Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Societies, pathogens, and tea

Some societies emphasize the individual, whereas others place priority on the interests of the larger group. This "individualism–collectivism" split is one of the most fundamental differences between cultures.


For years, scientists and other bright types have wondered why "collectivism declines with distance from the equator, and why living in colder regions should promote individualism."


Well, some folks think they have finally found the answer — pathogens:

[C]ertain behaviors make you less likely to contract an infectious disease. A reluctance to interact with strangers can protect against pathogens because strangers are more likely to carry strange microbes that the group lacks immunity to . . . . Respect for traditions also works: ways of preparing food (using hot pepper, say, which kills microbes), rules about hygiene and laws about marriage (wed only in-group members, whose microbes you're probably immune to) likely arose to keep pathogens at bay. "Conformity helps maintain these buffers against disease," says Corey Fincher of the University of New Mexico; mavericks are dangerous.

This theory also ties in with a theory about why the tradition of tea-drinking first developed in Asia thousands of years ago: Tea provided protection against pathogens, which became more and more problematic as humans began living in denser concentrations.


And now, thousands of years later, humankind is rediscovering the power of tea to fight pathogens, including the so-called superbugs.



Continuing a time-honored — and healthy — tradition.


—Mellow Monk


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