Sunday, June 05, 2016


Have you heard of the sweating sickness? It was a plague that terrorized England, around the 16th century and killed thousands within a year, and then disappeared suddenly. No one really knows why. Symptoms include chills, pain, fever, sweating (obviously), and very quick death.

Have you wondered why we get sick? I always assumed it was a side-effect of the very existence of the germs within our bodies, that they didn't mean to make us sick. But sometimes, apparently, they do.

We know that there are billions of micro-organisms living in, on and around us, in a largely symbiotic fashion. In many ways, we would not be able to live without these "germs", and they without us to feed off of. But there are some greedier microbes that aren't happy with what they have. They don't want to live and let live. They, like fanatics of all kinds, want to spread their ideology (through biological terrorism) all over the world. What these creatures do is they make you really sick so that these microbes get a free ride on your fluids to other hosts. Sometimes, they even kill you in the process.

Of course, lacking brains, they are unaware of what they are doing. But then, some might say that ignorance itself is a sin, so I'll just go on judging them.

But getting back to the point, some germs make you sick so that they can spread. But sometimes, they evolve to become much too effective at their jobs. And such, it is thought, was the case with sleeping sickness. It was too effective- it killed its host before he even had a chance to shake hands with or sneeze at anyone else. This is one possible reason why the disease disappeared so quickly.

Speaking of disease, today is World Environment Day, and the Earth is sick, largely because of us. We are exterminating species, consuming natural resources at an unsustainable rate and in general giving our poor planet a bad case of "the humans". It appears that we have now become evil parasites of the sort that make their host (our planet in this case) ill for their selfish gains. The only problem is, we don't have another host.

Perhaps, like the virus that caused sleeping sickness, we have become much too efficient at destroying nature and consuming resources, and maybe, just like that virus, we will die out too quickly. The Earth will rise once again from the ashes, and life may even go on. But for humans to go on, perhaps it's time for some introspection as a species. We know we can do better. We can fund research in the improvement of the efficiency and costs of renewable energy. We can work towards reducing population and conserving wildlife. We can change laws and change habits. We may need to change the very way we live. But at least we will live.

We may have become global citizens and today recognize humans of all shapes and colors as deserving of the same human rights. We have learned to extend our empathy across our borders. We must now learn to extend this empathy towards other creatures and towards our home. We only have the one.

In the words of Ron Weasley, we need to sort out our priorities.

Note: I read about the sleeping sickness in an entertaining and educational book by Bill Bryson called "A Short History of Nearly Everything".

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