A CHANGING WORLD
SOMETIMES, unexpected events conspire to impact negatively on our lives. Such an experience can come and go, with little or no lasting consequence, or it can change our world forever, even if we don’t realise it. We humans have a natural tendency to believe bad things will eventually pass and normality will return, whatever our life experience might have taught us “normality” is meant to be. Only with the benefit of hindsight and passage of time, do we begin to realise that what we have experienced was actually the end of all that we assumed to be the natural order. It turns out that life will never be quite the same again.
Throughout the ages, such events have rocked civilisations, even destroyed them completely. Not in one sudden, earth-shattering crash, or great flood, but by the imperceptible accumulation of consequential outcomes, unnoticed at the time. Oh, life itself always goes on, but not always in a positive, ever-advancing, forward-marching fashion, that humanity often deludes itself into believing is the natural order of things.
The so-called “progress of mankind” has been peppered with shattering backward steps.
In AD 410, on August 27, the Visigoths sacked Rome, the “eternal city”, one time capital of the greatest Empire the world had ever seen. St Jerome proclaimed “the light of the world has gone out”. In a sense, it had, but the truth was, the candle had been flickering for some time. The Western Roman Empire, if only in name, struggled on for another 66 years, but it was a Rome that Julius Caesar or Augustus would hardly have recognised. All they took for granted had already disappeared. One thousand years of civilised progress had been swept away. Public baths, libraries, theatres, interconnecting roads across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, had fallen into neglect and disrepair. The Imperial revenue was shattered, the economy in disorder and the Imperial Legions decimated in civil wars. The once secure borders had been overwhelmed or abandoned and barbarian hordes pillaged their way across Europe. What Romans in AD 100 assumed would last forever, by 410, was in its final death throes. The “Dark Ages” had arrived. The unbelievable had happened.
Oh, yes, over the centuries, society struggled its way back to literacy and social cohesion, sustained by the return of some form of limited commerce, but then came another big kick in the teeth in 1347. The Black Death arrived. We cannot imagine the impact it had on Europe. 25 million died, out of a continent-wide population of just 70 million (slightly more than the current population of modern Britain). The impact was devastating. The land went uncultivated, there were food shortages, despair and poverty reigned supreme, for decades after.
Brutal as nature can be, mankind has his own grim reaping machine. It’s called war. When World War I began in 1914 no-one could have predicted the world it would leave behind in 1918. Centuries-old monarchies collapsed across Europe, empires disappeared, new countries appeared on the map, communism came to Russia and the seeds of World War II were sown. By 1918, 20 million lay dead. Not to be outdone by mankind’s life-destroying ingenuity, nature stepped immediately back into the fray as the guns fell silent. Spanish flu polished off a further 50 million victims.
The world’s next great cull of the human race came to its blood-curdling conclusion as nuclear holocaust hit Nagasaki and Hiroshima. That war left over 50 million corpses behind it, almost beating the efforts of Spanish flu 27 years before. After any one of the events I have related passed into history, the world would never be the same again. In 1945 my post-war generation’s “normality” was born.
How long will it last? In my view, it started disappearing long before Covid-19 had a go at it. The march of technology alone is changing life beyond belief. Paper money is on the way out. Shopping and banking is going “online”. Robotics are taking over the workplace, working from home is becoming the norm. Not travelling to work will change public transport needs and city centres forever. What you once physically possessed can now be acquired “virtually”. Whether you like it or not, whether you can cope or not, is irrelevant. It’s happening and it’s not going to stop. Covid-19 hasn’t caused all this, but it has accelerated existing trends at an unpredictable, life-changing and, for some folk, alarming speed.
Covid-19 is potentially deadly and very real. There can be no doubt about that, but in truth just under 2 million souls have died worldwide during the current pandemic. Compared to Spanish flu, Covid has just left the starting blocks. The vaccine “rollout” should eventually stop Covid in its tracks. Let us hope so.
No, it is certain aspects of the changes that the virus has accelerated that cause me alarm. Cameras watch our every public move. Computers, “smart” TVs and phones monitor our lives. Big Brother knows what we are up to, more and more, be it commercial, criminal or governmental interests that are in play.
Life is becoming more authoritarian, by the hour. People seem more amenable to accepting it. Tolerance of views different to what some believe is their own great truth is at low ebb. The storming of Capitol Hill in the US is the latest evidence of this.
Freedom of speech and even thought, is consequently restricted, not just by law, but by this climate of fear and intolerance of others who dissent. The pillars of western democracy, that we have taken for granted, all our lives, are being challenged.
Authoritarian government measures, no doubt necessary to stop the pandemic, are all around us. Fine, as long as they are temporary. History shows, that once government obtains overwhelming power over us, it is reluctant to give it up. People become accustomed and conditioned to accepting it. That is where we are at. A new “normality” is being born. We had better wake up to the fact, before it consumes us.