and rhesus monkeys are being kept in sterile single isolation rooms where there is no sound, no motion, no germs. These primates have been operated on. Brain surgeries have been done, attempts to artificially switch on suicide genes, thus proving that Doctor X's thesis is true. Unfortunately, although one hundred plus primates have had the switching-on operation, none, after four-plus years, has killed himself.
There is some speculation, though, that the sterile isolation rooms may induce madness after enough years, which may in turn lead to suicide.
Insurance companies are funding research into the suicide gene, and they are eagerly awaiting primate suicides. Their strategy is interesting: they hope to rule out, as uninsurable, all those people who are diagnosed as pre-S. after all, if a person is pre-S, while he is incubating his later suicide, he most probably will be prone to developing stress-related illnesses, which would ordinarily be covered by health plans. But if insurance companies can get away with refusing to insure pre-S types, they will go on in glorious days to develop complete genetic profiles of their applicants and thus be able to reject, forever, inferior specimens.
Needless to say, as time passes, the odd fate of the original seventeen suicide carpenters, and others whose suicides really did seem to be unusual and a departure from pattern are ignored completely in the accumulating hysteria.
No one takes notice (and here, admittedly, I oversimplify) that the carpenters and the Alaskan fishermen and the artists are all using a new brand of shellack which contains a compound that makes airplain glue seem like room odorizer. The destruction of brain cells upon inhalation of this sellack is nearly instantaneous and is quite extensive.
No one takes notice. Things are much too complicated now. With succeeding redefinitions of Suicide (even certain cancers are now being included under a category called Self-Created Terminal Conditions, in keeping with bland assurances of pop psychologists), one finds it very hard to go back in time and pick up the vague threads.
In fact, pre-S seems to be the condition everyone is focusing on. There is no longer doubt that pre-S inevitably leads to S. The newspapers, TV, media pick up on the new assumption and incorporate it into their stories.
Since pre-S is so important now, little side-maladies are being defined that stick out from pre-S like spikes from an iron ball. First and foremost is pre-S schizophrenia (PSS). A psychiatrist at a leading Boston University publishes a list of early symptoms: sloppy hygiene; a sudden upsurge in attendance at church; crossing out names in one's telephone index; taking long walks alone; unbending paper clips; sudden anger; errors in paying taxes; a change in speaking intonation, according to neighbours; unreasoned fear of dentistry; discarding possessions; seeking to travel abroad for no apparent reason.
Several preachers who have not yet been found sleeping with prostitutes announce that these symptoms match one of the esoteric Bible prophecies. Yes, in the end-times, just before the Encounter on the plain of Armageddon, sinners afflicted with plagues will begin to exhibit strange, baffling behaviours.
A new drug is introduced to treat those with pre-S. it is a cousin of ethyl chloride, which is already known to destroy brain cells every time it is inhaled. The new drug also attacks brain cells. It is thought that by permanently warping areas of the brain, the suicide gene might have no effect when it finally triggers. Of course, a state of considerable mental depredation would already have taken place, from the drug therapy, but some life is better than none.
A spokesman for a large insurance company publicly disagrees. He is backing new detention legislation which will allow pre-S persons to ship out to any number of South Pacific atolla. In these colonies, one would be free from harassments by non pre-S types.
The U.S. intelligence community is busy making recommendations to the National Security Council. Since we are faced with a global epidemic, we should take advantage of the situation (before the other side does). The basic plan is simple. Foreign governments, particularly in lands bearing rich mineral reserves, should be wooed, with an eye toward their declaring national states of emergency, based of large numbers of pre-S citizens. U.S. medical representatives will assist. It will be made clear to these governments that no better way exists to cement national control than through medical channels. There are no political issues to promote, no ideologies to enunciate. All that's needed is the insistence of medical authorities that the Health Emergency dictates instituting curfews, postponing elections, and establishing detention centers for the afflicted.
Any connection between some of the afflicted and political dissidents is, of course, entirely coincidental.
Since casual personal contact with strangers can trigger the S-gene, no gathering of more than three persons in any public place will be tolerated.
Sex, a very personal form of contact, will be restricted to those couples registered as married.
Conceiving and giving birth will be subject to medical control, since Society must be guard against pre-S mothers having pre-S babies.
"Tests are now being perfected" for detection of the S-gene in a state of near-triggering, but in the meantime, behavioural symptoms will be the guide. In this regard, a much larger list of early, intermediate, and late signs is being published. Some additions include: skin rashes; leathery patches on the face; speaking at excessive volume; losing objects; refusal to answer the telephone; a prolonged sober expression...
About this time, a confidential internal memorandum, written from an officer of a major pharmaceutical house to a member of the board, is leaked to the press. It causes a stir for a day or two, then sinks beneath the weight of new stories on pre-S.
- From: HS
- To: RY
- Subject: Long Term Planning; What sort of research grant shall we fund in the future?
The ideal disease, from a financial point of view, RY, would be one in which the entire catalog of human symptoms were interlocked. In other words, you could start from a sore throat, and know that all sore throats were nothing more than ominous pre-conditions for the emergence of heavier symptoms, like fever, like lowered T-cell counts. These, in turn, would be locked on to another heavier branch of the disease-tree, which involved malaise, melancholy, despondence.
And each branch of symptoms would involve tests to ascertain the exactness of the patient's medical position.
On each branch, there would exist various drugs, various remedies. Each drug would have toxic side-effects in various degrees, and would invoke its own symptoms, which would show up later in more serious well-defined elements of the disease, further down toward the trunk of the tree.
Ultimately, once you arrived on the trunk you would have a congealing of psychological and physical symptoms requiring surgical removal of organs, including, at last, the brain, which would be used for further research on the one Disease.
Each new definitional phase of the Disease would of course involve the office-visit for the diagnosis, and that diagnosis would give the patient a jolt of depression. It would also, by dint of education, give him knowledge of the whole tree, bit by bit. He would know that his current symptoms were indicative of worse things to come. A sore throat would never be a sore throat. It would be a prelude to probable disaster and would function, to a degree, as self-fulfilling prophecy.
As I say, business-wise, this is the ideal Disease. The interlocking of all human symptoms requiring more invasive intervention and thus, compounding side-effects. The opposite extreme would be a sniffle that was regarded merely as a sniffle...