Love thy neighbor in a time of Cholera

Posted: May 3, 2011 in books, psychological needs, tribe
Tags: , ,

On the plane ride back from New York two weeks back I read The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson about an 1840’s outbreak of cholera in London, England. I had picked it up to see how a society deals with a widespread and mysterious threat. Of the multiple potential causes of the apocalypse I think a fast-moving virus outbreak is my leading contender for most likely cause of the fall of modern-living.  At least the fear of it could cause the greatest media hysteria and therefore become the most likely self-fulfilling prophecy.  The fear of a fast spreading disease strikes a deep frigtening cord among humans (See 28 weeks later) because it has the most unknowns. Where did the disease come from? How far will the disease spread? How is it being spread?

1840’s London had even more unknowns when dealing with viruses, I wanted to read about people’s reactions and what role fear plays in destruction.  One of the things that struck me, was how willing people were to help out their neighbors.  Even though they did not know what was killing people, even though they suspected it had to dow with something in the air (it wasn’t, it was the water) the people still ventured out to help and console their neighbors.

One of the givens the preppers (and most post-apocalyptic movies) assume is when society is faced with a great struggle, we will turn on ourselves.  Thunderdome teaches that the end times will be a dog-eat-dog world.   I have been debating this given.  The world’s most recent disaster, Japan, has multiple stories of communities coming together.  This article in particular has been bouncing around in my head.

I realize anecdotal evidence could point to both people helping and hurting each other in crisis.  Also an earthquake, or a flood, is different that a fundamental break down in society.  After all, once the waters recede, our assumption is that we will need to rebuild.  Usually humans assume they are facing one freak occurrence and not an entire breakdown of everything.  The mindset to survive in the long-term might be different from surviving what is perceived as a shorter problem.

On the other hand, when civil society crumbles, we are most likely not going to clearly see this as the end.  Hopefully, we will have built enough survival bonds during the first few emergencies with others that by the time the end of society is obvious those bonds will be strong enough to sustain us.  I certainly hope so.

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