“Oh, c’mon. Can you ever “solve” poverty? Can you ever “solve crime? Can you ever “solve” disease, unemployment, war, or any other societal herpes? Hell no. All you can hope for is to make them manageable enough to allow people to get on with their lives. That’s not cynicism, that’s maturity. You can’t stop the rain. All you can do is just build a roof that you hope won’t leak, or at least won’t leak on the people who are gonna vote for you.” (Brooks, 61)
In this passage, Grover Carlson, a fuel collector in Texas and former White House Chief of Staff, discusses Phalanx, the placebo that was introduced to calm the hysteria of the masses in response to “African rabies.” When the interviewer mentions that the problem wasn’t actually solved, Carlson responds with the above passage.
Carlson’s colloquialisms in phrases such as, “Oh, c’mon”; “gonna”; “Hell no.” point to his casual tone and dismissive attitude. He seems to be both self-confident and pompous, evident in his asking of questions and responding to them by himself. Carlson asks if poverty, crime, disease, unemployment, or war can be solved. The repetition of the word “solve” emphasizes its true meaning of being able to completely repair an issue. Because of this repetition, the reader immediately understands that the societal issues being mentioned are too complex to be fully repaired. Issues such as poverty and unemployment and disease are dependent on a number of factors, and Carlson seems to imply that “African rabies” is as well. The phrase “societal herpes” provides a vivid image, since it associates societal issues with an infection that is often uncontrolled and cannot be immediately suppressed.
Carlson suggests that the containment of “African rabies” and the hysteria associated with it is crucial to its possibility of being “managed.” He states that it cannot be “solved” but only “managed.” What Carlson seems to suggest is that the appearance of the disease is what must be managed, if not the disease itself, because the latter cannot be “solved.”
African rabies here serves as a comprehensive metaphor for societal issues that are often perpetuated because the root causes are not targeted. One example would be the cycle of poverty in the US. Impoverished areas often lack enough funding for schooling and healthcare which affects the entrance of low-income individuals into the job market. The cycle of poverty perpetuates because the basic resources required to maximize one’s capability are essentially limited by the political system. Similarly, “African rabies” is not actually solved but simply covered up through Phalanx. Thus, through Carlson’s words, Max Brooks seems to be making larger statement about the political institutions in the US.
Carlson calls accepting this prejudiced system “maturity” and invokes the vivid metaphor of building a roof and hoping it won’t leak or at least leak on the voting base. Phalanx serves as the roof that is being built to reduce the leaking, or the public hysteria, and the voting base comprises those who truly matter in society. This passage is significant because it seems to represent the opinion of an authority figure who shows no remorse for injecting a placebo into the market, and in fact, states that the disease cannot be solved, and so it must be hoped that the public does not discover the truth. Brooks seems to use this passage to make a candid statement about the corruption, secrecy, and disparities of the US political system.
Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Broadway Books, 2006.