Harry Potter and the Coefficient of Kinship


Coefficient of kinship

The main character of the first 4 chapters of Harry Potter isn’t Harry: it’s the Dursleys:

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

The Dursleys are awful and abusive in an over-the-top, Roald Dahl way that somehow manages not to cause Harry any serious emotional problems, which even I, a hard-core hereditarian, would find improbable if Harry were a real boy. But Harry isn’t the point: watching the Dursleys get their comeuppance is the point.

JRR Tolkien and JK Rowling both focused on the same group of people–common English peasants–but Tolkien’s depiction of the Hobbits are much more sympathetic than Rowling’s Muggles, even if they don’t like adventures:

This hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. The Bagginses had lived in the neighborhood of The Hill for time out of mind and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him.

We could wax philosophical (or political) about why Tolkien sees common folk as essentially good, despite their provinciality, and why Rowling sees them as essentially bad, for precisely the same reasons, but in the end both writers are correct, for there is good and bad in all groups.

Why are the Dursleys effective villains? Why is their buffoonish abuse believable, and why do so many people identify with young Harry? Is he not the Dursley’s kin, if not their son, their nephew? Shouldn’t they look out for him?

One of the great ironies of life is that the people who are closest to us are also the most likely to abuse us. Despite fears of “stranger danger” (or perhaps because of it) children are most likely to be harmed by parents, step-parents, guardians, or other close relatives/friends of the family, not strangers lurking in alleys or internet chatrooms.

The WHO reports: 

…there were an estimated 57 000 deaths attributed to homicide among children under 15 years of age in 2000. Global estimates of child homicide suggest that infants and very young children are at greatest risk, with rates for the 0–4-year-old age group more than double those of 5–14-year-olds…

The risk of fatal abuse for children varies according to the income level of a country and region of the world. For children under 5 years of age living in high-income countries, the rate of homicide is 2.2 per 100 000 for boys and 1.8 per 100 000 for girls. In low- to middle-income countries the rates are 2–3 times higher – 6.1 per 100 000 for boys and 5.1 per 100 000 for girls. The highest homicide rates for children under 5 years of age are found in the WHO African Region – 17.9 per 100 000 for boys and 12.7 per 100 000 for girls.

(Aside: in every single region, baby boys were more likely to be murdered than baby girls–how’s that “male privilege” for you?)

Estimates of physical abuse of children derived from population-based surveys vary considerably. A 1995 survey in the United States asked parents how they disciplined their children (12). An estimated rate of physical abuse of 49 per 1000 children was obtained from this survey when the following behaviours were included: hitting the child with an object, other than on the buttocks; kicking the child; beating the child; and threatening the child with a knife or gun. …

.In a cross-sectional survey of children in Egypt, 37% reported being beaten or tied up by their parents and 26% reported physical injuries such as fractures, loss of consciousness or permanent disability as a result of being beaten or tied up (17).
. In a recent study in the Republic of Korea, parents were questioned about their behaviour towards their children. Two-thirds of the parents reported whipping their children and 45% confirmed that they had hit, kicked or beaten them (26).
. A survey of households in Romania found that 4.6% of children reported suffering severe and frequent physical abuse, including being hit with an object, being burned or being deprived of food. Nearly half of Romanian parents admitted to beating their children ‘‘regularly’’ and 16% to beating their children with objects (34).
. In Ethiopia, 21% of urban schoolchildren and 64% of rural schoolchildren reported bruises or swellings on their bodies resulting from parental punishment (14).

Ugh. The Dursleys are looking almost decent right now.

In most ways, the Dursleys do not fit the pattern characteristic of most abuse cases–severe abuse and neglect are concentrated among drug-addicted single mothers with more children than they can feed and an unstable rotation of unrelated men in and out of the household. The Dursley’s case is far more mild, but we may still ask: why would anyone mistreat their kin? Wouldn’t natural selection–selfish genes and all that–select against such behavior?

There are a number of facile explanations for the Dursley’s behavior. The first, suggest obliquely by Rowling, is that Mrs. Dursley was jealous of her sister, Lily, Harry’s mother, for being more talented (and prettier) than she was. This is the old “they’re only bullying you because they’re jealous” canard, and it’s usually wrong. We may discard this explanation immediately, as it is simply too big a leap from “I was jealous of my sister” to “therefore I abused her orphaned child for 11 years.” Most of us endured some form of childhood hardship–including sibling rivalry–without turning into abusive assholes who lock little kids in cupboards.

The superior explanation is that there is something about Harry that they just can’t stand. He’s not like them. This is expressed in Harry’s appearance–the Dursleys are described as tall, fat, pink skinned, and blue eyed with straight, blond hair, while Harry is described as short, skinny, pale skinned, and green-eyed with wavy, dark hair.

More importantly, Harry can do magic. The Dursley’s can’t.

It’s never explained in the books why some people can do magic and not others, but the trait looks strongly like a genetic one–not much more complicated than blue eyes. Magic users normally give birth to magical children, and non-magic users (the term “muggle” is an ethnic slur and should be treated as such,) normally have non-magical children. Occasionally magical children are born to regular families, just as occasionally two brown-eyed parents have a blue-eyed child because both parents carried a recessive blue eyed gene that they both happened to pass on to their offspring, and occasionally magical parents have regular children, just as smart people sometimes have dumb offspring. On the whole, however, magical ability is stable enough across generations that there are whole magical families that have been around for hundreds of years and non-magical families that have done the same.

Any other factor–environmental, magical–could have been figured out by now and used to turn kids like Neville into competent wizards, so we conclude that such a factor does not exist.

Magic is a tricky thing to map, metaphorically, onto everyday existence, because nothing like it really exists in our world. We can vaguely imagine that Elsa hiding her ice powers is kind of like a gay person hiding the fact that they are gay, but being gay doesn’t let you build palaces or create sentient snowmen. Likewise, the Dursely’s anger at Harry being “one of them” and adamantly claiming that magic and wizardry don’t exist, despite the fact that they know very well that Mrs. Dursley’s sister could turn teacups into frogs, does resemble the habit of certain very conservative people to pretend that homosexuality doesn’t exist, or that if their children never hear that homosexuality exists, they’ll never become gay.

The other difficulty with this metaphor is that gay people, left to their own devices, don’t produce children.

But putting together these two factors, we arrive at the conclusion that wizards are a distinct, mostly endogamous ethnic group that the Dursleys react to as though they were flaming homosexuals.

How many generations of endogamy would it take to produce two genetically distinct populations from one? Not many–take, for example, the Irish Travellers:

Researchers led by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and the University of Edinburgh analysed genetic information from 42 people who identified as Irish Travellers.

The team compared variations in their DNA code with that of 143 European Roma, 2,232 settled Irish, 2,039 British and 6,255 European or worldwide individuals. …

They found that Travellers are of Irish ancestral origin but have significant differences in their genetic make-up compared with the settled community.

These differences have arisen because of hundreds of years of isolation combined with a decreasing Traveller population, the researchers say. …

The team estimates the group began to separate from the settled population at least 360 years ago.

That’s a fair bit of separation for a mere 360 years or so–and certainly enough for your relatives to act rather funny about it if you decided to run off with Travellers and then your orphaned child turned up on their doorstep.

How old are the wizarding families? Ollivander’s Fine Wands has been in business since 382 BC, and Merlin, Agrippa, and Ptolemy are mentioned as ancient Wizards, so we can probably assume a good 2,000 years of split between the two groups, with perhaps a 10% in-migration of non-magical spouses.

Harry is, based on his parents, 50% magical and 50% non-magical, though of course both Lily and Petunia Dursley probably carry some Wizard DNA.

In The Blank Slate, Pinker has some interesting observations on the subject of sociobiology:

As the notoriety of Sociobiology grew in the ensuing years, Hamilton and Trivers, who had thought up many of the ideas, also became targets of picketers… Trivers had argued that sociobiology is, if anything a force for political progress. It is rooted in the insight that organisms did not evolve to benefit their family, group, or species, because the individuals making up those groups have genetic conflicts of interest with one another and would be selected to defend those interests. This immediately subverts the comfortable belief that those in power rule for the good of all, and it throws a spotlight on hidden actors in the social world, such as female sand the younger generation.

Further in the book, Pinker continues:

Tolstoy’s famous remark that happy families are all alike but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way is not true at the level of ultimate (evolutionary) causation. Trivers showed how the seeds of unhappiness in every family have the same underlying source. Though relatives have common interests because of their common genes, the degree of overlap is not identical within all their permutations and combinations of family members. Parents are related to all of their offspring by an equal factor, 50 percent, but each child is related to himself or herself by a factor of 100 percent. …

Parental investment is a limited resource. A day has only twenty-four hours … At one end of the lifespan, children learnt hat a mother cannot pump out an unlimited stream of milk; at the other, they learn that parents do not leave behind infinite inheritances.

To the extent that emotions among people reflect their typical genetic relatedness, Trivers argued, the members of a family should disagree on how parental investment should be divvied up.

And to the extent that one of the children in a household is actually a mixed-ethnicity nephew and no close kin at all to the father, the genetic relationship is even more distant between Harry and the Dursleys than between most children and the people raising them.

Parents should want to split their investment equitably among the children… But each child should want the parent to dole out twice as much of the investment to himself or herself as to a sibling, because children share half their genes with each full sibling but share all their genes with themselves. Given a family with two children and one pie, each child should want to split it in a ratio of two thirds to one third, while parents should want it to be split fifty fifty.

A person normally shares about 50% of their genes with their child and 25% of their genes with a niece or nephew, but we also share a certain amount of genes just by being distantly related to each other in the same species, race, or ethnic group.

Harry is, then, somewhat less genetically similar than the average nephew, so we can expect Mrs. Dursley to split any pies a bit less than 2/3s for Dudley and 1/3 for Harry, with Mr. Dursley grumbling that Harry doesn’t deserve any pie at all because he’s not their kid. (In a more extreme environment, if the Dursleys didn’t have enough pie to go around, it would be in their interest to give all of the pie to Dudley, but the Dursleys have plenty of food and they can afford to grudgingly keep Harry alive.)

Let’s check in with E. O. Wilson’s Sociobiology:

Most kinds of social behavior, including perhaps all of the most complex forms, are based in one way or another on kinship. As a rule, the closer the genetic relationship of the members of a group, the more stable and intricate the social bonds of its members. …

Parent-offspring conflict and its obverse, sibling-sibling conflict, can be seen throughout the animal kingdom. Littermates or nestmates fight among themselves sometimes lethally, and fight with their mothers over access to milk, food, and care…. The conflict also plays out in the physiology of prenatal human development. Fetuses tap their mothers’ bloodstreams to mine the most nutrients possible from their body, while the mother’s body resists to keep it in good shape for future children. …

Trivers touted the liberatory nature of sociobiology by invoking an “underlying symmetry in our social relationships” and “submerged actors in the social world.” He was referring to women, as we will see in the chapter on gender, and to children. The theory of parent-offspring conflict says that families do not contain all-powerful, all-knowing parents and their passive, grateful children. …

Sometimes families contain Dursleys and Potters.

Most profoundly, children do not allow their personalities to be shaped by their parents’ nagging, blandishments, or attempts to serve as role models.

Quite lucky for Harry!

Quoting Trivers:

The offspring cannot rely on its parents for disinterested guidance. One expects the offspring to be preprogrammed to resist some parental manipulation while being open to other forms. When the parent imposes an arbitrary system of reinforcement (punishment and reward) in order to manipulate the offspring to act against its own best interests, selection will favor offspring that resist such schedules of reinforcement.

(Are mixed-race kids more likely to be abused than single-race kids? Well, they’re more likely to be abused than White, Asian, or Hispanic kids, but less likely to be abused than Black or Native American children [Native American children have the highest rates of abuse]. It seems likely that the important factor here isn’t degree of relatedness, but how many of your parents hail from a group with high rates of child abuse. The Dursleys are not from a group with high child abuse rates.)

Let us return to E. O. Wilson’s Sociobiology:

Mammalogists have commonly dealt with conflict as if it were a nonadaptive consequence of the rupture of the parent-offspring bond. Or, in the case of macaques, it has been interpreted as a mechanism by which the female forces the offspring into independence, a step designed ultimately to benefit both generations. …

A wholly different approach to the subject has been taken by Trivers (1974). … Trivers interprets it as the outcome of natural selection operating in opposite directions on the two generations. How is it possible for a mother and her child to be in conflict and both remain adaptive? We must remember that the two share only one half their genes by common descent. There comes a time when it is more profitable for the mother to send the older juvenile on its way and to devote her efforts exclusively to the production of a new one. To the extent that the first offspring stands a chance to achieve an independent life, the mother is likely to increase (and at most, double,) her genetic representation in the next breeding generation by such an act. But the youngster cannot be expected to view the matter in this way at all. …

If the mothers inclusive fitness suffers first from the relationship, conflict will ensue.

At some point, of course, the child is grown and therefore no longer benefits from the mother’s care; at this point the child and mother are no longer in conflict, but the roles may reverse as the parents become the ones in need of care.

As for humans:

Consider the offspring that behaves altruistically toward a full sibling. If it were the only active agent, its behavior would be selected when the benefit to the sibling exceeds two times the cost to itself. From the mother’s point of view, however, inclusive fitness is gained however the benefit to the sibling simply exceeds the cost to the altruist. Consequently, there is likely to evolve a conflict between parents and offspring in the attitudes toward siblings: the parent will encourge more altruism than the youngster is prepared to give. The converse argument also holds: the parent will tolerate less selfishness and spite among siblings than they have a tendency to display…

Indeed, Dudley is, in his way, crueler (more likely to punch Harry) and more greedy than even his parents.

Altruistic acts toward a first cousin are ordinarily selected if the benefit to the cousin exceeds 8 times the cost to the altruist, since the coefficient of relationship of first cousins is 1/8. However, the parent is related to its nieces and nephews by r=1/4, and it should prefer to see altruistic acts by its children toward their cousins whenever the benefit-to-cost ratio exceeds 2. Parental conscientiousness will also extend to interactions with unrelated individuals. From a child’s point of view, an act of selfishness or spite can provide a gain so long as its own inclusive fitness is enhanced… In human terms, the asymmetries in relationship and the differences in responses they imply will lead in evolution to an array of conflicts between parents and their children. In general, offspring will try to push their own socialization in a more egoistic fashion, while the parents will repeatedly attempt to discipline the children back to a higher level of altruism. There is a limit to the amount of altruism [healthy, normal] parents want to see; the difference is in the levels that selection causes the two generations to view as optimum.

To return to Pinker:

As if the bed weren’t crowded enough, every child of a man and a woman is also the grandchild of two other men and two other women. Parents take an interest in their children’s reproduction because in the long run it is their reproduction, too. Worse, the preciousness of female reproductive capacity makes it a valuable resource for the men who control her in traditional patriarchal societies, namely her father and brothers. They can trade a daughter or sister for additional wives or resources for themselves and thus they have an interest in protecting their investment by keeping her from becoming pregnant by men other than the ones they want to sell her to. It is not just the husband or boyfriend who takes a proprietary interest in a woman’s sexual activity, then, but also her father and brothers. Westerners were horrified by the treatment of women under the regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan from 1995 to 2001…

[ah such an optimist time Pinker wrote in]

Like many children, Harry is rescued from a bad family situation by that most modern institution, the boarding school.

The weakening of parents’ hold over their older children is also not just a recent casualty of destructive forces. It is part of a long-running expansion of freedom in the West that has granted children their always-present desire for more autonomy than parents are willing to cede. In traditional societies, children were shackled to the family’s land, betrothed in arranged marriages, and under the thumb of the family patriarch. That began to change in Medieval Europe, and some historians argue it was the first steppingstone in the expansion of rights that we associate with the Enlightenment and that culminated in the abolition of feudalism and slavery. Today it is no doubt true that some children are led astray by a bad crowd or popular culture. But some children are rescued from abusive or manipulative families by peers, neighbors, and teachers. Many children have profited from laws, such as compulsory schooling and the ban on forced marriages, that may override the preferences of their parents.

The sad truth, for Harry–and many others–is that their interests and their relatives’ interests are not always the same. Sometimes humans are greedy, self-centered, or just plain evil. Small children are completely dependent on their parents and other adults, unable to fend for themselves–so the death of his parents followed by abuse and neglect by his aunt and uncle constitute true betrayal.

But there is hope, even for an abused kid like Harry, because we live in a society that is much larger than families or tribal groups. We live in a place where honor killings aren’t common and even kids who aren’t useful to their families can find a way to be useful in the greater society. We live in a civilization.


AIDS and California

If reading about CVTs (canine venereal tumors) makes you want to wash (even though as a non-dog you are very unlikely to catch a dog-specific cancer/STD,) reading a lot about AIDS will basically make you want to wash with bleach, then wash again.

‘Patient Zero’ and the early days of HIV/AIDS This is the main source for the quotes in this post; quotes from other sources will be noted as they come up.

I know nothing about this particular source/forum, but they have compiled a bunch of excerpts from doctors and the like about the early days of AIDS (70s and 80s), and it’s pretty freaky.

1. The past is a freaky place. I mean, it is just plain weird.
2. CA past is especially freaky.
“I’ve been spending some time researching some history in respect to California during the 1960s and 1970s and it has taken me through events like the Counterculture, Occultism, cults like the Manson Family and Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, the proliferation of serial killers during that time, and the exploding population of homosexuals in San Francisco and the role they played in spreading HIV.”

Right, that stuff. WTF, California?
I get the impression that liberalism in the 60s and 70s included far more drug use and far more sex with children than it does today, in ways that are difficult for those of us who didn’t live through it to imagine, particularly since the latter is now totally taboo. Today it is perfectly normal to be a liberal and have no interest at all in drugs; in the 60s and 70s, I suspect such a person would have been largely out of place. Eventually the War on Drugs and public education campaigns probably had some effect, but I suspect the crack epidemic of the inner cities transformed “drugs” in people’s minds from something rich, white college kids did to something poor blacks did, which made them way less cool.

Likewise, I get the impression that norms for sexual behavior were totally in flux; the “radical feminism” of the later seventies and eighties that was (is) so vehemently concerned with rape and child rape (causing at least some substantial legal changes on the subject) seems to have been an actual reaction to what we would now call “rape” and “child rape” but which was not particularly regarded as such during the earlier period. So now we have the problem of notable figures from the period like SF/F superstar Marion Zimmer Bradley and her husband raped and abused small children, including her own daughter:

” The first time she molested me, I was three. The last time, I was twelve, and able to walk away.

I put Walter [MZB’s husband/the speaker’s father or stepfather] in jail for molesting one boy. I had tried to intervene when I was 13 by telling Mother and Lisa, and they just moved him into his own apartment.

I had been living partially on couches since I was ten years old because of the out of control drugs, orgies, and constant flow of people in and out of our family “home.”

None of this should be news. Walter was a serial rapist with many, many, many victims (I named 22 to the cops) but Marion was far, far worse. She was cruel and violent, as well as completely out of her mind sexually. I am not her only victim, nor were her only victims girls.”

From what I have read, MZB and her husband operated completely out in the open, sometimes molesting other people’s children right in front of them, and no one cared, no one did anything about it. “Those were just the times.” You may find that attitude unbelievable, but there it is.

This is rather problematic because, aside from having been a popular and prolific writer, MZB was a lesbian and feminist writers whose works have been credited with literally saving their readers’ lives, and now her fans have to go wash themselves with bleach.

Shit changes. The past is not the present. The past is often highly alien.

3. Social trends were not invented yesterday.
We often act like they were, like we’re the first people to ever hop onto a particular bandwagon and begin advocating for Issue X, even when people have been protesting about X for decades. I first noticed this habit back when I was young enough to not hate college students.

In this case, we have a tendency to imagine that “the past” (anytime prior to last Tuesday, more or less, was a terrible time for gays. Truth is, though, that huge numbers of gay people moved to NY and SF, where they lived as they wanted without interference. Yes, it sucked to spend 4 years of one’s life stuck in a highschool in rural Texas, but you could then spend the rest of your life elsewhere, which isn’t so bad when you remember that virtually no one wants to stay in rural Texas.

“Well, number one was the baths, because we knew that was the main source of AIDS transmission. A gay man could pick up one or two partners in a bar, and they’d go off someplace to have their fun. There were back rooms in the bars, in the baths, too. They were called orgy rooms, where ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, forty men were dancing around with almost no light, and of course, anything happened there. That explained to us why a gay man would say, “I don’t know who I got it from. I never saw his face.” That sort of thing.

The bars were not the best places to be, but at least, they would limit the amount of contact a man could have. In a bookshop, in a small sex club, out in the park–these places limited the contact. But in the baths… At a four-story bathhouse, Club Baths south of Market I think it was, 350 men would gather on a Saturday night at $10 a crack, and they got their $10 worth. And more. Including drugs in addition to poppers.”

“Now, there were gay men who were aggressively out, the S&M, sadomasochist, men, the leather boys we called them, who walked up and down Market Street dressed in leathers with leather caps like the old Nazi men, and chains, and leather boots.”

“Of the little over 300,000 voters in the city, about 120,000–100,000 let us say–were gay voters.”

From AIDS and Immune Systems: “For me, gay life in New york City before the dawn of AIDS was like living in the Promised Land. I went dancing almost every night. There were always exciting places in Manhattan to see and be seen, night-and-day sex at the piers off West Street, backroom bars and sex clubs that were packed till dawn. Whatever fantasy you had, you always knew you could satisfy it any time, night or day, at one of the many sexual playgrounds …

Urban gay male life had evolved over a decade from personal salvation into a communal identity and now, as the Saint [a famous disco] became our weekly Mecca, into a quasi-religion. Several thousand muscled, shirtless gay men in black 501 jeans … Upstairs was a huge darkened balcony converted into carpeted bleachers where hundreds of stoned men fucked all night and into the day.

To lose oneself so completely in the wall-to-wall men moaning in the dark … soaring on a hit of ethyl chloride … was like being transported to some heavenly other planet somewhere beyond the stars.”

“For those unfamiliar with the name: Christopher Street is in Manhattan’s West Village. During the pre-AIDS gay-party days, it was Ground Zero for homosexual cruising and partying.

If Fire Island was acres of beef on the hoof, Christopher Street was Mardi Gras in New Orleans, only with fewer inhibitions and without a female to be seen. One club or bar after another … Each establishment, and the street itself, filled with exuberant gayguys in freaky costumes … Music, drugs, and booze everywhere … Carousing of a pitch that would put beer-drinking Spring Break jocks to shame …”

On trying to fight AIDS:
“Well, the battle to close the bathhouses began to simmer then, but we were aware of the problem and trying to do something at least sub rosa to diminish it long before that in fighting the STD diarrheal diseases there. In ’82, we were aware of Gaetan Dugas [“AIDS patient zero”] and the connections between him and so many people that he met here in San Francisco at the baths, and his open announcement that, “Well, I’m off to the baths tonight, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” He came to my office and said, “It’s my right to go where I want to.”

We were becoming reasonably sure that this was a disease caused by a transmissible agent. It seemed to be concentrated in gay men who were very sexually active. (I’m leaving out the question of the hemophiliacs.) The place where they could be most sexually active, most traumatically active, was in the baths.

Well, Silverman met with the bath owners–fifteen or twenty men. I was there. It was a hot meeting. Silverman tried to be politic, calm. He was a very, very good administrator and a good public health man. But these people came primed for battle. He tried to explain the difficulties and that if they could at least tone down the opportunities for infection, raise the level of lighting in the “orgy room” where 100 men could have indiscriminate contact without even knowing who they were being in contact with, if they could take the doors off the cubicles, cut down the privacy a little tiny bit– They wouldn’t have it.”

“The pervasive argument that turned around even the strongest gay backers I had for closing the bathhouses was, if government closes the bathhouses in San Francisco, which is seen as this bastion of gay liberation, what message does that send to less liberal states and communities? And then the next step is, well, obviously people get picked up in gay bars, so you close the gay bars. And then the sodomy laws would either be enforced or reinstated, depending on what the status was in any given state.

I remember having one very important person in the gay community who had been supporting me for bathhouse closure, who had been active in politics and still is, call me up and say, “Merv, I can’t support you any more.” I said, “Why?” And he gave me the above argument.”

More on Gaetan Dugas, the guy who proved AIDS was infectious by giving it to everybody:
“I knew that Gaetan Dugas was still in town. I couldn’t get to him, but I put word out, “If you see Gaetan Dugas, let him know I want to see him.” He came up. I told him, “Look, we’ve got proof now.” I didn’t tell him how scientifically accurate the information was. It wasn’t inaccurate, but it wasn’t actually scientifically proven. I said, “We’ve got proof that you’ve been infecting these other people. You’ve got AIDS, you know. We know it’s transmissible now, because you’re transmitting it.” He was the active partner in all this gay business, anal-genital sex. “You’ve just got to cut it out.”

“Don’t be silly, I won’t cut it out. It’s my life. I’ll do what I want.” I said, “Yes, but you’re infecting other people.” “I got it. Let them get it.” I said, “You’ve got to cut it out!” “Screw you.” He walked out. I never saw him again. It was a pity, because he was apparently an intelligent man, except on this one point. And he was very, very sexually active. He was a presumptive proof that AIDS was something transmissible from an infected person directly to the uninfected person.”

“It was at this time that rumors began on Castro Street in San Francisco about a strange guy at the Eighth and Howard bathhouse, a blond with a French accent. [Gaetan Dugas] He would have sex with you, then turn up the lights in the cubicle, and point out his Kaposi`s sarcoma legions.

“I`ve got gay cancer,“ he`d say. “I`m going to die, and so are you.“”

Amazingly, no one seems to have thought of hauling him out into the desert and shooting him.

“In ’78, there were already 4 percent infected. When we went back retroactively and tested the bloods of the hepatitis B vaccine trials, 4 percent of them were already HIV positive. We didn’t even know there was such a thing as AIDS then. By ’84, 60 percent to 70 percent of a gay population was infected. Now, the general population of males in the city, by the time I retired [1984], was less than 1 percent infected.”

These are not people whose activities were being curtailed by social norms.

“Craigslist’s entry into a market results in a 15.9 percent increase in reported HIV cases, according to research. When mapped at the national level, more than 6,000 HIV cases annually and treatment costs estimated between $62 million and $65.3 million can be linked to the popular website, the authors state.”

“”It was like living through a war,” remembers longtime congregant Sharyn Saslafsky. “Our world went upside down and inside out. So many of our friends died young.”

“I remember the devastation of hearing the names on the Kaddish list of young people,”… “During the service, everyone stands, links arms and sings ‘Hinei Mah Tov.’ I remember the utter sadness when there were people we couldn’t put our arms around anymore.”

“You were on call 24/7,” he says. “There was no easing up. Every day there were more casualties and, as things progressed, more fatalities. Until things started to taper off, I and an awful lot of my friends were losing, on average, a friend or acquaintance once a week for probably five years.”

At High Holy Days, he found himself unable to utter out loud the U’netaneh Tokef prayer, which reads in part, “On Yom Kippur it is sealed … who shall live and who shall die … who by earthquake and who by plague.””

4. Unfortunate confluence of “liberation” and “identity”
Gay people catch diseases when they have sex with a bunch of unprotected partners. So do heterosexuals, eg, prostitutes in Kinsasha in the 20s. Gay and straight people who don’t engage in such behaviors don’t catch a ton of diseases. The solution to AIDS is actually trivially simple: don’t have sex with thousands of people.

Unfortunately, “have unprotected anonymous ex with thousands of people” was a core part of the gay scene, and people protected it as part of the expression of their identities:

“I estimate I’ve had approximately 3,000 men up my butt … I estimate that I went to the baths at least once a week, sometimes twice, and that each time I went I had a minimum of four patners … I also racked up about three men a week for five years at the Christopher Steet bookstore …Then of course there was the MineShaft; the orgies; the 55th Street Playhouse; the International Stud backroom …
Let me present my own history of STDs. From 1973, when I came out, to 1975, I only got mononucloeosis and non-specific urethritis, or NSU. In 1975, I got my first case of gonorrhea. Not bad, I thought. I’d had maybe 200 different partners, and I’d only gotten the clap twice. But then, moving from Boston to New York City, it all began to snowball.​

First came hepatitis A in ’76 and more gonorrhea and NSU. In 1977, I was diagnosed with amebiasis, an intestinal parasite, hepatitis B, more gonorrhea, and NSU. In 1978, more amebiasis and my first case of shigella, and of course, more gonorrhea. Then in 1979, hepatitis yet a third time, this time non-A, non-B, more intestinal parasites, adding giardia this time, and an anal fissure as well as my first case of syphilis … By 1981, I got some combination of STDs each and every time I had sex …​

At age twenty-seven I’ve had: gonorrhea, syphillis, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis non-A, non-B; intestinal parasites including amebiasis, e. historicia, shigella, giardia; herpes simplex types one and two; venereal warts, mononucleosis, cytomegalovirus, and now cryptosporodiosis, for which there is no known cure.​”

Again, if getting sick “built up the immune system,” these guys would have had the immune systems of doom and AIDS would not exist.

“I can recall about that same time seeing a patient who was a young Ph.D. scientist from the Peninsula [south of San Francisco], a very good-looking man with Kaposi’s sarcoma who I was caring for. He had AIDS. He was sitting in my clinic on Parnassus. He was kind of impatient. I said, “I’m sorry I’m running late; I can tell you’re impatient. What’s wrong?” He said, “I wish you’d hurry up; I’m going to the bathhouses.” My reaction was, “Wait a minute.”

But being the typical doctor, it just never occurred to me that he was still out there having sex. He had Kaposi’s sarcoma–AIDS, this horrible new, fatal disease. My line to him was, “Somebody must think you’re smart, because they gave you a Ph.D. How come you’re still going to the bathhouses?” He said, “There’s nothing wrong with that. I probably caught it there, and so my view is, it’s there and I’m going to have sex.” I said, “Are you telling the people that you’re having sex with that you’re HIV-positive”–it wasn’t even called HIV then–“that you have AIDS?” He said, “No. I figure that they ought to be smart enough to understand that there’s AIDS out here, and that they can catch it. It’s their responsibility as much as mine.” I think that that, more than any other single event, called into focus for me the notion that someone needs to speak out.”

Haiti got AIDS from Americans, not Africans:

“there had been in 1977 a conference of gays in Haiti, and a lot of gay people had come down from New York for this conference. After all, Haiti was a great spot for gay vacations. The poverty there had lots of young boys acting as prostitutes.”

5. over-trust in medicine/technology
” From what I’ve seen already, these guys had a shitload of venereal diseases already swimming through their systems and were on all sorts of illegal drugs, plus a lot of penicillin. There is no way that these weren’t co-factors in what later became AIDS. In NYC, there were gay doctors that were going to Fire Island and stocked up with penicillin and were shooting it into themselves and their friends before they went out to parties and got high.”

Remember, we had only recently–within a few decades–gone from a society where many people still used outhouses, had no running water or electricity, no cars, etc., to winning WWII, exploding atomic bombs, the Polio vaccine, rural electrification and running water for everyone, cars and highways, contraceptives, microwaves and men on the moon. It’s not unreasonable that people thought they lived in a time of truly unlimited scientific progress and that science could cure all problems and all of the old social norms could be discarded. Then AIDS hit like a terrifying brick to the face. We can’t even cure the common cold, you know.

6. disease as a badge of honor (still ongoing):
2blowhards source:
“Even so, the health of this crowd pre-AIDS was surprisingly awful. I recall — and Berkowitz confirms — that gay scenesters in the late ’70s often considered sexually-transmitted-diseases to be honorable battle scars: proud signs of their sexual prowess, defiant medals that they’d earned fighting for “liberation.” Just as The Pill was assumed to have ended all worries about pregnancy for straights, medicine was assumed to be capable of dealing with no matter what infection. Scene-making gayguys often had doctors specifically to deal with their STDs — they called them their “clap doctors.”…

“I was really getting into being fucked at the baths on Ecstasy,” he writes. “The drug just obliterated all my inhibitions. But I got gonorrhea after every single trip.” …
When I went on my Christopher Street tour, everyone seemed to be high. Poppers especially were everywhere; you crunched little glass vials beneath your feet as you walked along the sidewalk. Berkowitz: “I did a quick mental inventory of my poppers usage. But the question that came to mind wasn’t how much I’d done, but rather, if I could remember the last time I had an orgasm without them.”

He also recalls a German film from the era: “Taxi Zum Klo,” or “Taxi to the Toilet.” The film — a gay arthouse hit –was about a swashbuckling gayguy… whose sex drive can’t be stopped. The film was meant to be charming and naughty, and it was taken that way by the NY Film Festival audience I saw the film with…

In the film’s comic setpiece, the hero, hospitalized with hepatitis, is feeling horny. He knows he shouldn’t … But he can’t help himself … He breaks out of the hospital, finds a sex partner at a public toilet, and gets himself blown. I watched the scene thinking, “Lordy, this guy is public health enemy #1.” The audience around me, though, cracked up and applauded.”

From the main source:
“In spite of extraordinary research breakthroughs and new effective treatment and prevention, the HIV epidemic continues to chug along. There are 50,000 new HIV infections a year in the United States – a steady flow unchanged since 2007 (the peak was 130,000 a year in the mid-1980s). And the reasons are not so much medical as they are behavioural, psychological and cultural.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that if HIV infections continue to rise at current rates, half of young gay men will have HIV by the age of 50. Infections have been increasing among young men who have sex with men, especially young, black men. Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, reports that a black gay or bisexual man in Atlanta who becomes sexually active at age 18 now has a 60 per cent chance of becoming HIV-positive by the time he turns 30. Nationwide, condom use is steadily dropping and unprotected anal sex is increasing. New HIV infections have proved similarly resistant in Europe and Asia. There are still 6,300 new HIV infections a day worldwide.”

If you really want to bleach yourself forever, go read about “bug chasing”.