Those Who Fear Disease Most Are Most Likely to Prefer Authoritarian Regimes
Covid-19 has unleashed a pandemic of restrictive measures on the population. Lockdowns and mask mandates are becoming widespread. Libertarians have been vociferously denouncing covid-19 containment strategies as draconian. Evolutionary psychologists, however, argue that reactions in favor of government restrictions are the norm in environments where the public fears contamination. According to the parasitic stress theory popularized by Randy Thornhill and Corey Fincher, societies with a high prevalence of diseases are more supportive of authoritarian policies. This is unsurprising because to prevent transmissions experts often recommend limiting movement. Due to fear, citizens would have a vested interest in promoting policies claiming to lower infections. Likewise, the aversion to contracting covid-19 has forced many to advocate hysterical policies. For anthropologists interested in analyzing the parasitic stress theory, covid-19 is a perfect case study.
Murray, Schaller, and Suedfeld (2013) in their discussion of the relationship between pathogens and authoritarianism elucidate the importance of disease control mechanisms in germ-rich societies. “Because many disease-causing parasites are invisible, and their actions mysterious, disease control has historically depended substantially on adherence to ritualized behavioral practices that reduced infection risk. Individuals who openly dissented from, or simply failed to conform to, these behavioral traditions, therefore, posed a health threat to self and others.” Unfortunately, as covid-19 has demonstrated, people are willing to subject themselves to rituals even if they have no discernible impact on deterring transmissions. One must appear
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