Delving into the past is a good exercise to indulge in now and then. It often sheds a new perspective that one may have missed when studying history in academia, especially since, sadly, our world has such a short memory span these days. With this Pandemic breathing down our throats, I needed a refresher look at Plagues with my awareness, nowadays more than ever, on some of the aspects of such events.
To begin with, humanity has been Plagued since time immemorial and throughout our history on this Planet. Those of us familiar with the Biblical stories are aware of what is attributed to God’s wrath and how He punished His creations with all sorts of Plagues. Personally, and being highly skeptical of all matters to do with religion, I prefer to believe in scientific evidence and not in a vengeful, vindictive and angry God who exacts punishment from the bad people, as well as the good people? Really? God, if He exists at all, cannot, in my opinion, be as wicked as the people He is punishing. Makes sense?
In a nutshell, most, if not all of the Plagues that have historically beset humans were caused by fleas, rats and other vermin. And most, if not all of them were because the pests dined on some of the abundant filth, which then turned into a disease, and eventually into a Plague that was transmitted to humans where it flourished. Our present Virus fits that description well since, it seems, that it originated in bats languishing in filthy wet markets.
Historically, I believe that most of us are aware of how measles and smallpox ravaged the Native American population. What I recently relearned, though, from a very interesting discussion on Democracy Now, where Amy Goodman was interviewing the incredible historian, Frank Snowden, about his book: Epidemics and Society, is that as a result of the decimation of Native Americans and the fact that they could not be providing the slave labor required to settle the New World, Columbus felt compelled to import black slaves and, thus, the reason for the presence of African people in these lands. And isn’t that the role that many underpaid, overworked, often abused, documented and undocumented immigrants since then have been performing all over our sick world? So, what has fundamentally changed? He also spoke of how measles and smallpox destroyed the Incas and the Aztecs who thought that the White Man’s God was stronger than their gods and that is the reason why they were dying, while the White Man was not. As a result of this, the door was opened for missionaries and the ensuing brutal occupations and conversions, frequently at the point of guns, throughout Latin America, as well as the devastating Colonialism throughout the world. History is fascinating, though its brutal lessons seem to generally elude us! Why are we so thick-skulled? In the context of this Pandemic, though, there will also be consequences some of which may be bad, some may be good. We will find out eventually. However, two very positive occurrences so far are that while the Black Death killed many, many millions, this Pandemic is nowhere close to that (yet?) and, in fact, we gasp and are horrified at even the 350 thousand worldwide deaths as of my writing today’s post! This aversion to death (to senseless wars, sanctions, occupations, rapes, human trafficking, abuse etc.) is a good development compelling us to rethink the entire way we have been conducting ourselves, and our world. Moreover, while people in the cities of old had no idea of the ravages that the Black Death was causing outside their little hamlets, towns, or cities, we are aware and informed of every development happening with this Pandemic, and, therefore, can make our own informed and responsible decisions on how to conduct ourselves. That, too, is a positive, and one for which we have to thank the many media platforms at our fingertips.
The Black Death about which so much has been written is one of the better-known Plagues. It ravished the world and killed millions of people as it traveled throughout Europe for about four-hundred years, as well as into Asia and Africa. And guess what was prescribed then? Yes, quarantines for those afflicted. So the question for us is: why are we protesting against lockdowns and masks and having infantile temper tantrums because our “normal” lives have been disrupted and we are quarantined? Until the medical community and scientists are able to really assess and study this very unknown Virus so as to come up with therapeutics, medicines, or vaccines, the only sensible antidote for the time being – note: Time Being – is maintaining social distancing, masks, hand-washing and, yes, quarantining when/if necessary. Might herd Immunity, as some seem to suggest, work? Perhaps. Scientists will let us know once they have all the information. At this point in time, they do not. However, I don’t believe that herd immunity has worked for measles, smallpox, scarlet fever, polio, typhus, cholera, Ebola, SARS, MERS, or any of these virulent diseases, while vaccines have proven to have eradicated – or, stemmed – many of those. This is “the proof in the pudding,” as they say, or, scientific evidence. Yet, here we go again attempting to reinvent the wheel!!
Pandemics have also historically invited conspiracy theories and superstitions. During the Black Death some people hung garlic and certain herbs around their necks to ward off the virus, while we are being told to ingest disinfectants, and swallow unproven medications that might kill us by an Oval Office Occupant who buys into, and promotes, conspiracy theories and fantasy? Garlic and herbs were much better advice, weren’t they? Some people wore big crosses, others blamed humanity’s sins, and many others yet pointed fingers at the Jewish people, especially after the King and Queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, initiated the Inquisition and sought to purge the world of Muslims and Jews who became the scapegoats of that Pandemic. How horrid! In a repeat of history, we are now blaming China and causing some to accost, harass and scapegoat Chinese people. We did the same after 9/11 by maligning all Muslims! However, whether it is quarantines, or scapegoating, the similarities between Pandemics are eerie and only prove how humanity, on so many levels, is still so backward, bigoted and wicked in its thinking! Until when?
As time passes, and as efforts to come up with a vaccine are going apace in many countries, it would be prudent to remember that the decimation of the Incas, the Aztecs and Native Americans brought African people to the Americas with all the positives and negatives that accompanied this uprooting and its ensuing events; it also opened up these lands not only to the barbaric occupations by White Colonists and Christian missionaries, but also to the fantastic innovations and advancements that flourished in the New World without which all our lives would have been much poorer. The flip side is that it also brought us many of the corporate greed, climate dangers, corruption, arrogance, heartless wars, and dangerous rivalry amongst nations. Twenty-one centuries and we haven’t changed this dismal playbook? Unreal! Lastly, will our horrified gasps at the numbers of dead people, eventually, eventually, prompt us to shape up and change for the better, or, will the Trumps of this world (and, sadly, there’s quite a few of them running around on our planet!) take us back to the Dark Ages as I sometimes feel that they are, especially since while we are occupied with learning how to handle ourselves during this Virus, corrupt politicians continue to upend rules, regulations, laws, and all sorts of other malfeasance that will eventually erode our frail trust in governing bodies dangerously all the more? This Plagues me to no end!