By Jeffrey Tucker, American Institute for Economic Research
Every pre-modern society assigned to some group the task of bearing the burden of new pathogens. Usually, the designation of the unclean was assigned based on race, language, religion, or class. There was no mobility out of this caste. They were the dirty, the diseased, the untouchables. Depending on the time and place, they were segregated geographically, and the designation followed from generation to generation. This system was sometimes codified in religion or law; more commonly this caste system was baked into social convention.
In the ancient world, the burden of disease was assigned to people not born as “free;” that is, as part of the class permitted to participate in public affairs. The burden was borne by the workers, merchants, and slaves who mostly lived away from the city – unless the rich fled the cities during a pandemic. Then the poor suffered while the feudal lords went to their manors in the country for the duration, forcing the burden of burning out the virus on others. From a biological perspective, they served the purpose of operating like sandbags to keep those in city free of disease. Pathogens were something to be carried and absorbed by them and not us. The elites were invited to look down on them, even though it was these people – the lower castes – who were operating as the biological benefactors of everyone else.