Monday, April 6, 2020
Dark Clouds and Silver Linings, Part 2 (Even The Plague Had It's Upside)
I have stopped watching television. It is no longer worth the effort. For here, in the metaphorical Winter of Our Phlegm-y Discontent, the airwaves that once had the power to educate and unite have been turned over to people of great ignorance, whose sole purpose is to mis-inform, prognosticate upon the demise of the Human Race based on little more than assumptions and poor computer programming, and to divide along ideological and emotional lines.
In the middle of an emergency, a Jim Acosta or a Rachel Maddow perhaps does more damage to civil discourse -- which was already hanging by a thread -- than good, and the continued foul odor that one instinctively believes swirls about the likes of an Andrew Cuomo becomes almost a reality. As if the medium, in addition to transmitting the rankest of cheerleading for Plague (so long as doing so is useful in painting one's enemy as The Devil Incarnate), almost seems capable of unleashing physical assault upon all the other senses, as well.
It certainly is not worth listening to, either, for the sheer repetition of a steady diet of complete bullshit, and after 3 or so minutes of hardcore CNN, MSNBC and even FoxNews one feels the need to scrub vigorously with a Brillo pad, as if some scaly residue has been left behind on the skin by slightest exposure.
I began the process behind these last essays with an historical observation made to a friend, almost as if in passing, that plagues -- even this overblown COVID-19 panic -- are not all rainy days and battery acid enemas. She found the idea intriguing and encouraged me to expand upon the idea.
In Part 1, I simply asked some questions, put forth a few general ideas, and probably did so in something of a scattershot method. I'm aiming to be a bit more methodical and reasoned in my approach with this one. The place to begin is with the original, historical premise.
Plagues (even way over-hyped ones) are not always bad.
The example I gave was the successive waves of Bubonic Plague that swept Europe, particularly the ones in the 12th through 15th centuries. I chose this example for a simple reason: despite the fact that somewhere between a quarter and half of the European population died off -- from yet another disease of Chinese origin -- those that survived managed to enact great changes in the aftermath that allowed, in fact, propelled, the Rise of the West.
Previous to the Plague, Western Civilization had advanced by fits and starts. What began in Ancient Greece as an evolving culture of democracy, art, scientific achievement, eventually collapsed, mostly due to it's fixation with the outside world rather than it's own internal affairs and within a century or two the banner was taken up again by the Romans.
Rome achieved a higher state of culture, but it's own stupidities and insecurities, arrogance and relative ignorance, petty jealousies and decadence caused the entire enterprise to come crashing down, again.
Byzantium kept the light alive -- brilliantly -- for a while, but eventually, it too, had it's ending. It's great weakness being there were so few surrounded by so many, and the few got fewer as debate over superstition and pride rather than debate over the role and function of government became the primary concern of those at the top.
What followed was what we refer to as "The Dark Ages", which upon further examination don't appear to have been all that Dark; the ideas and talents that had stoked the flame of culture in Greece, Rome and the Byzantine Empire were all still there, they simply lacked a mechanism to unite, co-ordinate and direct them.
Which is where the Church came in. And the Feudal Lord. One provided the spiritual and intellectual force necessary to keep the arts of civilization alive, and the other defended them with sword and shield, and even began exporting them. Eventually, this double-headed system fell to it's flaws, as well. It was too stratified, too rigid, too wedded to the idea of a society that belonged to "elites" and which could be successfully "managed"...until it ran in a problem -- a pandemic -- that it's elitism and evident lack of expertise, could not manage.
Hold that last thought, because we're going to return to it a little later,
Disease had been a constant in European Life for millennia. In fact, disease was perhaps the only constant, anywhere, in the entire world. Outbreaks of measles, cholera, malaria, dysentery, influenza, were so common that one might have been able to buy them on supermarket shelves, if the supermarket had existed then.
But then came the Black Death, not once, nor twice, but three or four times, in the span of about a century and a half. Plague had not been unknown before that time: the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines all had experience of it (the Plague of Justinian, for example, in 541 AD was one of the best-recorded tragedies ever), but never on the scale and never in the numbers that were to be seen in 1347.
The trauma of the times left indelible impressions upon people and led many to question not just the source of such suffering, but the means by which it could be combated, and especially the ability of the social institutions of the day to react and eliminate, or merely just control, the misery.
If you looked to your local lord for protection, you got none. Primarily because his chief attributes were stupidity, venality, and brutishness, and he was most likely to have inherited his estate that was gained largely through the efforts of war, rape, terrorism, coercion and bribery made by an even dumber, unscrupulous criminal who's main claim to rule was that he had a gang of other brutes, all with a more-than-casual acquaintance with violence at his beck-and-call, and you did not.
Sure, he might let you into his castle or fortified manor house, but that wasn't really protection, and in fact, probably killed you quicker, for all the crowding, lack of food and poor sanitation.
If you looked to God for succor you found yourself to be a sucker. For the Church's view of disease was that it was the just wages of sin, and you find no pity there, nor any useful advice, except to "repent", pray more, and perhaps beat yourself bloody with a chain. A course of action about as useful (no pun intended) as fleas are to a dog.
Certainly, the Church could offer some service in the form of consolation and the psychological bullshit it had concocted around the concepts of "Heaven","salvation", and "God's Plan" it had invented in order to justify it's existence. But none of these helped you any while your family members died one by one before your eyes in a horrible fashion, before you took your turn, nor did they solve the problem of preventing or curing the disease.
The Medical Profession (such as it was; for it has been axiomatic for centuries now that doctor's still "practice" medicine) was of little value to you, either. It was still in a shotgun marriage, more cage than guidelines, established for it by the Church and the colleges (where Theology was still one of the subjects studied) regarding it's processes and procedures and prohibitions. It was more about "tradition" than science, and so if you caught this deadly disease your prognosis was along the lines of "you have a better chance to win the lottery. Twice. In the same week".
Why? Because your typical Medieval doctor was part churchman, part witch, and his main stock-in-trade was poisoning you with various concoctions of dubious value (patent and "holistic" medicine and "herbal remedies" pushed by idiots who can speak a good line of crap is not a new phenomenon), or, if he was a real sadist, he could subject you to the full panoply of "treatments" that included cauterization, scarring, blistering, bloodletting, all designed to "balance" the "humors" that Aristotle and others had assumed -- but never proved -- to be the source of all human afflictions.
You might even survive, through blind luck, and the idiot who performed these barbaric "treatments", now buoyed by his incredibly fortunate success not of his making, then repeats the process several hundred times until he got lucky again.
That's assuming you could even get "a doctor". You would probably have to settle for a Barber-Surgeon whose chief virtue was that he was skilled with sharp instruments, since giving haircuts and shaving were his main business. The modern "Barber Pole" of alternating red and white stripes was derived from this time: it is a representation of the Barber-Surgeon of yore hanging bloody bandages out to dry on the railing outside his combination spa and butcher shop,
Which, come to think of it, is something like the modern Chinese wet market.
If you were lucky enough to survive all of this, it left you bewildered and angry. The Institutions you depended upon, were, in fact, largely enslaved to, were all tested and found lacking. The King, The Duke, The Bishop -- the "anointed of God" -- all suffered similar, grisly fates. Their retinues of lawyers, administrators and "nobility" were all subject to a bloody and painful death, as well. You got no help; you got no relief; you understood, if you hadn't known it beforehand, that when all is said and done, you're all alone in this struggle for Life. The survivors questioned where previous generations had not; they challenged where others had meekly submitted, and in the process, they Changed the World.
The serf became the tradesman, the shortage of physical labor left in the wake of so many deaths finally gave him some power. He could demand a wage and working conditions that better suited him, and if one lord was not forthcoming, he simply went to work for the next one who would meet his demands, not just for money, but for rights and privileges.
A market for labor opened new vistas: his pay was measured now in bullion or currency, rather than in protection and subsistence, which both freed up precious capital that had lain dormant, locked behind closed doors in some potentate's basement, and created a cash economy. Freed from the need to barter service for service, item for item, markets became established.
The rise of markets created the need for fairer regulation and stricter punishments for broken contracts.
Capitalism was born.
The rise of Capitalism also brought with it a new social mobility. Before, one rose or fell in society by their ability to take from others at swordpoint or to maintain control over others, especially over their labor, or by connection to the Mother Church. This required a strict stratification of society with a rigid system of class. Now, the man of means could afford to educate his children, a privilege formerly reserved only for the very wealthy, the very powerful, or the churchman.
This new, educated class, took the place of the old church-dominated administrative posts of the Medieval world, entered business or politics, formed the nuclei of scientific progress and endeavor, and for the first time, they were truly pan-European. In the past, people were categorized by the facts of conquest: you were a Greek, Roman, Byzantine according to the extent that those empires or city-states had exerted influence. You were either a Christian or a Heathen in the further categorization of people by the Church. Now, you could be anything you wanted to be, because the knowledge of the past, formerly tied up in arcane language -- Greek, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew -- known only to those at the top, were more-accessible to everyone who had the money.
And that liberalization of education and the dispelling of the old labels led to a general spread of knowledge, much of it thanks to ideas like the Printing Press (a by-product of capitalism), which had a further virtue, in that what was formerly "all Greek to Me" could now be printed and passed on in your native, vernacular language -- German, Flemish, French, Slovak, Russian, Polish, what have you. No longer did one need to spend years mastering Latin in order to be educated.
The spread of this knowledge and the ability to record and pass on newly-discovered things, nearly instantaneously to a larger audience than ever before, The power to discuss, debate, exchange ideas, and to so so in both a forum and a medium that could reach millions -- and be improved by the process -- was something that had simply never happened before. it led to revolutionary new ways of thinking...about everything.
I'm over-simplifying because if I don't, I'll end up writing a novel and you don't have that sort of time. You get the point, however: those who survived changed the world for the better. They expanded mankind's horizons in the following Age of Discovery and the Enlightenment, they ushered in the Reformation, the re-evaluation of the role of citizen and nation, they promulgated a system of Human Rights (and corresponding responsibilities) that previously had not existed.
And it all began with the seemingly unlikely circumstance of having been fortunate enough to survive a deadly (Chinese) disease brought to you courtesy of rats ("The Other White Meat" -- Confucious) and fleas.
Today, with Coronavirus, I see many parallels with the world of the Bubonic Plague.
Our institutions, particularly the government and the Press (The Mouth of Sauron), are failing us. Many will have died that might have been saved if only some bureaucrats -- the new "anointed", only instead of God they attribute their right to privilege to the "right" universities and political connections, while still maintaining a monopoly of force -- hadn't erected petty regulatory barriers to treatment, testing and research.
The State governments all seem to be floundering in their response, Public hospital systems are overwhelmed. Government at all levels has responded in ways that may or may not be considered heavy-handed, which might be unconstitutional, and which very well serve as a precedent for future Presidents to use in another time of gross over-reaction (whether real or contrived).
The Medical Profession seems torn between those who insist they can treat this thing (I am convinced they can) and others who are prone to nothing but prophesying disaster. Then there are those who have their heads so far up their own asses that they are trusting to "computer models" that are largely based upon assumption and reliant upon a technology (Artificial Intelligence) that is wholly in it's infancy. This may have positive consequences in future, i.e. when we discover the computer models were so wrong, we'll figure out a way to create better models, better AI, and hopefully re-learn the lesson that one needs hard data -- not best guesses -- to make accurate decisions.
It seems doctors are still "practicing", after all.
A population sits, against its will, at home, while it is bombarded with data -- much of it questionable in origin and only reported for the basest of reasons other than "information", watching it's economy wither, suffering under restrictions regarding it's travel and ability to gather, many of them frightened to death that they might catch a terminal case of "really bad cold".
One believes that this "crisis" will soon be over. And I wonder if, when it is over, much like the Medieval peasant of the post-Apocalyptic world of the Plague, we will have the same awareness of how fragile we are and how our "betters" cannot, or will not, help in a such a time, and the same sense of anger towards the people who wipe their boots all over us (for our own good, they tell us) becomes action. They don't even have the common courtesy to tell us the truth about what is happening and why, preferring, instead to wrap themselves in the cloak of "expertise" and believing us too stupid to understand, anyway.
Because if they told you the truth, your observations about their own uselessness and claims to "expertise" would be confirmed.
And a lot of them would be tarred and feathered.
The Survivors of the Great Snot Bubble Panic of 2020 have much the same opportunity today as the serfs had in 1347. Paradigms are shifting even as you hunker down in your home, desperately trying to avoid the Hong Kong Flu-ey:
* The "essential worker" finds himself in a better negotiating position. The "non-essential worker" has been identified. Especially in government.
* Regulation of every petty detail of modern life is being overturned, demolished, proven ineffective or even dangerous.
* The debate over immigration has largely ended. Controlled borders wins.
* Globalization has proven itself a scam of Managerialists, ineffective and economically ruinous. It will soon be "Morning in America, Again" again. The E.U. has effectively disbanded with a great show of dis-unity. China has made itself an international pariah, again, with it's inability to tell the truth for the sake of avoiding embarrassment while showing no sense of remorse or concern for their fellow men, while tens of thousands, perhaps millions, die all over the world.
* The debates over "the "Boutique" political issues of the most disturbed Lefties is over. Global Warming, Trans-whatever, pronoun policing, feminism, Socialism versus Capitalism, are all inconsequential. The have been rendered irrelevant by a matter of sheer survival. It will be capitalism, not state-controlled industry, that will solve this problem. Coronavirus makes no distinction between Male and Female, it asks no questions about "historical privilege" and "patriarchies" -- it kills the faslely-virtuous Social Justice Warrior just as readily as the Robber Barron.
No one gives a fuck if Charles wants to be called Charlotte and his insistence on using the Ladies Room is no longer seen in the light of "a struggle for rights", but in it's proper context of "mental disorder indicative of a struggle with Reality".
* The debate over Socialized Medicine is over. Untold thousands dead in China, Italy, Iran, and soon to be Spain. The governor of New York screaming for ventilators and then posing for pictures in front of 15,000 of the machines the state already had stashed, but apparently forgot it had. The "test everyone" mentality that has the appearance of useful action, but none of the virtues. The failing public health systems creaking and straining under the weight of massive numbers of patients. The regulations strangling innovation and treatment protocols. The damage done by ObamaCare just became evident, just as the damage done by Clinton's rejiggering of the Community Reinvestment Act emerged in the virus of the Mortgage Crisis.
* The American left is basically toast. It was, pardon the pun, on life support before Coronavirus, and it's supposed leaders were all candidates for life support, too. It fought for funding for Planned Parenthood and the Kennedy Center while half the country is involuntarily unemployed and in precarious financial state --a state that GOVERNMENT put them in, in the first place. It's Cognitive Dissonance can no longer be contained.
For the last three years the left has warned that Trump is a dictator, going to tremendous -- and public -- lengths to unseat him...And then complains he isn't dictating enough.
The Left screams that the government response to Coronavirus has been inadequate, but then repeats it's urgent appeal for government-run healthcare, Stick a fork in 'em.
This plague is not a disaster; it is an opportunity.
UPDATE: Edited, fixed some grammar and punctuation (I suck at editing).