Read It At Your Peril

review by Elizabeth A. Ely
Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients, January 1998

The AIDS Cult
by John Lauritsen and Ian Young, Editors
ASKLEPIOS, Provincetown, Massachusetts
1997, Paperback, $15, 224 pp.

    In what kind of society does the HIV/AIDS hypothesis, never verified, violating all the known rules of science, make sense, and the discrediting of it — never seriously refuted — attract scorn? Perhaps the biological argument has not succeeded because the problem involves more deeply held beliefs. The AIDS belief system is not based on physical science. It resembles more closely a religion — a cult — complete with initiation rites and human sacrifices.

    This cult is exposed in The AIDS Cult, a remarkable collection of essays by AIDS dissidents compiled by former New York Native journalist John Lauritsen and poet and writer Ian Young. Read it at your peril, because you may never again see the AIDS Quilt in the same light — or the walk-a-thons, the drug regimens, the urgent pleas for money.

    “Suffice it to say that HIV, as a biochemically inactive microbe, cannot be the cause of illness, ‘AIDS’ or any other”, writes Lauritsen. This may not “suffice” for many readers, who are directed outside the book for biology lessons. There are only two basic facts to remember: the HIV test measures a dubious marker, inaccurately; and the symptoms of death by AZT or preventively used antibiotics are identical to those of “AIDS”. For information on the HIV test, reference is made to the study published by Australian researcher Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos and colleagues, known informally among AIDS dissidents as the “Eleni study”. Other references are made to Dr. Peter Duesberg's comprehensive book, Inventing the AIDS Virus.

    All the essays in this book take as their starting point the idea, advanced by Dr. Casper Schmidt in the opening paper, that AIDS is a group fantasy, otherwise known as an epidemic hysteria or group trance. Schmidt, a gay psychoanalyst and medical doctor in New York, was also an eminent psychohistorian. Psychohistory as defined as “the science of historical motivation”, understood by the dynamics of primitive societies. These dynamics are said to be preserved intact in modern life, but without the coping mechanisms provided by ritual. Some disease is covert ritual.

    Writing in 1984, early in the epidemic, Schmidt advanced the theory that the epidemic hysteria we call AIDS arose from pressures of recent history: sexual and gay liberation, the conservative backlash, and the impossibility of all-out war as a release of tensions in the nuclear era. “It was as if everyone had become involved in a pleasurable picnic since the 60s, and all of a sudden [about 1975] everyone simultaneously started waking up from a trance, shamefacedly scrambling for their clothes and hurrying home.” There ensued a ritualistic sacrifice of homosexuals to atone for the shame of the entire society. Unlike a viral epidemic, a hysterical one targets certain shunned classes and ethnic groups, as acceptable sacrifices. Years of warnings to non-risk groups notwithstanding, AIDS is still primarily a disease of gay men — and only a “small subset” of them, as Lauritsen points out.

    Lauritsen revisits Schmidt's prophetic model in light of what we know today, but emphasizing physical factors such as the dangerous drug AZT, recreational drug abuse and overuse of antibiotics, and relating these to the unique psychology of being a gay man in America.

    Lauritsen is a bold and eloquent writer, unpretentious to the core. His description of gay sex in the '70s is neither titillating nor shaming, just a sobering catalogue of despair. When Lauritsen thinks a genocide is being carried out, he calls it “genocide”. A quiet middle-aged homosexual surviving a live-hard-die-young culture, Lauritsen justifies his choice by classical Greek tradition. He hardly needs to be defensive; there is nothing to defend.

    The most devastating news in the book is that Schmidt “realized, to his horror, that he was diagnosing himself” and died of so-called AIDS in 1994. “All his research papers, manuscripts and patient case files have disappeared.” Similarly, the pathetic figure of Michael Callen, the AIDS “survivor” 12 years after diagnosis, defying the pronouncements of the authorities that salvation lies in AZT but preaching the false gospel of “prophylactic” (preventive) use of antibiotics, holding up his sandwich bag of pills, 56 of which he took every day. Callen died in late 1993.

    To understand this, essayist Michael Ellner has elsewhere described the phenomenon of the “AIDS Zone”. In the Zone, the enormous resources of services, counseling and “support groups” all are subverted to the sacrifice. Coining the term “Death by Counselling”, essayist Cass Mann blasts the pseudo-spiritualist “death and dying” disciples of Elisabeth Kiibler-Ross and the pseudo-compassion of the AIDS professionals. Callen said, “There are supposed to be five stages, and people will constantly treat you as if you are in one of the stages, usually denial.” The Zone even entraps the professionals and the activists in their own propaganda.

    In the AIDS Zone, there may be “survivors” of a few extraordinary years (ten? twelve?), but there are very few escapees from the Zone. Always the cloud of HIV persists, as our scientific priesthood revises the “latency period” upward in an attempt to buy time for its status and its profits. Essayist Dr. George Hazlehurst, who saw the same belief that nobody gets out alive kill off A-bomb survivors many years after the events in Japan, reasonably requests that the AIDS authorities publicly declare that all epidemics have survivors and that this one is no exception. But Schmidt predicted that any announcement that a disease is an epidemic hysteria would be “met with resistance among those who subscribe to the group delusion, and for whom the epidemic is a golden solution to unconscious conflicts.” And a source of jobs and welfare benefits. Not surprisingly, there is an undertone of persecution throughout the book.

    Schmidt said that a group fantasy is “syntonic with the rest of the cultural beliefs.” The AIDS cult, for all its claims to insurgency, stands firmly within the social order. Its tools are familiar instruments of repression: violence and death, threats, sexual taboos, conformism, subservience to the profit motive, toxicity, propaganda and censorship. Add to that the traditional social modes of denial: addictions of all kinds and the belief that the “poison threat” comes from outside the individual or group — scapegoating. It is as hard for an AIDS cultist to deprogram as it is for an addict to come clean, or nations to forgo war.

    Where the real hope is for healing, all calls for a “cure” sound as short-sighted and destructive prayers for cheap grace. Healing is not scientific but spiritual in its vision of a future not where all diseases have a cure, but where there will be no need for disease as a “cure” for our social conflicts.


Return to Booklist