March 25, 2020
In Blog Letters To Finkelstein
I think humanity saw (and still sees) worse crises than this one. We don’t seem to be approaching the End of Days, at least not yet.
Besides, I’m not sure, between American elections and the pandemic, which one will have the worst effect on humanity.
Current estimates for the annual number of deaths from influenza are around 400,000 deaths per year.
In the U.S. alone, the flu has caused an estimated 36 million illnesses, 370,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths this season, according to the CDC. https://www.livescience.com/new-coronavirus-compare-with-flu.html
From April 12, 2009 to April 10, 2010, CDC estimated there were 60.8 million cases and 12,469 deaths in the United States due to the H1N1 virus. 151,700 – 575,400 people worldwide died it during the first year the virus circulated. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/2009-h1n1-pandemic.html
Mosquito-borne viruses — of which dengue is one of many — kill an estimated 50,000 people worldwide every year.
It’s estimated that between 24.7 and 39.3 million died from the 1918 pandemic, the Spanish flu. Even in comparison to the lowest estimate for its death count (17.4 million), this pandemic, more than a century ago, caused a death rate that was 182 -times higher than today’s baseline. https://ourworldindata.org/spanish-flu-largest-influenza-pandemic-in-history
In his book, “The Black Death, 1346-1353: The Complete History” (Boydell Press, 2018), Ole Jørgen Benedictow estimates that 50-60% of the population of Europe died during the Black Death.
It is still terrible.
But I don’t foresee the end of human western civilisation. Maybe the end of western current lifestyle?
China seems to be doing pretty well, slowly coming back to normal. The other Asian countries, too. It’s the rich western countries that bear the brunt, for instance. Maybe that’s the scandal.
I suppose the Eastern ones will follow the West, as is usually the case. I’m not sure about Russia.
But even where the epidemy seems unstoppable, the young ones are almost untouched.
I expect to see poverty soar. Power realignments and wars for resources could follow. Maybe the thin democratic veil will fall. The US empire is fading. This could bring wars, and a China domination I’m afraid of (I was very impressed, for the best as for the worst, when being in Beijing 3 years ago. Quite a scary experience).
I think we could well witness a civilizational shift. I’m wary of changes, except for when they were intended and were fought for, which is not the case. This could be a time for re-evaluation of our values as a society and of our mistakes in the 12th hour, but probably won’t happen. Asian countries’ answer to the pandemic reminded me of Plato’s ideal society (and of his views of democracy as not its best option. Certainly, not the oligarchies disguised as democracies we now have).
We were heading for a disaster anyway, the way of climatic change and ecological destruction. Even if we’d be ok, as human societies (which we’re not going to be), I’m not so keen living in a world where most of the species are extinct and nature is destroyed.
So, I think the end is approaching indeed, though not so fast.
But this situation could signal the end of one’s days. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not sure at all I’d make it through. I’m just as concerned for those I care of and seem at higher risk. If I do take this possibility into account, it doesn’t change much my priorities or daily routine. Cultivating one’s soul, mind, and being in touch with one’s meaningful connections might be a good answer to it.
We have distanced ourselves as society from the realities of illness and death. Not so long ago, the whole village mourned at the head of the deceased. It was something natural. These were important rites of passage. Disaster could strike at any time, it was part of life. Now death happens in hospitals, away from us.
Life’s still tough in a lot of Romanian and Moldavian villages. People don’t care much of this outbreak, they follow their daily life just as before. There are anyway so many usual, unavoidable, deaths and illnesses, that this one more problem doesn’t matter any bit more than the other problems they have.
I think the End of Days is a relevant idea for someone who has a transcendental sensitivity, whether religious or not. Our society lost it.
I am looking at the splendid images of one of the most exquisite art albums I’ve ever seen. It presents La Tenture de l’Apocalypse d’Angers, the oldest French medieval tapestry to have survived. It’s a straight-up rendering of the Bible text, by a masterful artist and the finest weavers. The works are truly extraordinary. So eerily beautiful, so striking, so modern, so powerful. Didn’t find online something really convincing… A few images here https://www.beauxarts.com/grand-format/la-tenture-de-lapocalypse-un-tresor-revele/#&gid=1&pid=1
It’s a very beautiful answer to a hypothetical End of Days, more impressive than anything I could think of.