Monday, December 17, 2007

Of sickness and Durkheim

These days I'm sick, a bad cough and a high fever until yesterday. Inevitably, with much time in my hand, I got to thinking "Why do I have to be sick? Wouldn't it be a better world if we never got sick?" and other such thoughts my delirious mind would wander to. Then I realized, these thoughts could be applied to much other unpleasantness in life, and one thing stood out: Crime.

Emile Durkheim, a 19th century sociologist, said crime is normal and necessary in every society, even desirable (On the normality of crime, 1895). If a society is so tightly controlled that crime is literally not possible, change will never be either. People choose to express their personal freedom in many ways, some of them in crime. Therefore, crime is the price we pay for the ability of our societies to change. Debatable, of course but it must be one of the reasons why many dictatorships were so successfull against criminality.

"Does that apply to sickness?", I wondered while tossing and turning sleeplessly. In many ways it does. Cancer, malformations, or any genetic disease in particular fit the description. "Couldn't our DNA be stronger and capable to resist attacks?" Absolutely, but with that would come a slowdown or even a halt to our ability to evolve. Without it, we might still be unicellular bacteria. Speaking of which, what of diseases like pneumonia, malaria, or the flu? Well, if we dig deep enough, the idea still fits: it's likely that eukaryotic cells evolved by permanently taking in bacteria that probably used to be parasites, and turned them into cellular organelles. Finally, there's evidence that our DNA contains viral strands, that probaly contributed substantially to our genetic makeup. Much could also be said about death as a creative act.

Well, then, we should be, if not happy with, at least tolerant towards much of life's unpleasantness, it's the price to pay to be who we are. So, did this help make me feel better, joyously embracing the despicable bug that is making me cough every 4 words? Yes. And No. After all, "'Tis held that sorrow makes us wise" (A. Tennyson, In memoriam), but "there was never yet philosopher / that could endure the toothache patiently" (W. Shakespeare, Much ado about nothing)

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