Whodunit–Wedunit: Disease is Necessary

Disease and illness is all around us.  Black Death, Swine Flu, Mad Cow Disease…. what do all of these say about us? Are we pushing our existence to the limit?

David Arnold asks these questions and more in The Problem of Nature: Environment, Culture, and European Expansion.  When discussing epidemic diseases he asks if these natural disasters are more culturally or environmentally influenced.  Killing some twenty million in Europe alone, the Black Death was devastating… or was it?

Starting in 1346 and returning every ten to twelve years, the Black Death took a toll Europe’s population, but allowed the surrounding environment to grow strong again.  The declining wolf population had a chance to rebound.  The wetlands and forests were able to recover.  Due to the lack of able bodies to work, people were forced to come up with new way of doing things—technology advanced.  Would these things have happened if the plague remained with the rats and didn’t jump to human hosts? 

The Spanish Flu of 1918 hit hard—killing an estimated 40 million people. 

In the small village close to Nome, Brevig Mission was nearly wiped out by this virus.  Of its 80 members, 72 died because of the flu.  In his book, The Forgotten Pandemic, Alfred Crosby states, “Spanish influenza did to Nome and the Seward Peninsula what the Black Death did to fourteenth-century Europe.”  Research has shown that in this case, the disease originated in birds and mutated to infect humans.  Is this Mother Nature way of saying back off or else?

These disease, as horrible as they are, I feel are a necessary cycle.  Not only did these epidemics give the population a little break, but forced humans to make advances in medicine and technology.  With today’s vaccinations an epidemic that is comparable to the Black Death or Spanish Flu will be hard to match, but eventually one will come and ease the pressure we are putting on our environment.

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2 Responses to “Whodunit–Wedunit: Disease is Necessary”

  1. Amanda, Look at you! Nice use of images, tags, and categories. Great model– thanks!

  2. Shane Rud Says:

    It’s like Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of creative destruction. His theory states that from destruction, a new spirit of creation arises. Although it’s an economic theory, it can easily be interpreted to plagues because economies directly influence the health of a nation. In order for prosperity, a tragedy must come beforehand. It’s an essential fact that we must accept. We can’t be living happily in prosperity forever. Eventually, something in society will collapse during a prosperous time and we will be forced to endure a difficult time before returning to a period of prosperity. I agree that a tragedy like a disease epidemic is necessary, although I don’t want to be part of that statistic. It’s the circle of life.

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