In a worrying historical parallel, Kristian Blickle at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that, among German cities, the higher the death rate during the 1918 flu pandemic, the greater the share of the city’s votes for the Nazi party in the early 1930s – again controlling for factors such as income and unemployment. “There is a real fear of chaos in [epidemic] settings, so it’s this desire for tightness that I think predicts support for strict gods and governments,” says Gelfand. And wherever people seek control, she adds, it seems to involve reinforcing group boundaries and a greater preference for one’s in-group. Last year, Brian O’Shea at the University of Nottingham, UK, and his colleagues reported that the main factor driving this is aversion to germs in “outsiders” – whether they are foreigners or compatriots perceived as belonging to a different ethnic, religious or other subgroup.
A plague challenges the “master narrative” told by the spiritual or secular leaders and allows new stories to emerge that explain where things went wrong, and how to put them right. In an earlier parallel of boogaloo, the mid-14th century saw the rise of a southern European movement called the Flagellants, which had existed at the margins of society for a century, but became far more influential during the Black Death.New Scientist