How does the modern pandemic of AIDS support Diamond's thesis in Guns, Germs, and Steel?
The modern pandemic of AIDS does not really do much to support Diamond’s main thesis in this book. In this book, Diamond argues that epidemic diseases helped the Europeans to dominate the world. He argues that epidemic diseases could only survive among large populations. In those populations, they could sweep through, kill many, give the rest immunity, and then remain dormant for years until the next outbreak. Large populations like those of Eurasia could develop and sustain those diseases. Smaller populations, like those of the Americas, could not. When Europeans brought their epidemic diseases to new places, huge numbers of people died from them. Thus, “germs” helped the Europeans conquer.
But AIDS is not such a disease. Though we speak of an AIDS pandemic, AIDS is not an epidemic disease in Diamond’s typology. The whole population does not get exposed to AIDS quickly because HIV does not spread that easily (it doesn’t spread through sneezing, for example). It is not an acute disease where if you catch it you either die quickly or recover completely. Getting HIV once does not immunize you. Instead, the virus stays inside you until you die years later. Thus, AIDS does not meet the criteria for an epidemic disease that are laid out on p. 202 in the paperback edition of the book.
The only way AIDS helps to support Diamond’s thesis is that it is passed along more easily in large populations. This lends some support to Diamond’s idea that large populations tend to develop diseases more readily than small ones.
While Diamond does talk about AIDS a little bit, it is not one of the pieces of evidence that he uses to support his thesis in any major way.