06/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Why We Overreacted to an Ordinary Flu

In an online newsletter recently some mad housewives were sharing tips on how best to triple-wash and triple-sterilize their countertops. What on earth did they think they would catch from their own countertops? Small wonder our population is riddled with asthma, allergies, and other auto-immune diseases.

Since I eat food that has fallen on the floor, both in my own and other people's houses, not to mention the ground outside, and since I was never vaccinated against all the childhood diseases children are vaccinated against today (and came down with most of them), and since I grew up before antibiotics existed, I should, in the view of the mad housewives, be dead by now. And I have never had a flu shot.

I've always held the view that if I wasn't stressed or exhausted no flu germ could ever touch me, and that if I was stressed out and exhausted, any stray bug could have its way with me. Of course there's still time for one to do me in some day, but no one lives forever. I think we're in far more danger today from our obsessive over-protectionism with regard to microbes than from the bugs themselves.

Why are we so obsessed with killing bacteria? Especially when we depend on them so utterly. We each of us carry within us trillions of bacteria -- ten percent of our dry body weight, in fact. They slave night and day to maintain and repair our cells, digest our food, and in a hundred other ways keep us alive. I have every confidence that they know what they're doing -- a confidence very, very few doctors have ever inspired in me.

Western medicine, which is based on a military model, is also obsessed with killing. If doctors can't find something to kill or cut they seem to be at a loss. Not that doctors are alone in this -- our political leaders seem to approach every social problem by making "war" on it, and every international problem by throwing bombs at it.

We as a people tend to be dangerously impatient. We want quick fixes to every problem -- fixes that usually involve destroying something or someone. Bacteria were here millions of years before us. And they'll be here long after we've destroyed ourselves with our impatience. They created and maintain the atmosphere that enables us to breathe. We are, as someone once pointed out, guests in a bacterial world.

(In his inauguration speech, Obama talked of a whole new way of doing things. To understand the cultural paradigm shift that engendered this change -- the shift that both Bush and the Taliban have resisted so fiercely, see my website for information on THE CHRYSALIS EFFECT: THE METAMORPHOSIS OF GLOBAL CULTURE).