In previous blogs, I considered the shielding effects endemic disease have had historically against colonization and exploitation. Reflecting once again on this while recently contemplating the history of epidemics due to COVID it became increasingly apparent that throughout historical plaques national outsiders are often inextricably linked with immunological ones. The seemingly unchanged association of foreign peoples and the threat of disease is an unfortunate but hardly surprising one as the conflation of outsider with dangerous immunological novelty for the in-group is perhaps what shapes society itself.
Among the strongest advocates for these views are Professor Randy Thornhill and Dr. Corey Fincher who together demonstrated an association between high pathologic burden and increased collectivism in a society. Collectivist societies were noted to be “more xenophobic and more ethnocentric than individualist cultures” suggesting a link between increased in and out grouping and living under greater immune threat. These considerations are of particular importance now, not only for explaining the recurrent patterns of societal behavior we see during pandemics divided by decades or centuries but because it is likely we are about to see a unique era of a resurgent immunological burden to our nation in the face of the crumbling infrastructure and climate change. Already we are seeing the northward trek of Chagas, along with the reemergence of endogenous but long-suppressed parasites like hookworm. An understanding of this theory is also politically valuable in understanding why assertions by certain political elements that immigration itself is “like a disease” are so effective as the same response honed over millennia to secure one’s own community and bar entry of external elements is evoked by both.