Disease: The Ultimate Annihilator

Throughout history, disease has plagued mankind, whether that be Measles, Mumps, Black Death, or more recently, Ebola and Zika Virus. Disease was the greatest consequence from our time of accelerated interconnection because it allowed for lower class European citizens to access more wealth, resources, and societal power, caused a massive loss of population among South American and European nations during the Black Death and Columbian Exchange periods, and finally, disease spurred medical and public health innovations that kept citizens healthier and made cities and towns less likely to fall to plague. It could be said that ideas, people, or goods were the most consequential in impacting our world, but I disagree with this because of the unique way disease brought devastation and forced change and innovation among every part of our society, from the poorest peasant to the wealthiest king. Disease allowed for living European peasants to gain access to new wealth and resources. According to an article by the Constitutional Rights Foundation, Black Death lowered long term food and rent prices while simultaneously strengthening wages and benefits for the remaining living peasants of Europe (Black Death). This had a large impact on humanity because it gave the general laborers that powered the world’s growing economy the will and desire to rebel for the working conditions they knew they deserved. With the money and better resources that laborers and commonfolk now had access to, they were propelled to greater heights, both through economic advantage and social change. According to C.N. Trueman at History Learning Site, the Black Plague created significant leverage for peasants to gain societal ground and mount what would famously become the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 (Trueman). This revolt sprung from the fight between the people of the upper echelon of society and peasants for the removal of unfair taxation and poor labor practices by the rich and wealthy (Trueman). This was a massive consequence of interconnection at the time, as the poor were able to earn themselves better lives whilst the societal hierarchy of medieval England was heavily challenged because they had to battle two savage and wild foes: ravaging disease and fierce public upheaval. During this time of interconnection, populations were annihilated by disease, from the Black Plague in Europe to the societies of South America during the period of Spanish conquest. Disease caused a wildly large drop in the populations of Afro-Eurasia and South America. According to History Today, the Black Plague killed an estimated 50 million people, or 60% of Europe's population at the time (Benedictow). This sudden and huge loss of population created a situation in Europe that was completely unprecedented, as the rich and poor were both ravaged by disease, leaving all of the continent’s citizens writhing by the effects of the loss of whole families and towns. This left a serious lack of skilled workers such as craftsmen and priests, meaning that Europe's economy as a whole, but especially that of the rich, lagged for the foreseeable future as they recovered from the plague. This changed humanity forever because it shaped the way Europe’s people and economy would function to this day. According to PBS, diseases such as Spanish Flu, Measles, and Smallpox killed an estimated 80-95% of Native Americans (The Story Of... Smallpox – and other Deadly Eurasian Germs). This made a huge impact on lives in the human period of interconnectedness because it allowed for Spaniards to steal every possible resource they could from the Native people, making them wealthy in the process from silver and sugar (The Story Of... Smallpox – and other Deadly Eurasian Germs). With the natives having little to no resistance to common Spanish bacteria, Spaniards were able to sweep through the Americas, plundering wherever they pleased because the natives were completely distraught, unable to fight back. When the Spanish finished conquering the Americas, our world’s economy was also forever changed, as currency and people flowed throughout the Americas and into Europe, Africa, and Asia. All of this was because disease had disabled Natives from ever having a chance to defend against their invaders, making this one of the greatest consequences of interconnection. Disease forced medical innovation upon the people of medieval Europe. According to the work of Joseph A. Legan, an increase in anatomical studies, but particularly dissections of the human body, were a byproduct of the plague in Europe (Legan). This is important as being able to examine the insides of the human body, plague or no plague, gave important details as to our bodily functions, different types of surgeries, and the different ways plague affected the human organs, such as the heart and lungs (Legan). This work was spread across the continent and used to prevent another plague and thus another mass death.  Another example of a medical innovation was the new care and usage of hospitals after the plague. According to an article by Sheila Sweetinburgh, hospitals before the plague were places where the sick came to stay and isolate themselves from society, rather than actually be treated for a disease or ailment (Sweetinburgh, Legan). In the new age, post-plague, hospitals became much cleaner and modern. When patients came to a hospital, they could expect for a doctor to actually attempt to treat them and they could also expect clean floors and linens (Legan). Having cleaner and more functional hospitals was instrumental in preventing plague and allowed for lengthier and more productive lifespans for citizens throughout Europe, directly impacting their economic benefits and making health care innovations due to disease one of the most important things that came from our period of accelerated interconnectedness.  Through allowing for peasants and common laborers to access increased resources and the power to develop and revolt against societal wrongs, a massive loss of population, and finally fast and reliable innovation in hospitals and medicine, disease provided the most influential consequence of interconnection. It could be said that any of the three other options, goods, ideas, or people, had the greatest consequence on humanities period of accelerated interconnection, but disease was the most consequential on society because of its widespread and unrelenting impacts upon every human to grace the earth.