Back on March 14, 2020, I began a series on the Coronavirus, which continued through 35 installments (the most recent of which was posted on November 10, 2021). This is not technically an installment of that series, but it addresses another kind of infection, which persists to this day among a certain brand of “libertarians”—who exhibited symptoms of it way back in the 1980s, when the HIV/AIDS crisis took hold in the United States. After seeing so many libertarians dismiss the COVID-19 “pandemic” (scare quotes intended) as non-lethal at best or an outright hoax at worst, I—a witness to hundreds of people in my hard-hit Brooklyn neighborhood being rushed to hospitals or off to funeral homes—was sickened, but not surprised by the denialism on display. On May 5, 2020, in the twenty-first installment of my Coronavirus series, “Lockdowns, Libertarians, and Liberation,” I wrote:
[T]here was something about the early response [of libertarians] to the coronavirus as a “hoax” or an “exaggeration” that was eerily familiar to me. Back in the 1980s, when HIV/AIDS was killing off a generation of gay men in the West (while ravaging a largely heterosexual population in Africa), some libertarians (including those influenced by Ayn Rand), ever fearful of those who proposed a growing governmental role in both medical research and in locking down bathhouses that were transmission belts for promiscuous, unsafe sex, grabbed onto the work of the molecular biologist Peter Duesberg, who played a major role in what became known as the AIDS denialism controversy. Duesberg was among those dissenting scientists who argued that there was no connection between HIV and AIDS, and that gay men were dying en masse because of recreational and pharmaceutical drug use, and then, later, by the use of AZT, an early antiviral treatment to combat those with symptoms of the disease.
If the scientific community had accepted Duesberg’s theories, hundreds of thousands of people would be dead today. The blood supply would never have been secured, since HIV screening of blood donors would never have become public policy, and countless thousands of people receiving blood transfusions would have been infected by HIV and would have subsequently died from opportunistic infections. …
So, while many libertarians have been at the forefront of rolling back the state’s interference in people’s personal lives, advocating the elimination of discriminatory anti-sodomy and marriage laws, there were some libertarians who, early on, in the AIDS epidemic, grabbed onto Duesberg’s theories as scientific proof that the whole HIV/AIDS thing was a pretext for the expansion of the state-science nexus.
While I do not dispute the dangers wrought by nearly a century of incestuous ties between government, science, and the medical, pharmaceutical, and health insurance industries, I do not believe that all the by-products of “state science” are “dangerous” to our health, as Edmond S. Bradley claimed back in 2006. Bradley, a doctor of music arts and composition, goes so far as to echo the Duesberg theory, which was dealt a serious blow by research developments in the late 1980s that bore fruit for effective treatments for HIV/AIDS by the mid-1990s.
Thinking that this 2006 Mises Institute article was an “outlier,” I was recently involved in a Facebook discussion where I was attacked by yet another “libertarian” for having proposed that there was something wrong with the Duesberg denialists. And then, on the site of the Property and Freedom Society, on January 5, 2022—only yesterday—a 2009 video of Duesberg was posted [YouTube link]. This resurrection of denialism is, of course, part of an overall pushback with regard to all things COVID. But it is not COVID that concerns me here.
The first cases of the “gay cancer” were reported in June 1981, but it was not until 1985, that HIV was first identified as “the causative agent of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and its complete genome was immediately available.” With nearly 48,000 people dead in the U.S. from AIDS by 1987, the formation of the group ACT UP (The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) was a turning point for bottom-up civil disobedience against the administrative bungling, political in-fighting and bureaucratic red-tape that made it virtually impossible for any drugs under development to be used in the fight against HIV/AIDS. AZT, the first drug approved for use in this fight, certainly had some of the horrific side effects that Duesberg highlighted, but back then, it was being administered in much higher doses, given the lack of alternative treatments.
The big breakthrough came with the discovery of HIV protease-inihibitors in the late 1980s. Protease inhibitors played a crucially important role in the creation of
highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Proteases are
basically proteins that are used to break down other certain chemical structures of protein in your body—a process that can help with digestion or healing wounds. However, proteases are also necessary for certain conditions—including HIV—to thrive. Protease inhibitors, which figure among the key drugs used to treat HIV, work by binding to proteolytic enzymes (proteases). That blocks their ability to function.
Protease inhibitors don’t cure HIV. But by blocking proteases, they can stop HIV from reproducing itself. As such, they lower the body’s viral load—a term that refers to the amount of HIV in the body—and slow the progression of HIV.
It took about ten years for the first protease inhibitor to reach the market. Take a look at this table below—which will no doubt be dismissed by Duesberg denialists as CDC “fictions”:
The Duesberg denialists cannot explain what happened between 1993-1995 and 1996-2000. They cannot explain why the death rate from AIDS fell by nearly 50% in 1997 alone. I want an answer from these denialists as to why this happened. Did all those dirty, drug-addicted, gay men simply “straighten” up their act, and stop taking those recreational drugs that Duesberg saw as the cause of AIDS? Quite frankly, given that there were a reported 100,000 overdose deaths in 2021 alone—augmented by two years of a COVID crisis that has led to a significant rise in both mental health and substance abuse problems across the population regardless of sexual orientation or sexual practices—I’m wondering why, given Duesberg’s assumptions, we have not seen a corresponding rise in AIDS cases.
The Duesberg denialists have absolutely no explanation whatsoever for the remarkable turn of events from 1993-1995 to 1996-2000. It was with the introduction of “cocktail” drug therapies, which combined three or more antiretroviral drugs—chief among them those protease inhibitors that were able to prevent HIV from multiplying inside the body—that significantly reduced patients’ viral loads to undetectable levels, and that have curtailed the scourge of opportunistic infections that were killing people by the hundreds of thousands in the 1980s and early 1990s. Today, there are an estimated 1.2 million people living with AIDS in the United States—not dying from it.
This is personal. And I’ll even grant that it’s anecdoctal evidence. But in the 1980s, I was busy DJ’ing and dancing, though pharmaceuticals and unsafe sex were not part of the party. I knew scores of gay men, many of whom were very dear friends who died from AIDS. Only a handful of these friends could be characterized as recreational drug users.
One of my dearest friends in the world nearly died of AIDS in 1996, and if it were not for those miracle antiretroviral treatments, he would have been six feet under. Today, he is living and flourishing, without any detectable viral load, thanks to the medical breakthroughs from which he was able to benefit. Had he been diagnosed only two years before, I am convinced he would never have survived.
The Denialists have no answers. All they have is their stultifying ideological pseudoscience.
So I will declare this without an ounce of regret. To echo ACT-UP’s refrain that “Silence = Death,” I say “Denialism = Death.” And if you are among the denialists, then you have blood on your hands.