One of the defining characteristics of our species is that when we are miserable, we like to see others miserable as well. Indeed, if everyone is more miserable than us, we might even start feeling cheerful. The joy of others seems an affront to our misery, an injustice to be set right. Perhaps that as why, in Philip Larkin’s words: “Man hands on misery to man./ It deepens like a coastal shelf.”
So why is this news so shocking?
A Dutch court convicted two men Wednesday for attempting to infect 14 victims with HIV in a bizarre sex case.
The Groningen District Court found the two guilty of severe assault for injecting semiconscious men with HIV-infected blood at sex parties between January 2006 and May 2007.
Prosecutors had argued that the two men, along with a third who was acquitted of major charges, had drugged the 14 victims and intentionally infected them.
The statement by the judges quoted in that piece indicates that at least one of the two men was himself HIV-positive. His action is reprehensible, but imagine yourself in his place—would you think, Why me? Why not him? Or her?
Lest I be accused of spreading misery myself by linking to such news, let me share an old joke that I first heard in the 1980s.
Santa Singh goes to New York for the first time. He wanders down the wrong roads, and is mugged by a gentleman with a syringe. The mugger says, “Give me all your money, or I will plunge this syringe into you. It contains HIV-infected blood.”
Santa Singh says, “Oh balle balle, I am not giving you my dollars. Go ahead, plunge syringe.”
“Dude, are you insane?” says the mugger. “If I inject this into you, you will get AIDS.”
“No problem, praa-ji,” says Santa. “Plunge away.”
The mugger injects Santa, then looks with astonishment at his victim, who is still smiling.
“I don’t get it dude,” says the mugger. “I just injected you with HIV-positive blood, and you’re smiling.”
“Oh that’s okay,” says Santa. “I have protected myself against AIDS. I’m wearing a condom.”