Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Spanish Flu

Yglesias asks why nobody remembers the Spanish Flu, which killed more people than WW1. A number of comments point out that he's exaggerating, but even so.
It is the case, though, that
(a) the public impact of deaths is potentiated where they happen in close proximity (as on battlefields) rather than everywhere evenly (as in the flu). That's why 11/9 with its three thousand dead is so much more of an outrage than 42,000 annual traffic deaths,
(b) flu deaths are merely one point in a wider shift of risk to our present post-WW2 situation where infectious diseases are just a rounding error in death statistics. It's like saying "A lot of men used to wear panamas, and now they don't," when what people notice, as far as they notice it at all, is "People used to wear hats, and now they don't."

1 comment:

John Hannoush said...

Then again people seem to remember the Black Death, but unless you are connected in some way the Turkish alleged Armenian genocide is not terribly well known. The destruction of Pompeii is also remembered. Is it the dramatic nature of the event, or the way it is enshrined in folk memory?

Maybe there is also a difference in whether something is the result of conscious agency (genocide, 9/11) or "accidental" or Act of God (car deaths).

Who knows? What point is Yglesias trying to make? We should have regular mourning ceremonies about the Spanish Flu and drop Armistice Day?

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