What is behind pandemics that occur one after another

Pandemics caused by unknown pathogens have often been seen in human history, including plague, smallpox, and cholera.

However, in just 20 years since the beginning of the 21st century, new infectious diseases such as SARS, swine flu, MERS, Ebola, Zika, Dengue, and Corona have appeared one after another. This has never happened before. Why did this happen?

For one thing, the world’s population has grown so large that the food industry, such as agriculture, has changed dramatically to feed it.

For example, when considering the livestock industry, in the past, animals grazed only as many livestock in nature to feed their villages and tribes. However, the modern livestock industry cannot be so lenient, and in many cases, pigs, cows, birds, etc., are stuffed indoors to be bred because they are easy to manage.

Of course, antibiotics and other drugs are given to prevent disease, but powerful mutants that are resistant to them can develop. It then causes a mass infection quickly because of the breeding environment.

It can also be transmitted from livestock to humans. In fact, in 2009, a flu from pigs was transmitted to humans, causing a global pandemic.

In addition, reclamation progresses to expand farmland, and the balance of the natural environment may be lost.

We see reports of the habitats of elephants and other animals having been lost in Africa and Latin America owing to avocado cultivation, and of the forest area having decreased as seen by satellite images. In fact, in such cases, bacteria and viruses having lived deep inside the forest can be released.

These unknown bacteria and viruses are spreading rapidly around the world by way of various plants, animals, and people in this age of globalization and the intense exchange of goods and intercourse of people.

In other words, it is believed that the transformation of the livestock industry due to the enormous growth of the food industry and significant changes in the natural environment brought about by land reclamation have triggered new infectious diseases. And the progress of globalization makes that infectious disease a global pandemic.

Furthermore, there is a close relationship between the enlargement of the food industry and globalization. In other words, as a result of the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, free trade was promoted at a tremendous pace and spread all over the world at once. This was called the “triumph of freedom and democracy,” but, in fact, democracy did not spread that much.

At the same time, the value of the free market became absolute. Therefore, efficient mass production and mass sales were considered good. This is because it leads to profit.

In a huge market, it is more effective to make a single item in large quantities in a short time than to make various items in small quantities. Therefore, the methods used in the production of industrial products have come to be used in the food industry. In other words, further industrialization of the food industry took place.

In this way, the same agricultural products are cultivated in large quantities on vast farmlands, and a lot of livestock is collected and fed with a lot of highly nutritious food to quickly gain weight and then rapidly and continuously shipped.

These movements, which have been accelerated since the 1990s, are thought to be one of the factors that have triggered new pandemics one after another in the 21st century.

Let us consider freedom and control

Then, is this inevitable as long as people choose freedom and democracy? To think about it, we must first separate free markets from democracy.

A free market leads to unicity and expansion. The benefits are greater than when a market has some diversity and locality.

Democracy, on the other hand, is linked to diversity. This is because each person has a different way of thinking, values, and behavior. In other words, democracy is like a container that can hold anything, and it cannot be called democracy unless the diversity of people is ensured.

However, the principle of a free market is competitiveness. Value is given to whatever wins.

So, there is essentially a conflict or trade-off between democracy and the free market. What we must consider is how to settle this conflict.

For example, given the growing world population, efficient food production is necessary. Then do we have to accept the risk of a new pandemic?

Perhaps some technological advance will enable us to find a solution.

But that technology might also contain new problems. In addition to the emergence of mutants mentioned above and the unknown harmful effects of genetically modified crops, vaccines, for example, cause reactions and unexpected side effects. Treatment of diseases by genome editing includes violation of the dignity of life.

What is important is to think about what we must gain and accept, or what is at risk of being violated through these technologies, if we want democracy.

To give an example closer to home, Japan is now a country where vaccinations are delayed. Although we have fallen behind in securing vaccines produced overseas, one of the reasons why vaccinations have not progressed smoothly is that the national government has not been able to manage public information.

For example, if the My Number system had been used and there had been uniform management of information such as age, presence or absence of previous illness, occupation, etc., vaccinations might have proceeded more smoothly.

In fact, it is said that South Korea, which was also late in securing vaccines, is using a resident registration number to prevent double reservations and incorrect vaccinations and to promote the smooth rollout of vaccinations for the people.

So why isn’t My Number used in Japan? This is because the people have refused to allow individuals to be centrally managed by the government through My Number. It is a choice by Japanese people.

Of course, there are benefits you can gain from that choice, but there are also disadvantages you must accept and endure.

For this choice, everyone should discuss what kind of tradeoffs will occur and decide how to settle them each time. This is important for democracy, which is an endless process of agreement and trial and error.

Things to consider in the event of a pandemic

Japan is one country in the world with strong political distrust. I think there are various reasons for this, but the underlying idea behind this is that we just hate what the country does, no matter what.

As mentioned above, democracy leads to diversity, each person should have his or her own opinion and think for himself or herself. On the other hand, if criticism of the government prevents us from thinking further, it is like putting the cart before the horse.

Actually, controls and regulations by the state are very effective in dealing with emergencies such as pandemics and wars.

In fact, when we look back on history, since the 16th century, when the “state” began to evolve, pandemics and wars have often triggered states to increase their coercion. Japan also experienced this in and before World War II. That may have led to more distrust of government control now.

However, despite criticism of the government, the approval rating of the Cabinet is not so low. That may be because critics speak out and supporters remain silent.

In fact, there is a lot of criticism of the government on the Internet, but if you take a closer look at its content, you will find that much of it is ad hoc and does not seem to come from any deep thought.

On the Internet, speed is more important than pondering, so if you hurry to say something that anyone can understand easily, it may be just knee-jerk criticism. But that does not deepen the discussion.

What should be considered here is what we expect from the state and what role we expect it to play. While a government can exert coercive force on its people, it can, for example, act as a bulwark for a greedy free market.

In fact, it is the governments of each country, not the international organizations, that are trying to regulate the activities of giant platformers by digital taxation. It is also a national policy that can protect their own agriculture.

The Japanese people are the sovereign of Japan, but the term sovereign is abstract, and you may not understand what it means. So why don’t you change your perspective and think that being a citizen is also about being governed?

I think it is necessary to have the viewpoint of the governed people when each person has his or her own opinion and deepens the discussion. That means we look at politics and policies based on the idea of “how we want to be governed, how we do not want to be governed.” Then, the idea of making the government operate as a bulwark is born.

That idea leads to what we want to do with the state and society in which we live, and what kind of form we should take for them.

There is no absolute solution to settle the relationship between democracy and the free market, the relationship between freedom and regulation. What choices we make, and how we change if we think we are wrong, are the tentative correct answers.

I think it is meaningful to think, encouraged by the pandemic, about what is behind the outbreak of a pandemic and how it affects our lives.

* The information contained herein is current as of July 2021.
* The contents of articles on Meiji.net are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.

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