What comes to mind when you hear the phrase "The Great Stupidity" concerning medicine? Let's be more specific than the entire American healthcare system—that's a topic for another blog. Today, I will discuss this phenomenon in the context of my new COVID-19 book, The Great Stupidity, which highlights the parallels between the biopolitical reaction to COVID-19 and the Black Death, its 800-year-old forerunner.
You'd think there's nothing similar about a plague that swept through Europe and the rest of the world during the 1300s and its 21st-century contemporary other than an overarching pattern of failed experiments and death. You'd think that, but it won't be anywhere near the truth, as you'll see in this medical fiction books online.
3D Fiction Pick of the Month: The Geriatrics Vengeance Club
The Great Stupidity of Ritualistic Behavior
Did the world not develop ritualistic behavior during the pandemic? Nothing so intense as the flagellants sweeping through towns and whipping themselves as a way to ask for forgiveness and mercy, mind you.
However, we let the fear of biological death get the better of us; we locked up our homes, emptied the roads, and let something that we couldn't even see drive us to the point of destitution. Do you want to see something ritualistic? Just watch the inside of a plane during the pandemic: people sitting one seat apart and wearing facemasks—sometimes headgear, seeing the other as a threat.
Our recent reaction to the pandemic was no different from The Great Mortality almost a millennium ago. We adopted ritualistic behavior at face value—sacrificed our freedom for it—just as we did during the 14th century. If they had self-proclaimed prophets, then we have elevated so-called experts to the status of prophets now.
Unwarranted Extreme Behavior
We canceled, shunned, or humiliated anyone who defied the new status quo; we called anyone who doubted the COVID-19 vaccine an "anti-vaxxer" and portrayed them as a walking, talking threat to our lives, and for what? A pandemic that is nowhere near as fatal or alarming as the Black Death was back in the day.
COVID-19 has taken six million lives, hardly one percent of the world's total population. In contrast, the Black Death wiped 40% of the population off the face of the Earth, and that was before airplanes made the world a global village.
At least the flagellants had a good excuse for self-harm. We don't, and that's precisely why COVID-19 wins the award for this century's "Great Stupidity." May there not be another in this century.
Trading Your Rights
When the first country (China) went into lockdown, it was met with a sigh of relief because everyone thought it would clamp down on the source of the virus. As more countries followed, the lockdown was seen less as a violation of our rights and more as a healthcare reform and "public health strategy."
Here's how I saw the lockdown: Our freedom in exchange for life. The lockdown was a bad swap that saw us hand over our freedom of movement for the wider public interest.
What it did was take away our individual rights. Here, we see another parallel between The Great Mortality and COVID-19. As I mentioned in my book, soldiers forced people into quarantine and self-isolation for weeks during the Black Death, taking away not only their freedom but also their lives, seeing as many died from starvation instead of the plague.
The Great Stupidity prevails in every sphere of life. It prevails in airports, where TSA agents touch our bodies without consent and go through our personal effects for our safety. It also prevails on digital platforms, where not even your search history is sacred.
The fear of natural death forced us to trade our rights during the pandemic. We were united in our misery behind closed doors. Out in the open, however, we walked in the opposite direction as soon as we saw another human approaching; we avoided each other like the plague (pun intended), and therein lies "The Great Stupidity" ad finitum.
Circa Pre-COVID-19: More Instances of The Great Stupidity
The Great Stupidity is global. As long as a government controls your healthcare system, you've likely been a victim of their biopolitics, the global pandemic notwithstanding.
Now let's take a closer look at certain instances of The Great Stupidity from ancient times that may or may not have led to better healthcare reforms.
The Miasma Theory is an obsolete medical concept that suggests unhealthy vapors (miasma) emanating from decomposing organic matter was the cause of cholera, chlamydia, and the Black Death.
I don't know about you, but the idea that bad odor could kill you might be taking it a tad too far, and, trust me, they did go the extra mile to battle the deadly smells if this "cholera preventive costume," bird hats, and wax pants are any indication.
Before we get carried away by the smelly jokes, let's clarify one thing. As poorly thought out as the Miasma Theory was, it led to the germ theory of disease. Under this prevailing theory, we accepted that viruses and bacteria, their smell notwithstanding, may lead to disease. With this acceptance came improved sanitary measures—doctors washing their hands between patients, and so on—and a dramatic fall in cholera and other preventative illnesses.
We've all heard of bloodletting to some degree because, guess what, it's still in practice, albeit less so than during The Great Mortality. The concept of bloodletting emerges from an archaic medical concept of humors: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. The human body was thought to be made of these four humors.
Buboes (sores), on the other hand, were believed to signify a humor imbalance. Extracting the excess blood (bloodletting) would restore this balance. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it worked for a few and failed most, most miserably, leading to no results or death by infection, blood loss, or both.
The practice made a comeback during COVID-19—saw that coming a mile away—but we have yet to hear something from the practitioners. I'd much rather use the self-isolation to read a book instead of letting someone bleed me dry.
Self-Isolation Read: The Adventures of Yadel the Dreidel
Tuskegee Syphilis Study (1932–1972)
The next contender for "The Great Stupidity" on our list differs from its forerunners. For one, it's not so much a remedy as a deeply racist experiment reminiscent of the World War II era. For the other, it was done for purely selfish reasons, not to save lives but to satisfy the morbid curiosity of a powerful few.
The Tuskegee Syphilis Study was a government-funded endeavor that lasted 40 years too long. It denied treatment to 399 African Americans who tested positive for syphilis, giving them placebos instead of medicine, even after penicillin was introduced in 1947. The purpose of the study: tracking the progression of untreated syphilis. The study was eventually abandoned, but not before killing 128 people.
Fear and Discrimination During the Influenza Pandemic
During the 1918 flu pandemic, as with COVID-19, the government gave stay-at-home orders and disseminated social distancing measures. Their efforts started showing results after 10 days. Those days, however, were long enough to spread hysteria and fear and make people who had the flu too reluctant to come forward for treatment.
As with those who had COVID-19, people with the flu were seen as threats. They included nurses and doctors whose deaths scared other professionals away, making those who had the flu reluctant to come forward, continuing the vicious cycle. Some died of pneumonia, while others sought help after days of experiencing the symptoms and self-medicating.
Like COVID-19, the flu pandemic also gave rise to a xenophobic wave. Also known by its misnomer, the "Spanish Flu," this pandemic quickly became associated with the Spanish-speaking population, giving rise to travel bans, economic restrictions, job loss, and whatnot. This behavior, while completely bizarre, mirrors the anti-Asian sentiments that spread through the globe when COVID-19 raged through the city of Wuhan and eventually made its way to the west.
A Multimedia Glimpse at The Great Stupidity
Take a closer look at instances of The Great Stupidity over the years through various media, including podcasts, radio interviews, and medical fiction and non-fiction book online store. Rethink every right you've taken for granted and ceded due to widespread fear and discrimination.
If you're one for deep introspection with the odd chuckle, buy The Geriatrics Vengeance Club online, and don't forget to check out its soundtrack for an extra-special experience. Stay tuned for more podcasts, books, and interviews. In the meantime, check my blog updates for some more humorous nuggets of truth.