It’s really not that long ago that the germ theory of disease was developed. It was in 1840, when the achromatic objective was perfected, that it became possible to see and study previously invisible bacteria. It was only in about 1900 that the Plasmodium Falpicarum parasite was isolated as the cause of malaria. Before that, the cause of disease was a subject of superstition and credulity.
Nothing but the immediate finger of God, nothing but Omnipotent Power could have done it. The contagion despised all medicine; death raged in every corner; and had it gone on as it did then, a few weeks more would have cleared the town of all and everything that had a soul.
And if not the manifestation of divine punishment, then disease was frequently believed to be spread by a variety of miasmic effluvia. One of these was drain air.
It’s a curious fact that this fear of drain air continues to this day to shape our plumbing.
There’s no need for the water seal. Drain air is harmless. Nowadays people would probably say that they just “don’t like the smell”.
The first two quotations above are taken from Man and the Microbe, by Professor C.-E. A. Winslow, of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, published in Popular Science Monthly of July 1914, just 15 years after the malaria parasite was isolated.
In retrospect, it seems perhaps a little premature of Winslow to have hoped that the bogey of drain air had at last been exorcised. For the modern version of drain air is tobacco smoke. These days, as everybody knows, it is the prime cause of disease. Forget about germ theory. That’s been and gone. It’s the miasma of tobacco smoke that causes lung cancer and heart disease and is a “risk factor” in almost every other affliction of humanity. The US Surgeon General and the World Health Organisation have stated that there is “no safe level” of tobacco smoke. The faintest whiff of it is lethal.
The truth would seem to be that the primitive mind has persisted long into our modern era. It was never entirely banished, never fully exorcised. In fact, it’s been making a big comeback. A new miasma has replaced the old miasma. And, as before, disease is regarded as punishment for the sins of eating, drinking, and smoking. The patient is the cause of his own illness. Of course, neither ‘sin’ nor ‘divine retribution’ are ever mentioned in this connection, but the underlying logic remains the same.
How did this happen? Why, after the germ theory of disease had swept through medicine in the late 19th century, explaining the causes of so many diseases, did the primitive mind return with its bogeys and superstitions?
One reason may be that the new germ theory didn’t explain every disease. It may have explained malaria and cholera and the like, but it didn’t explain cancer and heart disease. And those diseases which the new germ theory could not explain remained in the province of an older, more primitive set of explanations. The ancient superstitions still applied there. These diseases remained punishments from God on sinful humanity. They were diseases that people brought upon themselves. And they were caused by inhaling miasmic vapours.
It’s not just tobacco smoke. The whole of ‘alternative medicine’ with its array of crystals and aromatherapies and homeopathic medicines is a recrudescence of the primitive pre-scientific mind. Wherever germ theory can’t prevent or cure some malady, a forest of alternative therapies and cures springs up, complete with diets, exercises, and snake oil.
In fact, with tobacco smoke – the new incarnation of drain air – in the vanguard, one might even say that ‘alternative’ medicine has now more or less completely ousted the scientific germ theory, with its laboratories and microscopes, that was making all the running a century ago. That upstart brash new theory swept all before it for 100 years or so. But now the old gods are back, and the priests of Amun have revived the ancient rites, now that heretic Akhenaten is dead. Saint George Godber and Liam Donaldson have restored the old religion – thanks be given to our holy mother Isis, living forever.
Look. Disease is not caused by bacteria or viruses. Disease is caused by smoke. It is caused by the smoke of factory chimneys and car exhausts of your evil civilisation. But above all it is caused by the smoke of cigarettes, which has the magical properties of being able to kill someone 40 years after they have inhaled it, and which can go through walls, and has no safe level, and clings to furniture and walls for thousands of years.
If you are feeling ill, it’s your own fault. It’s because you smoked a cigar in the Lyceum in Billericay in 1971. Yes, it really does take that long for it to catch up with you. It’s been scientifically proven. Here, try these crystals. Their sympathetic vibrations will interact with yours. Place them over your chakras for an hour every day, while lying inside one of the free NHS fold-up Golden Section pyramids you can get at reception. Make sure to align the pentagram undersheet towards Jupiter rising. And dab a couple of drops of patchouli oil behind your ears.