Unlike past readings, I feel that these readings offer multiple topics on which to write this blog post. The markers of the Anthropocene, colonization, past epidemics, the Amerindian holocaust, Covid-19, and future pandemics are all bubbling in my mind. The first thing I did after finishing these readings was to research how many people have died thus far from Covid-19. As of today, it is reported that 5.09 million people have died of Covid-19. This is drastically different than the 55-70 million indigenous people who died (mostly due to epidemics) when Europeans stole the Americas. This 5 million does not come close to rivaling the 50 million Europeans who died from the black plague, nor the Spanish Flu of 25 million deaths globally.
One of the reasons behind the decrease in death is, of course, modern medicine and science. Only a few months into the Covid-19 pandemic, mask mandates went into place. Because of modern science, we understood the primary way the virus transmitted itself. Plus, modern medicine also has the ability to prevent people from getting sick (vaccines) and a stronger ability to cure people when they do.
Covid-19, however, is certainly less contagious than other diseases, such as measles. It is also certainly less deadly. This makes me wonder how many people haven’t died from Covid-19 because of modern medicine, versus how many people haven’t died because we “got lucky” with this virus not being as deadly and contagious as others. Although mankind has been ravaged by diseases for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, we were still ill-prepared for Covid-19. This is shocking and worrisome. Lovell writes: “That an outbreak of disease could cause such calamity and so endanger the human condition after we have deluded ourselves for so long that Homo sapiens controls all, shakes us to our foundations” (181). This quote strings together the Covid-19 pandemic and mankind’s feigned superiority over Nature (a frequent topic in this class) quite nicely. Mankind can destroy a forest, plow down a field, exterminate beasts large and small, yet viruses, impossible to see with the human eye, are a reminder of mankind’s vulnerability.
We are just as vulnerable to disease as any plant, animal, or fungi, perhaps even more susceptible. With crowding in cities, humans needed to start being sanitary. This started with soap, water, vinegar, and alcohol, but now there is a vast array of strong antimicrobial products on the market. This makes it so our human immune systems in Western countries are exposed to very little, which has obvious positive and negative consequences. With our Western diet, lack of proper exercise, a surplus of Western diseases, and general lack of good health, we are incredibly vulnerable to viral infection. Covid-19 should be taken as a warning to the human species, a warning that we are far from invincible. It will be interesting to see if we are prepared for the next pandemic (there will be one) because it might not be as “forgiving” as Covid-19 has been.