2020 is going well, isn’t it?
Amidst all the doom and gloom, it’s worth remembering that, from many of the greatest human tragedies through history, good has come; often great good.
The Black Death of the 14th century was the greatest plague in recorded history. Nobody knows how many people died, but it could have been as many as 100 million. It is estimated that as up to 60% of Europe’s population perished. Devastation, tragedy and misery beyond belief!
One consequence was that landowners could no longer force their tenants to work for them. Up until then, peasants were little more than slaves, being forced to work a certain number of days every year in their landlord’s service; and if they couldn’t, through illness or whatever reason, they were often evicted, to starvation and probable death. A shortage of labour after the Black Death meant that landowners were in no position to dictate terms, and for the first time, if they wanted their fields worked, they had to pay wages. Another was that, because of the drop in population, there was an oversupply of food, and prices dropped, so not only were people paid wages for the first time, they had more than enough for the bare necessities of life, so could save a bit.
In short, the Black Death may have been the beginning of the end of the feudal system of virtual slavery.
Or take the Great War, in which 16 million combatants and civilians died, plus up to another 100 million from the tribal conflicts that followed, and the Spanish Flu. Men were in short supply in the workforce because they were in the trenches, and women stepped into the breach in the production lines and munitions factories. Although the wheels were already in motion prior to the war, there is no doubt that the fact that women stepped up to the mark (that, and the fact that the gender balance tilted towards them because of all the combatants that died) meant that women were granted greater legal rights, including being allowed to vote in the UK for the first time.
Or what about the Second World War, in which between 70 and 85 million people lost their lives? I can think of at least three positive consequences from that dreadful period.
Antibiotics – although every schoolchild knows that Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin by accident in 1928, what not so many people appreciate is that mass production of this wonder-drug proved very difficult, and the solution, developed by Howard Florey and Ernst Chain in 1940 was a closely-guarded military secret, and is felt to have helped the Allies to victory, because more men survived being wounded.
The Welfare State and the NHS – although widely touted as a Labour invention, in fact it was agreed during the war that something had to be done to improve the lot of the working classes who had fought for King & Country. A cross-party group worked on it, and it was agreed that, regardless of which party was in power at the end of the war, the Welfare State would be implemented. The world’s first ever national health service, free at the point of delivery, was a direct consequence of the war.
Nuclear power – when Robert Oppenheimer saw the explosion of the first nuclear bomb, as part of the Manhattan Project on which he has worked, he is reputed to have quoted from the Bhagavad Gita – Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds. The Manahattan Project has got to be the ultimate Pandora’s Box, with all the evils it let out – Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Cuban missile crisis, Cold War stand-offs, veterans crippled by exposure to radiation, etc – yet it has given us an opportunity for clean power that we so desperately need, to supplant the fossil fuels that are driving climate change and using up resources.
So while we are all a bit concerned, if not out-and-out scared at the minute, in the midst of the greatest crisis this country, indeed the entire world has seen in a very long time, I believe there will be change for the better as a result.
Will we all go back to driving one-person-per-car to an office every day, an activity that makes Belfast the second most congested city in the UK?second most congested city in the UK? I don’t think I will, not when everybody sees how easy it is to conduct remote meetings.
Will we think twice about flying for business, or even for pleasure at the drop of a hat, now that we see that a widely-connected world can lead to the rapid and overwhelming spread of disease? Not to mention the immediate reduction in carbon and nitrogen dioxide emissions already detected? I think we might.
Stay safe (and indoors!) and if you want some more inspired reading have a look at Exodus 14:10-14, Romans 11:3-4, want some more inspired reading have a look at Exodus 14:10-14, and Romans 11:3-4, and many, many other verses about the triumph of hope over despair.
And as ever, if you want to get in touch, please give me or one of the team a shout. We’re getting a lot of calls at the minute, so best perhaps to email to arrange a time. But we’re always glad to hear from you.
David Crozier CFP
§ The House at Pooh Corner (A A Milne 1928)
Ponos (hardship), Limos (starvation), Algos (pain), Dysnomia (anarchy), Pseudea (lies), Neikea (quarrels), Amphilogai (disputes), Makhai (wars), Hysminai (battles), Androktasiai (manslughters) & Phonoi (murders). Elpis – hope – was left behind in the box. Thank you, Stephen Fry! (Mythos, Stephen Fry, 2018)