Plagues and Epidemics


Humans are remarkably good at finding a religious scapegoat for their
problems. There has always been someone to blame for the difficulties we face in
life, such as war, famine, and more relevant, disease. Hitler blames the Jews
for economical woes in a corrupt Germany long after the Romans held the
Christians responsible for everything wrong in a crumbling, has-been empire. In
the fourteenth century, when Plague struck Europe, it was blamed on "…
unfavorable astrological combinations or malignant atmospheres…" (handout p2),
and even "…deliberate combination by witches, Moslems (an idea proposed by
Christians), Christians (proposed by Moslems) and Jews (proposed by both
groups)." (H p2) The point is, someone was to blame even when the obvious
reasons, flea ridden rats, were laying dead on the streets. As time progressed
to the twentieth century, there have been few if any exceptions made to this
phenomena. In the case of Oran, the people raced to find a culprit for the
sudden invasion of their town, which became the unrepentant man. This is one of
Camus’ major themes; The way a society deals with an epidemic is to blame it one
someone else. Twenty years ago, when AIDS emerged in the US, homosexual men
became the target of harsh and flagrant discrimination, and even today are still
held accountable by some beliefs. While we may no longer lynch in the nineties,
we do accuse innocent groups, like the gay male population, for the birth and
explosion of AIDS in our society. Given, there are some differences between each
respective situation, but there are striking similarities that cannot be ignored.

As the Plague invaded the town of Oran, the people quarantined within
its walls began to look to their leaders for answers. Most likely these people
had trouble believing that such an awful thing was happening to them, and needed
someone to point the finger at. In the meantime, Father Paneloux was preparing a
speech to answer the questions and fears that surrounded him, and probably vexed
him as well. The truth is, his speech was as much therapeutic as it was didactic,
and in winning the opinion of the public he could calm his own fears. " If today
the plague is in your midst, that is because the hour has struck for taking
thought. The just man need have no fear, but the evildoer has good cause to
tremble." (p95) Paneloux is passing the blame, but in a very intriguing way.
"You believed some brief formalities, some bendings of the knee, would
recompense Him well enough for you criminal indifference. But God is not
mocked." (p97) He has found the blame, the weak observer of Christ, but in the
end, especially in a heavily religious town like Oran, believes they are that
person? Who in the city, after reflecting upon their record of attendance at
church, could find it possible to blame themselves? In his sermon, Paneloux did
not point out a specific group as the cause such as the lower class, but
associated the plague with a general group that is fundamentally vague. It is an
interesting way of passing the blame, in such a manner that puts no certain
group in danger. The fact is that taking into consideration the townspeople’s
manic state of paranoia, to accuse one particular group would be murder. If
Paneloux told the masses that the street cleaners brought the Plague, each and
every one of them would be strung up on the closest available tree. It seems
that Oran provided the blueprints for the AIDS epidemic, relative to how even
today, parts of our society still blame who we feel is a lesser group for the
disease.
In the late seventies, AIDS began its invasion of the US population. For
years it confined itself to the gay community, but as the new decade arrived it
was spreading much more effectively, as heterosexuals, dirty needles, and
infected blood transfusions became efficient avenues for the virus to change
hosts. However, at this time the public was hardly educated about AIDS. They
knew little if anything about how it was spread. In fact, all they really knew
was that the disease is one hundred percent fatal, contagious, and carried
mostly by gay males. Interestingly enough, until the AIDS virus broke into the
heterosexual community, in general no one really bothered themselves with it.
This may be because so little was known about it, even in medical circles, but
there is a definite connection to a "hear no evil, speak no evil" attitude. The
virus was not affecting the straight