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December 06, 2002

Collapse of Civilization Imminent, End

Collapse of Civilization Imminent, End Times Nigh, just like they have been for the past 2000 years.

Friends of Hraka the Daily Pundit and the the Feces Flinging Monkey have created a blaze of smallpox controversy. Both think that any biological attack using smallpox is the Trump of Doom, a theory which I can see the logic in but ultimately find untenable.

If there is a smallpox attack, then I don't think there'll be a lot of casualties in the West. Since the population of the West is not only the presumed target but the vector through which the rest of the world is infected, I also think most casualties will be limited to the West. Given the reasons I'm about to go into below, I think a smart adversary would plan a biological attack on the Third World rather than the First, as public health measures are so much weaker in a third world country than they are in the West. You need to infect a lot of people and hope for the best, and I think the easiest way to do that would be in a country where the infrastructure needed to fight smallpox is sketchy to non-existent.

The reason I think the impact of a smallpox will be limited is because smallpox is spread through prolonged face to face contact,* and the country is going to shut down the day the first case is announced. Everyone is going indoors and is not going to come out until they're vaccinated, unless it's for an absolute necessity, like food, and then they'll wear masks, gloves, and avoid touching people like they were Howard Hughes reincarnated. Our over developed fear of germs is what will end up saving us, as it lends itself to the the ring vaccination approach adopted by the Bush administration very nicely. That said, I wish he'd chop whatever is needed to vaccinate everyone off the missile defense budget and get it over with. And frankly, if George has evidence that Saddam has weaponized smallpox then the nuclear missiles should already be in the air, as far as I'm concerned.

I spent 8 hours today at my job, hundreds of miles away from my physical workplace. It's a feature of the society we live in, one that is trending towards less and less face to face interaction among the population. People complain about that all the time, but it's a really good defense against disease.

I know the exact vector that transmits 90% of the diseases in my house. It's daycare. The Ngnat sees far more people in her day than do either of her parents, and while it might be.....interesting to work from home for a month or two while we keep her home from daycare, it could certainly be done. And it will be, the minute I hear of a smallpox case. The economy will take a hit, but civilization's not going to collapse. Indeed, the last time the West face a disease that killed off a third of the population, there was an economic boom.

European economy and society changed drastically following the Black Death. Because so many people had died, there was a huge labor shortage. This contributed to the end of the feudal system, since serfs could often leave their manors and make a better living in cities. In addition to better work opportunities, survivors of the plague had a surplus of material goods. Many of the dead had left behind entire estates and other belongings. These goods were available through inheritance and looting. At this time, the pawnshop business, made famous by the Medici family, became extremely successful. Through these factors, Europe experienced an overall rise in its standard of living.

Frankly, it's the looting I look forward to. Must be the Democrat in me.

If you're worried about some weaponized, airborne form of the virus, then nothing I've said here has made any impact, but invest $40 in a case of surgical masks. The good ones filter out particles far smaller than the smallpox virus. I'll probably buy a case of latex gloves, as well. Should you a pressing desire to buy either right now, my old company sells them.

*Yes, some cases have been traced to airborne contamination, but they're not only rare, they almost always occur inside hospitals or other buildings, where the virus is able to last longer that it would out of doors.

Posted by Bigwig at December 6, 2002 11:24 PM | TrackBack
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