Why Nature Is Trying To Kill Us Part II

It takes an economist to rationalize the carnage of untold millions of people as a good way to free up resources. I’m sure that these people are thrilled about the fact that south-east Asia and several other parts of the world have similar statistics. “Wonderful!” you can hear them gloating. “With all those deadbeats out of the way, think how rich the survivors will be!”

But there is hope! There is always hope! No, not that a new terminal disease will strike economists... but that tomorrow, maybe a magic therapy will be invented to cure AIDS, then all those innocent people will be saved from the prospect of the horrible wasting death.

Well, folks, the magic therapy is unlikely. Actually more unlikely than people might think. Due to a variety of factors, there is not going to be a magic therapy anytime soon. Maybe never.

But even if there were to be one, and AIDS were to be eradicated from this earth, to be thrown into the incinerator of genetic material along with smallpox, then something else would step into its role.

And we do know this about AIDS’ successor. It will make AIDS look like child’s play. It will make us look back at the good old days when the spread of HIV was fairly contained.

The HIV virus mutates at an astonishing speed. That is the main factor that makes HIV so hard to control. You throw something at it and it changes its makeup so quickly that it soon has no effect. It always seems to stay one step ahead of you. And it is precious few mutational hops away from becoming an aerosol. What does that mean? It means that it could be transmitted like the common cold, through the air itself.

Think of that next time you get on a crowded bus and somebody sneezes.

But HIV itself is only one disease. And in case of its extinction, there will be more than one. Many more. They will keep on coming, harder to defeat and stronger in their lethality.

Paleopathology is the study of historical diseases, and as you can imagine, it is a very controversial field. Since scientists often have nothing more than bones to go by when determining the spread of disease at times before accurate records were kept, it is notoriously difficult to determine the occurrence of any disease which does not leave some form of mark on the bones. However, by some other information we can gather including rare samples of organic tissues somehow preserved through the ages, and various deductions as to the causes of disease today, we can correlate conditions in pre-historic conditions. Thus we can come up with a fairly reasonable estimate of the diseases that did and did not exist back then.

So what do we find?

Many of the diseases which kill people these days were either non-existent in pre-civilization times, or their spread was so limited as to be negligible.

The World Health Organization conducts ongoing statistical surveys as to the causes of death around the world. A recent statistical survey contains detailed breakdowns and rankings of the various diseases that are killing people today.

HIV/AIDS 4.9%

Respiratory Diseases 12.1%

Malignant Tumors 13.6%

Cardiovascular Diseases 30.9%

That’s almost 61% of all deaths in the world for a total number that just about equals the population of mainland Spain. All dead in just one year. Of causes that we can accurately call: Civilization Diseases.

Let’s take a good close look at that number. Well, we all know that HIV/AIDS wasn’t around in the last century, let alone in pre-history, so that 4.9% is a pretty safe bet. Keep in mind that the Respiratory Disease listing does not include tuberculosis, so that figure is primarily attributed to smoking, air pollution, etc. The Malignant Tumor listing is interesting since it seems that most cancers are sparked by various environmental factors in today’s society which simply did not exist in pre-history. Cardiovascular Diseases is the biggest one of them all, greater than the other three put together. As in the case of Malignant Tumors, the primary causes for Cardiovascular Disease, such as stress, diet too rich in some elements, simply did not exist in pre-history. For whatever limited amounts of information we do have about the pre-civilization human, we can be pretty sure of a couple of things: 1) they were fairly laid-back by today’s standards and 2) the main problem was not having enough rich foods, not having too much of them.

But that’s not all. We can actually increase that number by increasing relatively smaller modern killers, such as cirrhosis of the liver which currently kills 1.4% or 775,000 people, and is strictly tied into excessive alcoholic consumption. There is also some reason to believe that diabetes is a fairly modern phenomenon, and it accounts for 1.1% or 600,000 deaths. Plus we can attribute about 0.5% or just a little over a quarter million deaths to other diseases of recent vintage such as the hemorrhagic fevers, Legionnaire’s disease, and others.

Am I saying that of these killers of 64% of today’s people absolutely none of them existed in pre-history? Of course not. I am not a Rousseauist apologist for the Noble Savage. Pre-historic human existence was difficult at best. Paleopathology shows us that many primitive people suffered from various forms of malnutrition, parasitic infestations and accumulated signs of severe injuries and trauma. But I am stating that these Civilized Disease factors were fairly negligible and it would be very surprising if they accounted for as much of one out of ten deaths in pre-civilization days instead of two out of every three as today.

As I stated earlier, paleopathology is a very controversial field. And since scientists enjoy nothing more than arguing with each other until they are blue in the face, paleopathology does have a tendency to attract some fairly loud screamers. However, some of the arguments forwarded to discredit findings in this field are simply too hard to believe. Not just to believe the argument, but to believe that anyone could actually be holding tenure at a major university and still make statements that inane.

For example, the finding that malignant tumors were an insignificant cause of death in prehistoric humans was countered by a statement that since most people died fairly young back then, the tumors would not have a chance to develop.

When I read that, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I would like to encourage this learned scientist to take a stroll with me through my local pediatric cancer ward. He will then be able to meet lots of courageous young people who are being eaten alive by their cancers. Some of these dying youngsters are toddlers! After this little tour I would like to ask this esteemed medical professional to reconsider his position.

Continued in Part III

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