Civilization And Its Epidemics

The life-saving successes of modern medicine are frequently cited in order to challenge anarchists who are critical of civilization. What the champions of medical science ignore, however, are the dangerous failures of this type of medicine.

Most recently, the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledged that antibiotics are proving useless for a growing number of diseases. According to the CDC, antibiotic resistance will become a bigger killer than cancer by 2050. Currently, over 23,000 people in the U.S. die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections.

The first annual report by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, released in 2019, warned that there are “increasingly dire risks” of epidemics that could spread around the world, potentially killing tens of millions of people. The report cites the climate crisis, rising migration, urbanisation, and lack of water as the main reasons that such diseases are spreading faster. Since then, the new coronavirus has already killed over 1,486 people as of mid-February (the numbers are likely much higher than what has been reported so far).

As noted above, the lethal nature of such epidemics is enabled, rather than prevented, by what capitalist civilization called “progress”. Globalization – the result of capitalism’s need to expand into more and more of the world – has increased our mobility, incentivized people to pack themselves ever more tightly in cities, and further encroached on wild animals’ territories, all of which encourage the spread of disease. Global pandemics will worsen as long as we continue such practices.

While viruses that originate in already marginalized black and brown regions of the world tend to get the most attention, it’s actually the common flu that is likely to cause the most deaths. Around 50 millions people died in 1918-1919 from the Spanish flu; public health experts called it “the worst pandemic in modern history”.

Strengthening our health and wellness is extremely important, but that is not the goal of the modern medical industry. That industry developed in the early stages of capitalism to take power away from women and other traditional holistic healers, bestowing authority on “experts” with little understanding of the human body and whose studies are influenced, consciously or not, by the needs of global capitalism. Health and happiness are, however, the goal of most anarchists. Anarchists are champions of life – not of prolonging one’s existence, but of deepening our health and happiness to the fullest.

The project of moving towards a healthy and happy society – one in which balance and relationship between living beings is restored – cannot happen in the context of “civilization”. Civilization is defined by its unsustainability, the need of one group to exploit another for its survival, which leads at best to alienation and at worst to death. The solution to the worsening state of the world’s health cannot be found in the industries that produced it; we must carve out our own paths towards physical and spiritual well-being.

(originally appeared in Anathema VOL. VI ISSUE II)

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