“Virus epidemics are Mother Earth’s way of teaching us lessons that have lasting impacts,” an Andean Shaman told me. “When we contract a disease – or worry over it – we learn about ourselves and the world around us.”
I’ve thought about the historical implication of those words during this time of the coronavirus. A couple of perspectives:
- The Black Plague that swept through Asia, Africa, and Europe in the 14th century killed an estimated 50 million people, as much as 60% of the population. It ended up impacting ideas about contamination, the economy, environment, and the importance of science. Although the role of viruses would not be discovered until much later, people realized that removing garbage and sewage from the streets and quarantining infected patients prevented it from spreading. Because of the many deaths, labor was in short supply and gained the bargaining power to increase wages significantly. As populations shrank, so did communities and farm lands; forests were rejuvenated. Perhaps most important for the long-term, the Plague generated an interest in scientific approaches to medicine and understanding the universe. (1)
- The most notorious virus in modern times is the one that causes HIV/AIDS, a virus that since it was first identified in the early 1980s has caused an estimated 32 million deaths. (2) The HIV/AIDs virus has had huge social, cultural, economic, and educational impacts. It has taught us about the importance of safe sex, clean needles, properly-administered blood transfusions, and timely medical treatment. It has kept many people out of labor forces, especially in parts of Africa, and thus has decreased their purchasing power and GDP growth. (3) It has resulted in many attitudinal changes previously held toward different races and sexual beliefs; these resulted in new perceptions and established new laws and cultural norms.