Conspiracies Ancient & Modern – with Cato the Elder and Harari

In due course, my son Marcus, I shall explain what I found out in Athens about these Greeks, and demonstrate what advantage there may be in looking into their writings (while not taking them too seriously). They are a worthless and unruly tribe. Take this as a prophecy: when those folk give us their writings they will corrupt everything. All the more if they send their doctors here. They have sworn to kill all barbarians with medicine—and they charge a fee for doing it, in order to be trusted and to work more easily. They call us barbarians, too, of course, and Opici, a dirtier name than the rest. I have forbidden you to deal with doctors.— Quoted by Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia 29.13–14. Wikipedia

Marcus Cato was reputed to have been so wise, he was named wise.

“His third name originally was not Cato, but Priscus, and was changed to Cato on account of his wisdom, for in Latin catus means “clever.” Plutarch. In his wisdom, he advised his son against the medicine of the Greeks, and against taking their wisdom too seriously. This is because he believed anything that would come from the Greeks to the Romans would be perverted, with the ultimate aim to destroy the Romans (barbarians). He probably took the story of the Trojan Horse too seriously … against his own advice. In the current age, we call this a conspiracy theory. It is not clear to me why or how the wise one arrived at this conspiracy, as is usually the case with conspiracy theories, they are usually understood mainly by those who propose them, and the discernment of the ordinary man may never allow him comprehend them. If Cato where to be alive during the period of the outbreaks described by Harari in the excerpts below; I wonder what theories he would have had.

The most famous such outbreak, the so-called Black Death, began in the 1330s, somewhere in east or central Asia, when the flea-dwelling bacterium Yersinia pestis started infecting humans bitten by the fleas. From there, riding on an army of rats and fleas, the plague quickly spread all over Asia, Europe and North Africa, taking less than twenty years to reach the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Between 75 million and 200 million people died – more than a quarter of the population of Eurasia. In England, four out of ten people died, and the population dropped from a pre-plague high of 3.7 million people to a post-plague low of 2.2 million. The city of Florence lost 50,000 of its 100,000 inhabitants.” …….. “The authorities were completely helpless in the face of the calamity. Except for organising mass prayers and processions, they had no idea how to stop the spread of the epidemic – let alone cure it. Until the modern era, humans blamed diseases on bad air, malicious demons and angry gods, and did not suspect the existence of bacteria and viruses. People readily believed in angels and fairies, but they could not imagine that a tiny flea or a single drop of water might contain an entire armada of deadly predators.” ……. “On 5 March 1520 a small Spanish flotilla left the island of Cuba on its way to Mexico. The ships carried 900 Spanish soldiers along with horses, firearms and a few African slaves. One of the slaves, Francisco de Eguía, carried on his person a far deadlier cargo. Francisco didn’t know it, but somewhere among his trillions of cells a biological time bomb was ticking: the smallpox virus……. In September 1520 the plague had reached the Valley of Mexico, and in October it entered the gates of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan – a magnificent metropolis of 250,000 people. Within two months at least a third of the population perished, including the Aztec emperor Cuitláhuac. Whereas in March 1520, when the Spanish fleet arrived, Mexico was home to 22 million people, by December only 14 million were still alive. Smallpox was only the first blow. While the new Spanish masters were busy enriching themselves and exploiting the natives, deadly waves of flu, measles and other infectious diseases struck Mexico one after the other, until in 1580 its population was down to less than 2 million.” …… “Epidemics continued to kill tens of millions of people well into the twentieth century. In January 1918 soldiers in the trenches of northern France began dying in their thousands from a particularly virulent strain of flu, nicknamed ‘the Spanish Flu’…….. Within a few months, about half a billion people – a third of the global population – came down with the virus. In India it killed 5 per cent of the population (15 million people). On the island of Tahiti, 14 per cent died. On Samoa, 20 per cent. In the copper mines of the Congo one out of five labourers perished. Altogether the pandemic killed between 50 million and 100 million people in less than a year. The First World War killed 40 million from 1914 to 1918.” Harari

A Chess Board Depicting the Greek Gift Sacrifice

Despite well documented devastation caused by epidemics, it seems the world never comes to terms with it. Harari states that in the past this was due to limitations in science and the inability to isolate causative agents. Despite the advancement in science and technology, and the ability to not only isolate causative organisms, but to obtain their genetic sequences and all other sorts of useful information, humans still find ways to blame something else – angry gods or angry humans. As we have seen in the case of Cato, then as at now, these conspiracies are not limited to the simple, but even the highly educated and sophisticated propose and believe them.

Again relying on science means study, hard work, clear thought and communication processes, which are all too difficult for many to bother. They think it better to come up with one sweeping explanation of all our problems (thereby indirectly conceding that one person or a few individuals have done all the thinking and hold all the answers or problems of the world)

Sometimes these conspiracies are borne out of fear, sometimes out of despair or even out of wishful thinking – this here is our problem, let’s agree to deal with it and voila, everything is solved. These processes (fear, despair and wishful thinking), cloud judgement, and people begin to stand logic on its head and shut their ears and minds completely to anything outside the constructs they have created to cope with the situation (as is the case when people disregard the work and views of hundreds of thousands of experts spread across the entire globe). History however has shown us how unforgiving these germs are (as can be seen from the figures in the excerpts above); and how we must not relent in focusing our energies where we should – on scientific explanations of things – otherwise the germs can go on rampage for years and claiming lives even in the millions. Germs do not do political correctness, neither do they respond to pressure for fair play! Viruses also do not do political alliances, for those who support or criticize a course of action due to political leanings. Some people proceed as if the virus would say “oh you did not support these people so you are spared.” Germs are deadly, thus coherent strategies and focus are required to win the war against them.

Trojan Horse

What’s the point of all this? It’s that unless you have a scientific solution to be tested, it is best to be humble enough to support those who do or at least be neutral. Opposing authorities who are working hard to get a solution is dangerous on many fronts, it heaps psychological pressure on conspiracy theorists themselves and others as well. Conspiracies and misinformation sabotage recommendations and efforts of authorities, and breeds distrust such that medical countermeasures are viewed with suspicion, and this can have lasting damaging effects on public health.

Those who think proposing conspiracy theories makes them appear intelligent or to be thinking outside the box, need to have a rethink, as it’s nothing new, as such have been documented centuries B.C, and they never help anyone and never turn out true.

The ancient conspiracies have never come to pass, I do not believe the modern ones will.


Ande Elisha

The Amateur Philosopher

Excerpts From
Plutarch’s Lives, Volume II

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
Yuval Noah Harari