Like COVID-19, the Black Death also has its own “truther” movement

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a inflection point of modern history, it is nowhere near to be the deadliest pandemic in human history. That questionable distinction belongs to the infamous “Black Death,” a plague that raged through Europe and the Near East in the mid-14th century. Like COVID-19, bubonic plague was a gruesome way of dying, but with very different symptoms. The most famous were the dreaded rash (hence the ‘plague’), severely inflamed, pus-filled lymph nodes and flare-ups in the groin, armpits and neck. The victim’s skin and flesh will eventually turn black and rot, although long before this happens they will experience nausea, vomiting, fever, headaches, and aching joints. Within days – or weeks at most – the infected person will die.

One might imagine that a disease this terrible has burned into the collective consciousness of mankind. Real, black death did have a profound impact on our daily lives, influenced everything from the professionalization of medicine and the decline of feudalism to works of art like Giovanni Boccaccio’s book”Decameron“and Ingmar Bergman’s movies”Seventh Seal“However, the Black Death is not often mentioned in reference to or in contrast to the COVID-19 pandemic – despite important similarities. Perhaps most notably, both illnesses are promotes scapegoat behavior and mass hysteria because of widespread ignorance.

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While scientific illiteracy in the age of COVID-19 is fueled by a mixture motivated reasoning, political bias and historical concerns about institutional credibility, inhabitants of the Middle Ages lacked the sophisticated knowledge of modern mankind about biology. Louis Pasteur did not develop the modern germ theory until the 19th century, half a millennium after the Black Death. We know today that the Black Death was a disease, and that the microorganisms were most likely introduced from Asia via Crimea and into Europe and the Near East by the black rat flea. People who lived in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East during the 1340s and 1350s could not even imagine what a microorganism was, much less the complex chain of events that could carry such a deadly organism. into their house.

In the absence of knowledge, a number of ugly alternative theories emerged. Because the Jews had been a common scapegoat in Europe for centuries, wave of pogrom against Jewish communities outbreak during this time because they were blamed for the plague. For years, Jews have been collectively blamed for the death of Jesus Christ and accused of cruel blood rituals; around the Crusades, stereotypes also emerged of Jewish wealth, a stereotype reinforced in anti-Semitic minds by the way Jews were forbidden to own land and thus financial concentration disproportionately. Attacks on Jewish communities were common before the Black Death, but are now happening with renewed vigor and effectiveness as attackers have more motives. The Jews are accused of poisoning the well and other acts of conspiracies, which somehow all involve those who are accused of anti-Christianity, desire to make money, ominous religious practices or some combination of the three. Victims were tortured to confess their sins and exterminated in large numbers.

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There is a clear parallel between this and the rise of anti-China bias during the COVID-19 pandemic. While nowhere was it as pervasive as the anti-Semitic sentiment in the Black Death, there were thousands of hate crimes against Asians in the United States since COVID-19 reached our shores. They range from ridicule and slander to acts of physical violence. And the claims of some politicians who reinforce and encourage action to bring China down – or even promote baseless conspiracy theories that China somehow created the virus – did not What is helpful.

“I used to say this for a year: The rhetoric from Trump encouraged people to openly speak in an anti-Chinese way, which – as Asian Americans in the United States, part of the stigma is that people can’t distinguish Asians, we forced into a racial group and lumped together,” said Rosalind Chou, associate professor of sociology at Georgia State University, told Salon in April. “I’m Taiwanese-American, but passersby can’t tell the difference, right? […] I said for a year that people would get hurt if we kept blaming and calling COVID-19 the ‘Chinese virus’, if we had radio and news anchors constantly using anti-China rhetoric. “

Making scapegoats in times of plague is not limited to the Jews. Eliminating lepers and other unfortunate individuals from marginalized groups has also Sometimes blamed for the plague, medieval people had many theories about who was behind the Black Plague. Some switched to astrology for an explanation for the plague, as well as a cure. Many believers believe that it is the wrath of God or the scourge of Satan; flagella, or religious penitents, who would throw themselves out in public and beg the almighty for forgiveness, became a common sight at this time; More educated people signed up with the idea that miasmas, or “contaminated air,” is what causes illness. (This is probably the person closest to the truth that knows nothing about microbiology.)

There’s a lesson in humility there: There’s probably a lot we don’t know about COVID-19 in our time that could become common knowledge in a handful of generations. Likewise, there are similarities between those who see gods and demons behind every pimple and blister, and those who assert that similar diabolical plots are at work behind the pimples and blisters. current events today. These ideas may seem odd, such as the claim that Bill Gates or George Soros somehow behind the whole thing. In other cases, they have a measure of reasonableness, albeit an exaggerated one, such as the idea that the bug could be traced back to a Chinese lab. Just as anti-Semitists and anti-Semitists in medieval Europe drew from pre-existing religious traditions to color their interpretation of the Black Plague, so do the Pre-pandemic conspiracy theorists also switched to those types of explanations during the pandemic.

“The people who are believing in those conspiracy theories may have believed in similar conspiracy theories before the COVID-19 pandemic and they are just applying that style of thinking to this new thing,” Joseph E. Uscinski , a political scientist at the University of Miami, told Salon last year. “Basically what we’ve found is that people who buy these kinds of conspiracy theories do so because they have what we call a latent conspiracy mindset, which means they see the world through a negative lens. plot.”

Not all comparisons between the Black Plague and COVID-19 are foreshadowing. As briefly mentioned earlier, the Black Plague drew attention to the fact that medieval medical practitioners often had no idea what they were doing. This planted the seeds that eventually evolved into a systematic, scientific approach to healing the human body – a renaissance of modern medicine, in short. While humanity has greatly advanced in biotechnology in the 2020s, the pandemic has helped kickstart the development of a new type of vaccine technology, mRNA vaccine such as those mass-produced by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, which could revolutionize medicine. Everything from cancer vaccines to universal flu shots is possible thanks to this platform, which trains cells to produce proteins that the immune system can recognize. is related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

By the time it ended its climax (1347 to 1351) and devastated most of the Western world, the Black Death had claimed the lives of anywhere from 75 million to 200 million. The death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, though no less tragic, is at the time of this writing only shy is 5.4 million, with more than 800,000 of them in the United States. Fortunately, this is a small faction of today’s population of more than 7.7 billion; Although it is impossible to know for certain how many people were alive in the mid-14th century, most estimates put it at between 300 and 400 million. Considering how far mankind has come, we can at least be grateful to live in a time when science has given us so many medical miracles – even if it hasn’t yet been cured. from the barrage of misinformation.

Read more about the history of plagues and pandemics: Like COVID-19, the Black Death also has its own “truther” movement

Caroline Bleakley

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