The Connection Between Disease and Authoritarianism

“If you’re not vaccinated, you’re not nearly as smart as I thought you were,” President Biden told reporters in late July at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and of course he was right. It’s not impossible that every dose of the vaccine contains an invisible microchip placed there by Bill Gates that, on being activated by a Jewish space laser operated by a cabal of pedophiles working out of a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C., will track your every move, but the probability is low.

Curiously, though, a more understanding remark was made by former President Trump just days before, when he told supporters in Arizona that “I recommend you take [the vaccine], but I believe in your freedoms 100 percent.” For there is an entire scientific literature on how infectious diseases promote authoritarianism.

The field was launched in 2008 by a group of scholars from the Universities of New Mexico and British Columbia who noted that, across the globe, the greater the incidence of infectious diseases (including malaria, dengue, leprosy, typhus and tuberculosis), the more collectivist was the culture. And collectivist meant authoritarian, intolerant of dissent, intolerant of women’s rights, supportive of strong government, supportive of nepotism, a dislike of strangers, intolerant of innovation, and a belief in religion.

In contrast, those parts of the globe that were relatively free of infectious diseases tended to be individualistic in their culture. And individualistic meant democratic, liberal (in the classical sense of the word), freedom-loving, supportive of women’s rights, openness to strangers, and an openness to new ideas. The story is outlined in the 2014 book The Parasite-Stress Theory of Values and Sociality by Randy Thornhill and Corey Fincher.  

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