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August 3th, 2002
Today was a study day: reading and making notes. I study the social impact of an epidemic that appeared in the 1830s. Thinking about the plague that started in 2020 is inevitable.
Epidemics yield fear for many reasons. The most obvious is that the disease provokes suffering and death. Anxiety is also born from facing the unknown. I remember that in the archives of Zacatecas, I found that in 1832 cholera caused fewer deaths than smallpox, but it generated more fear. Smallpox was a known plague; cholera was not.
Finding a discernible cause of disease helps people calm fear: there is an explanation for what is happening. In the 1830s, no one could imagine the existence of bacilli. In the 21st century, many people still don't know how viruses operate and how vaccines work.
An easy answer that explains an epidemic is that someone has caused it, usually an outsider, like the strangers who walked through Paris in 1832, accused of poisoning the water.
As Karine Salomé says, rumors of poisoning seek to give meaning to the threatening epidemic and thus reassure public opinion, but at the same time contribute to reinforcing apprehension.
The deep-rooted belief that epidemics are divine punishment leads to the search for offenders. The culprits are usually the others, like the Catholic Irish in 1832 New York.
The cholera epidemic was accompanied by acts of violence against specific people in various parts of the world: from Russia to England. Political processes stimulated violence in many places, as in revolutionary Paris or Guatemalan indigenous communities.
The Covid 19 pandemic has also spawned conspiracy theories. Some believe governments created the virus to kill people. Others think there was no epidemic and the poison is in the vaccines. Foreigners are often blamed for the spread of the disease. Violence has also been present. In different parts of the world, the police repressed people who walked the streets when it was prohibited. In Jalisco, Mexico, they murdered one man who was not wearing a mask.
Political acts have also unleashed violence amid the context of the pandemic. Among the crowd that rioted in Washington on January 6, 2021, many people denied the existence of the Covid pandemic.
Salomé has demonstrated that, in the case of the Paris "poisoners" massacres, the authorities facilitated violence. Something similar to what happened with violence in the Covid 19 pandemic.