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The fourth horseman: Disease as a unique and multi-faceted agent of Apocalypse

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Bacteria and disease - omnipresent agents.
  3. How malaria has undermined human history.
  4. Black Death.
  5. Nuclear apocalypse.
  6. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.
  7. Man's control over the prospect of infectious disease as an agent of apocalypse.
  8. The powers of infectious viruses - distinctly limited.
  9. Conclusion.

Although there exist many manifestations of apocalypse in our society, an extensive study of the subject of apocalypse will demonstrate the presence of an inherent trait that runs constant within nearly all forms of apocalypse; despite the fact that the prospect of a destructive apocalypse is undeniably frightening, most forms of apocalypses are simultaneously reassuring in that they offer an aspect of control that allows for humans to alter their own fate through a change in behavior, thusly halting an apocalypse. Perhaps it is for this reason that the prospect of an apocalyptic plague or disease stands alone as a unique and terrifying agent of apocalypse; disease has existed throughout history as an omnipresent form of apocalypse because naturally occurring disease is not onset by the action of man himself, and thusly offers no opportunity for human control or preclusion. Because man does not have any hand in triggering an apocalyptic disease, he similarly has nearly no possible means of preventing or eradicating one.

[...] It could be argued that if disease deems human technology as enough of a threat, it may choose to wipe us out altogether, eliminating the problem. If a disease, biologically unique and never before encountered by modern science, with a high death rate, extreme resilience and an incredible infectiveness were to strike the world population, the world would be doomed in that the human race would be so caught off guard that it would be unable to save itself. Herein lies the terrifying essence of an apocalypse due to disease: we do not, and most likely will never have the ability to halt the ever-changing, ever-strengthening forces of disease. [...]

[...] Perhaps this is why man finds the notion of an impending apocalypse due to disease so frightening; he knows he cannot control or prevent its onset, but only trivially manipulate its behavior. And, as all other forms of apocalypse change due to the influence of man, the prospect of an apocalypse due to disease will forever loom over man as a reminder that he is neither omnipotent nor omnipresent, and that the forces of the earth can strike back at any time without reason, rationality, [...]

[...] Similarly, for those who ascribe to religions such as Christianity that believe in a god-wrought apocalypse elicited by the misdeeds of man, there exists a comparable system of distinct human control. Nearly every instance of godly destruction or apocalypse in the Bible is brought about by man's refusal to adhere to God's guidelines for righteous living. Unlike the unpreventable, irrational tendencies of infectious disease, the Christian God is both reasonable and rational; he offers distinct ultimatums for avoiding an apocalypse or prodigious destruction. [...]

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