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EpidemicsHate and Compassion from the Plague of Athens to AIDS$
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Samuel K. Cohn, Jr.

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198819660

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198819660.001.0001

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(p.531) 24 Conclusion

Samuel K. Cohn, Jr.

Oxford University Press

The conclusion summarizes the findings of the book’s investigation of the hypothesis that epidemics which were mysterious and without known cures were the most likely to provoke hatred, blame, and violence towards ‘the other’ and the disease’s victims. These assumptions are based on a handful of examples, such as the Black Death, cholera riots of the 1830s, and the US experience of AIDS. In a brief survey of the book’s descriptions of epidemics across time, the conclusion highlights several key insights into their socio-psychological consequences, which are richer than the dominant hypothesis would lead us to expect. Epidemics could possess the power to negate class, race, ethnic, and religious differences by spurring compassion and self-sacrifice. Despite the laboratory revolution, collective violence provoked by disease appears overwhelmingly to have been a modern phenomenon but has never constituted the general rule.

Keywords:   pestilence, blame, violence, compassion, race, ethnicity, class conflict, physicians, nurses

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