I've been thinking more and more about why civilisation occurs and why it functions in the ways that it does. I recently found an interesting article in the Economist, which discusses some implications of the black death on European civilisation, seven hundred years ago. A little introduction to the black death from Wikipedia:
The Black Death...was a devastating pandemic that began in south-western Asia and spread to Europe by the late 1340s. It killed between a third and two-thirds of Europe's population and, including Middle Eastern lands, India and China, killed at least 75 million people.
The Black Death had a drastic effect on Europe's population, irrevocably changing Europe's social structure. It was a serious blow to the Roman Catholic Church, Europe's predominant religious institution at the time, and resulted in widespread persecution of minorities such as Jews, Muslims, foreigners, beggars and lepers. The uncertainty of daily survival created a general mood of morbidity influencing people to live for the moment, as illustrated by Giovanni Boccaccio in The Decameron (1353).
The initial fourteenth-century European event was called the "Great Mortality" by contemporary writers and, with later outbreaks, became known as the 'Black Death'. It has been popularly thought that the name came from a striking symptom of the disease, called acral necrosis, in which sufferers' skin would blacken due to subdermal haemorrhages. However, the term refers in fact to the figurative sense of "black" (glum, lugubrious or dreadful).
From the Economist article:
The surviving rich, by mere inheritance, found themselves richer still (vastly richer, the sole survivor of the Bergen group). So did the church, as gifts and legacies poured in (though in Castile it was made to return some of its gains to the donors). Yet the social shock had been great. Death was never far from medieval man. Yet here was the natural order upset, rich and poor, layman and clergy (monks especially) indiscriminately swept away by the wrath of God.
In some cities, such as Paris, the reaction to random death had been a “why bother?” collapse of morals. There and elsewhere this outlasted the plague. In Florence: finding themselves few and rich, men forgot what had happened...and took to gluttony, taverns, gambling and unbridled lust.
Sounds like modern Las Vegas. Today people still die. The basic pleasures have little changed. Is life really that much different from those dark and hedonistic days? If a similar plague hit today and wiped out your family, friends and colleagues, would you still get up and go to work? Or still get up and smile?Go Top