Tuesday 24 January 2012

Would a global pandemic plague be the least-worst scenario?


Yesterday, I again came across reference to the impact of the Black Death plague on medieval society. It was a quite extraordinary phenomenon: so sudden, so universal, so devastating - and I simply cannot imagine what it was like to experience the death of around half the population within a short time.


Yet, what is remarkable is how little affected medieval society was.

There are apparently only three brief references to the Black Death in the whole of Chaucer; and the fact of it does not seem to have made much impact on either Langland or the Gawain poet.

It is, in fact, quite easy almost to forget the plague when discussing the history of England. There were 'benefits': apparently peasant wages doubled after the Black Death (due to shortage of labour) and this effect took some hundreds of years to be lost. Indeed, it is the post-plague benefits which tend to get empasised these days.


Of course, medieval society was segmentary - consisting of many almost-self-sufficient segments or units.

Modern society is by contrast massively interdependent - so the effect of a pandemic would be very different and in some respects probably much more devastating, and much harder to recover from.

In addition, all the non-governmental levels of organization (the trades, professions, churches etc) have been systematically attacked and mostly destroyed over recent decades.


Anyway, with the impending collapse of the Western economy, organisation and capability (leaving aside culture) - which has been sustaining the world through its food, transport, medicine; there will be some kind of major mortality from disease, starvation or violence - or combinations thereof.

We are faced with the near certainty, the 'necessity' of billions of casualties worldwide, from some cause or another.

And I wonder whether a global pandemic might be the least-worst, most merciful of these options?


(Although, for the reasons stated above, I suspect that pandemic might lead to massive violence and starvation as well, since modern society - perhaps I mean just British society - lacks the segmentary mechanisms for preventing them.)


These reflections were prompted by these irony-tinged biological reflections from Greg Cochran concerning the benefits of near-extinction to a species:



Note: I am a Christian and an evolutionary theorist, and Cochran is the other one - he is Roman Catholic. However, his IQ is approximately double mine.



Despite the internet meme, which I unwittingly propagated, I have discovered (by asking him) that Greg Cochran is NOT a Roman Catholic: a Christian, yes, but not RC.



S. Brady said...

So Greg Cochran's IQ is >200? Is he a practising Roman Catholic or was he just born one? If the former, how does he reconcile his knowledge of evolution with his religious beliefs?

Bruce Charlton said...

@S Brady - well, if you are assuming that my IQ is above 100, that must logically be the case!

(Except that IQ is not a ratio scale - so 'double' has, strictly, no meaning wrt IQ.)

I don't know anything about GC's RC-ism other than the fact of it (and that he is a father of many children: I think five?).

How does he reconcile? I have no idea. Maybe the way I do?


James Higham said...

Assuming Bruce is 140 to 160, then GC must be 300+.


Bruce Charlton said...

Or - if I was in the top 2 percent, GC could be in the top 1 percent; not so hard to believe...

Simon said...

Or nuclear war (a very real, perhaps imminent possibility).

Bruce Charlton said...

@Simon - yes, you are right. Although it might count as 'violence' a global *nuclear* war would be something different again.

JP said...

Apropos of the same idea in The Onion this week:

Scientists: 'Look, One-Third Of The Human Race Has To Die For Civilization To Be Sustainable, So How Do We Want To Do This?'

Scientists say at least 2 billion dead bodies will be burned and converted into fossil fuels.

WASHINGTON—Saying there's no way around it at this point, a coalition of scientists announced Thursday that one-third of the world population must die to prevent wide-scale depletion of the planet's resources—and that humankind needs to figure out immediately how it wants to go about killing off more than 2 billion members of its species.

Representing multiple fields of study, including ecology, agriculture, biology, and economics, the researchers told reporters that facts are facts: Humanity has far exceeded its sustainable population size, so either one in three humans can choose how they want to die themselves, or there can be some sort of government-mandated liquidation program—but either way, people have to start dying.

And soon, the scientists confirmed.

"I'm just going to level with you—the earth's carrying capacity will no longer be able to keep up with population growth, and civilization will end unless large swaths of human beings are killed, so the question is: How do we want to do this?" Cambridge University ecologist Dr. Edwin Peters said. "Do we want to give everyone a number and implement a death lottery system? Incinerate the nation's children? Kill off an entire race of people? Give everyone a shotgun and let them sort it out themselves?"

"Completely up to you," he added, explaining he and his colleagues were "open to whatever." "Unfortunately, we are well past the point of controlling overpopulation through education, birth control, and the empowerment of women. In fact, we should probably kill 300 million women right off the bat."

Because the world's population may double by the end of the century, an outcome that would lead to a considerable decrease in the availability of food, land, and water, researchers said that, bottom line, it would be helpful if a lot of people chose to die willingly, the advantage being that these volunteers could decide for themselves whether they wished to die slowly, quickly, painfully, or peacefully.

Additionally, the scientists noted that in order to stop the destruction of global environmental systems in heavily populated regions, there's no avoiding the reality that half the world's progeny will have to be sterilized.

"The longer we wait, the higher the number of people who will have to die, so we might as well just get it over with," said Dr. Chelsea Klepper, head of agricultural studies at Purdue Univer­sity, and the leading proponent of a worldwide death day in which 2.3 billion people would kill themselves en masse at the exact same time. "At this point, it's merely a question of coordination. If we can get the populations of New York City, Los Angeles, Beijing, India, Europe, and Latin America to voluntarily off themselves at 6 p.m. EST on June 1, we can kill the people that need to be killed and the planet can finally start renewing its resources."

Thus far, humanity has been presented with a great variety of death options, among them, poisoning the world's water supply with cadmium, picking one person per household to be killed in the privacy of his or her home, mass beheadings, and gathering 2.3 billion people all in one place and obliterating them with a single hydrogen bomb.

Sources confirmed that if a death solution is not in place by Mar. 31, the U.N., in the interest of preserving the human race, will mobilize its peacekeeping forces and gun down as many people as necessary.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - are you *sure* that this is satire? Excellent piece.