Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - PERSPECTIV­E -

You are read­ing this be­cause of your ancestors’ im­mune sys­tem.

The odds of your pre­de­ces­sors sur­viv­ing the myr­iad mi­crobes that have stalked hu­man­ity ev­ery step of its march to­ward be­com­ing Earth’s dom­i­nant species were in­cal­cu­la­bly long. More Homo sapi­ens have prob­a­bly died from in­fec­tious dis­ease than all other causes com­bined.

Only in the past 150 years, owing to nu­tri­tional and med­i­cal ad­vances, have we emerged from liv­ing in con­stant worry that a cough or fever or scrape might be a death sen­tence. But that fear of in­fec­tious dis­ease re­mains em­bed­ded in the brain, as vis­ceral as our sud­den alarm when en­coun­ter­ing a snake in the wild. De­spite all our med­i­cal and tech­no­log­i­cal break­throughs, when con­fronted by the prospect of an epi­demic, we are not that dif­fer­ent from a farmer in an an­cient Sume­rian set­tle­ment mak­ing of­fer­ings to a local fer­til­ity de­ity so that he might sur­vive the mys­te­ri­ous pus­tules killing ev­ery­one in town. …

Panic is ex­haust­ing. Only so many witches can be tossed into wells or rolls of toi­let pa­per hoarded be­fore knee-jerk anx­i­ety pro­gresses to a steady state of fear. …

If you want to panic, go right ahead. It’s what we do. It’s what your ancestors did. Then be afraid. Even­tu­ally, how­ever, roll up your sleeves and get to work, scrub­bing this bug back to what­ever its host species hap­pens to be. We’ll get there.

Hu­man­ity has so far sur­vived ev­ery mi­crobe that has jumped the species bar­rier, and we will sur­vive this one.

Karl Taro Green­feld, The At­lantic

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