Institutional breakdown in a time of Ebola

So, how is everybody feeling about Ebola today?

If exponential projections are to be believed (and the mealy-mouthed afterthoughts of our lizard authorities are not), then it looks like things could be shaping up to get pretty real. Or did you already know that?

Personally, I vacillate between mindblind social scientific absorption and horrified disbelief. As a good libertarian, I try to balance my sometimes-myopic trust in market coordination and social resiliency against a healthy awareness of black swan events and radical uncertainty—all underpinned, of course, by an awesome appreciation for those devilish cognitive biases that can make a lone summer shark attack look like a spree of sharknados. But I gotta admit that this Ebola thing is starting to bug me in a way that other spectacles don’t.

I first got the feeling that something might be amiss when I noticed the Vox set trying so hard to convince me otherwise. Then things got a little too close to the demonpit for comfort, so I summarily paid tribute to the Amazon gods for provisions. Having recently received my 2-day deliveries of the basic rations on the cheap—DuPont elastic waist hooded coverall suits (plus booties!) (2); Uvex stealth safety goggles; disposable latex gloves (100); plenty o’ Purell®; a 3M P100 respirator mask and particulate filter packs (3)—assuredly all very highly recommended by the buzzing prepper forums that I briefly browsed in a wild moment of womanly panic, I’m now feeling like I’m sitting a tiny bit more pretty in this gaping biotarget that is our nation’s capital. All that I really need now is the appropriate safety equipment for my sweet pugdog (hit a sister up if you’ve got the goods) and my superstitious Spanish soul will be that much more at ease.

You can think me a scaredy cat, but I could say I’m “building robustness.” Best case scenario, I get a last-minute tasteless Halloween costume at the reasonable cost of one brunch foregone and a couple of yucks at my morbid imagination. Worst case scenario, I get a few more worry-free days of life in an airborne Ebola situation.

Ok, so maybe I have more legitimate reasons to fear a fluke transmission from ordinary hospital errors than from airborne mutation or a 4GW surprise. Whatever, it made perfect sense at the time.

Clearly, my ritualistic and meager stockpiling does not indicate a real fear that a blood-letting global pandemic lurks in our near future. What truly worries me is the revealed massive failure of governance and series of pathetically botched responses that have allowed the epidemic to grow beyond control.

Those tin foil hatters over at the New York Times saw fit to print this grim diagnosis: “What is not getting said publicly, despite briefings and discussions in the inner circles of the world’s public health agencies, is that we are in totally uncharted waters and that Mother Nature is the only force in charge of the crisis at this time.” And Mother Nature is a bitch.

I can’t tell whether I should take comfort or despair in this shared realization. Looking around, I’m getting the hint that I can’t expect the relevant leaders and institutions to do an adequate job to protect me from the nasties they were created to monitor. A quick jog down memory lane might show you what I mean.