Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Plague controls became social controls

 

While digging potatoes this afternoon, I was listening to Epidemics: Hate and Compassion from the Plague of Athens to Aids by Samuel Kline Cohn Jr. (2018). My ears perked up at the following item:

…Instead, these laws imposed restrictions dividing populations by locking houses and imposing other internal quarantines and barriers against any wishing to enter from the outside, as with [various examples too hard to transcribe]. In 1399, Milan ordered the fumigation of homes and destruction of property. As Ann Carmichael argued almost 30 years ago, plague controls became social controls. [Emphasis is mine]

Is it really possible that epidemic controls can end up that way? Could it still happen in our enlightened age?

It’s not a consistent theme of Cohn’s book, or even a major theme, so maybe I should check out some of Carmichael’s work. I found her c.v. here: https://indiana.academia.edu/AnnCarmichael/CurriculumVitae

In the introduction to his book Cohn explains that he got interested in the topic for his book during the Mexican swine flu scare of 2009. At the time he was asked by a New York paper to do a short piece comparing the likely outcome of the then-current epidemic to the aftermath of the Black Death, when Jews were massacred in 1348-49. Some people thought Mexicans in the United States were in danger of similar treatment. (I was not aware of this kind of talk at the time, so will have to take his word for it.)

Cohn responded that he knew of no past influenzas that resulted in massacres of minorities or anyone else. Cohn thought that this kind of violent hatred and blame was rare in the history of epidemics.

The publisher rejected the article, telling Cohn that wasn’t what his readers wanted to hear.

(In his book Cohn shows that the massacres of Jews in 1348, which did take place in that instance, were not instigated by populist resentments and hatreds but by the elites who owed repayment to Jews from whom they had borrowed large sums of money.)

But Cohn doesn’t get all ideological about it. His book is mostly a telling of what did happen in response to epidemics, and a short summary of my listening so far would be: All sorts of things happened. All-encompassing generalizations are hard to come by.

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  1. Judge Mental Member

    The Reticulator:

    (In his book Cohn shows that the massacres of Jews in 1348, which did take place in that instance, were not instigated by populist resentments and hatreds but by the elites who owed repayment to Jews from whom they had borrowed large sums of money.) 

     

    This happened more than once. The perils of lending large sums to the same people who are “the high and the low justice”. Basically, the cops and the courts.

    • #1
    • October 25, 2020, at 10:21 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. Arahant Member

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    The Reticulator:

    (In his book Cohn shows that the massacres of Jews in 1348, which did take place in that instance, were not instigated by populist resentments and hatreds but by the elites who owed repayment to Jews from whom they had borrowed large sums of money.)

    This happened more than once. The perils of lending large sums to the same people who are “the high and the low justice”. Basically, the cops and the courts.

    Knights Templar, for example. It is far easier to eliminate one’s creditors when one is an absolute ruler than it is to pay them.

    • #2
    • October 26, 2020, at 2:38 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  3. Arahant Member

    The Reticulator: Is it really possible that epidemic controls can end up that way? Could it still happen in our enlightened age?

    Of course it could. It practically is happening. Our dear governor has basically said the pain will continue until we elect Biden. Nothing about human nature has changed in the last several thousand years.

    • #3
    • October 26, 2020, at 2:40 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  4. Old Bathos Moderator

    A major difference between this “plague” and those centuries ago is that we could have had the advantages of science and rapid mass communication.

    However, we did not really follow the science (e.g., schools are not fully open) and we used mass communication to promote a unified message of fear and mandatory futile gestures almost as if there were some built-in primitive response that was instinctively released.

    There are a lot of people who are itching to shout “Repent and bring out your dead” and they are all wearing mask types that don’t really work and they have occupations unaffected by lockdowns, much like the status of the clergy of old.

    • #4
    • October 26, 2020, at 5:05 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  5. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The Reticulator: But Cohn doesn’t get all ideological about it. His book is mostly a telling of what did happen in response to epidemics, and a short summary of my listening so far would be: All sorts of things happened. All-encompassing generalizations are hard to come by.

    All-encompassing generalizations are always hard to come by (wait, did I just make one? I did…. whoops).

    But they are awfully tempting – we want the simple answers, we want the easy lessons with memorable didactic statements. Unfortunately the quest for such things often makes people stupid in the end – knowing lots of things, but most of ’em wrong.

    • #5
    • October 26, 2020, at 10:38 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker Coolidge

    You’d have gotten my “like” some days ago, but we in Calif were under “Major Power Shut Down” to save us from fires caused by downed power lines.

    I had some worries Newsom was gonna keep us without power until after the election. But for once I misjudged him.

    • #6
    • October 29, 2020, at 11:13 PM PDT
    • 2 likes