The psychological threat of parasites could give rise to authoritarian governments, according to a growing body of radical and controversial research.
When people try to explain the causes of authoritarianism, they often point to exploitable natural resources, economic inequality, lack of culture, or the ramifications of colonial withdrawal. But ever since the parasite-stress theory was developed in the early 2000s, these explanations have seemed incomplete.
The parasite-stress theory claims that people who develop in parasite-infested areas think and behave differently in order to avoid infection. They tend to be less open to strangers, less exploratory, and less curious – traits that contradict “progressive values,” as Peter Frost points out.
In 2013, biologists conducted a study based on the parasite-stress theory that examined the relationship between the prevalence of parasites (defined as any pathogenic organism) and authoritarianism in countries. The study authors explained their reasoning:
“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.”
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The authors said that authoritarian tendencies in individuals serve a self-protective function, and these tendencies can temporarily increase…
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