History is Cyclical

Sometimes we are wrong. I was wrong to say that the Covid-19 epidemic did not compare to any of the ones that came before it. Originally, I believed that it was one of those scares that killed a few people, scaring millions into washing their hands, and then fizzled out. But, boy, was I wrong.

There are a number of things that perhaps we cannot tell for sure about this pandemic. I am not going to add to the sum total of assumptions being peddled by the media, conspiracy theorists, and well-doers united. Instead, I am going to stick to my trade: history.

Here follows my take on how all diseases that came before this one, will also wreak their havoc on the world, and then exit stage left. The world is but a scene, and Covid-19 is but one of the protagonists. There’s been many before it. All history is cycles. And of this I am sure.

Sometimes maladies visit mankind. They damage its progress, they extinguish good and bad people together, and they disappear as if they were a bad dream. In fact, even the worst of the worst contagions, think yellow fever or vomito negro, Ebola, Black Death, smallpox, typhus, cholera, malaria, influenza, Covid-19, you name it, they all spare at least 1 to 2 percent of people. Some spare even more than a mere 2 percent.

You may call it proof that our species is hardwired to withstand natural cataclysms without going into the eternal night. We are a tough lot. We have adapted to endure and we have been forged in the heat of many, many battles throughout the eons. We are resilient and although viruses are mean motherfrackers, we are even meaner and hardier than them. They may have their numbers, I give them that. That doesn’t mean anything. Humans are more powerful in the long scheme of things.

What we do have instead is a self-conscious, self-cognizant hive mind that has relegated diseases like smallpox, AIDS, syphilis, and many others to the pages of history books. Once, they used to kill myriads of humans. Some continue to kill even today, but on a smaller scale. And this scale is growing smaller and smaller each year.

Today, smallpox is gone. AIDS no longer is the death sentence it used to be, not a decade before. And syphilis, which back in the 15th century killed in a week or a month, started to pale against our “paltry” defenses. Even without medication or effective treatment, by the beginning of the 20th century, it was taking 5 to 10 years to subdue a healthy individual. By the middle of the 20th century, syphilis had been completely and utterly defeated. The “mighty” killer, the destroyer of the medieval order of things, the great equalizer of men and women, the malady that afflicted and disfigured the sexually active Europe of the 15th to 17th centuries, changing the fashion, bringing back the wig, is a simple venereal disease. And like most STDs, very susceptible to go away after a long course of antibiotics.

My point is that Covid-19 is a danger today. Tomorrow, it will be forgotten, like all other pestilences.

Having dispensed with the important stuff first, I would like to introduce to you this here table which I think is worthy of our undivided attention. After all, with the whole lot of us self-sequestered in our homes, dwellings and abodes, what are we to do?! Wallow in self-pity and cry in despair? Of course not. We shall do the historical math and it will be lots of fun.

Interesting and yet not so bold assertion…

Let us see if there is a small seed of truth or logic to this “cyclic periodic table”.

In 734 AD, Wikipedia dixit that the pagan King Poppo of the Frisians was killed by the famous Charles Martel at the Battle of the Boarn. Charles Martel had just defeated the Moorish invasion at the Battle of Poitiers, two years before, stemming the Ummayad forrays into Western Europe.

The Battle of Poitiers – by Charles de Steuben – (1837).

One of his successors, the Carolingian King Pepin the Short (751-768), managed after a 7-year siege to evict the Ummayads from Septimania, compelling them to withdraw from Narbonne, in 759.

Moorish troops leaving Narbonne in 759 AD after 40 years of occupation – by Émile Bayard (1880).

So far, neither Charles Martel nor Pepin the Short seemed to me weak men but again perhaps the times were harder than others, given all the fighting and the fate of Europe hanging in the balance.

Let’s continue.

Who has heard of Carlomagnus otherwise known as Charlemagne?

Charles I or Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768, King of the Lombards from 774, and Emperor of the Romans from 800. During the Early Middle Ages, he united the majority of western and central Europe. He was the first holder of the imperial office in the West since Romulus Augustus lost his crown and life in 476 AD. He was the “Pater Europae” – Father of Europe.

By the time of his death in 814, the Kingdom of the Franks had become an evangelical empire. Charles I had stemmed and reversed the Muslim conquest of Europe, defended the Pope, reformed currency and commerce, the arts, writing, politics, the Church, engaging in diplomacy with the famous Harun al-Rashid in Baghdad, with the Realm of the Franks becoming the center of Europe.

This is Europe at the beginning of Charlemagne’s reign.
25 December 800 – Imperial Coronation of Charlemagne, by Friedrich Kaulbach – (1861).
Europe in 814 AD.

So far, so good. Hard times did manage to make strong men. Carlomagnus was a very strong man.

Unfortunately, his descendants proved somewhat lacking both in governing skills as well as in luck.

And the 9th century turned out to be quite as unpredictable and violent as its precursors.

The British Isles were invaded by the Viking, with the Saxon Heptarchy succumbing to the Danes. Out of its Seven Kingdoms – Mercia, Northumbria, Wessex, East Anglia, Sussex, Essex, and Kent – Wessex alone managed to survive the invaders’ onslaught.

An Arab fleet goes up the Tiber, in Italy. Arab fleets raid the coasts of the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Seas.

The Bulgars defeat the Byzantine Empire.

The Magyars start conquering Pannonia.

So it is true what they say about strong men creating good times and it is also quite painstakingly true that good times make men weak, and so the cycle is restarted.

I guess what I am trying to say is that never in my mind did I believe that I would truly see some of my worst fears come true. Never did I really entertain the notion that in my lifetime, I would bear witness to a reckoning of the magnitude as inflicted upon humanity by the Coronavirus. I have always thought that history is a big old circle and that the world goes up and down this cosmic Ferris wheel, but I had prayed and hoped that my generation would perhaps “skip the next bad turn.” Little did I trust my own judgment.

Beware what you anticipate. And always be prepared. Don’t talk about preparing for the worst. Just do it. If you are going to talk the talk you’d better walk the walk. And beware of people who say one cannot prepare for everything. They do not have a clue about life. They live their whole lives hoping for the best outcome and thus never prepare for any other eventualities. If you have a gut feeling, go with it. If you read enough history books, you’d understand than nations and people can anticipate most potential situations. Self-doubt is good. Introspection is even better. Counsel is best. Always talk about your plans with your loved ones and never dismiss the possibility that you might be wrong.

When in doubt call a friend who has a dissenting opinion. Do not trust yourself fully until you’ve “checked your math.” But once the calculation time is done, one needs to follow through. US Navy Admiral David Farragut defeated the Confederate defenses at the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864. His famous order “Fully speed ahead, and damn the torpedoes!” embodied the man and the spirit of the hour. Admiral Farragut broke through CSA defenses like a hot knife through butter.

Battle of Mobile Bay – 1864 by Julian O. Davidson (cca. 1884).

What I mean to say is this. There is a time for pregnant reflection when one must carefully weigh in all options on the table and draft a safe course, in consultation with all relevant stakeholders. There is a time for analysis. This is the moment to doubt oneself. This is when one can draft, redraft and draft again. But once the jury is back, there is no other way than forward. Once the time for deliberation is gone, it is time to jump into action and “damn the torpedoes!”

History is the mother of all sciences because it contains all facts and we base our decisions on rational data and evidence we know to be true. One needs only look to the past for the right solutions to one’s problems and dilemmas. Everything that can happen has happened. Sometimes even more than once. Actually, most things have occurred multiple times already. The source of all our ills is that we are too goddamn forgetful. We cannot be prepared when our intellect doesn’t have the right data to work on.

So, no wonder that we are often caught unprepared by things and events, which should not even make it to the footnotes of history books anymore. Remember, everything that we see, we hear and we know is likely to have been witnesses by our ancestors. Our existence is if you will a gigantic game of déja vu. The only problem is that whereby each of us sometimes get this nagging feeling of been there done that, when it comes to societies that nagging feeling of déja vu doesn’t seem to manifest itself.

Its prophets are painted with the same brush. They are called insane and committed to institutions. Perhaps we could do ourselves a favor and avoid a world of trouble. It’s rather easy and doesn’t take much. It requires us to open our eyes and ears and in general educate ourselves in all directions. Preparation requires education. It will make us be more atuned to the state of the universe, to its dangers, to its opportunities for growth. It will make us more fit to take on life’s challenges.

‘Normal’ ‘sane’ people tend to consider smart people crazy. It is a story as old as humanity. And they always have had the numbers on their side. And since when push comes to shove, it is a game of numbers, with the minority being cast the evil part, no wonder that normality has been the bane of mankind since times immemorial.

But the thing is that those ‘insane’ lonely voices have always had a depth and acuteness of vision that the ‘sane majority’ sorely lacked, and that enabled them to see through their facades of ‘sanity’.

Psychosis and hypersanity place these people outside society, making them seem ‘mad’ to the mainstream. Both states attract a heady mixture of fear and fascination. But whereas mental disorder is distressing and disabling, hypersanity is liberating and empowering.

Society values normality to the point that it remolds school children into conformists of the absurd. Absurdity is normal. The system wants us to be absurd and regular and plain, and normal. But the thing is, and here any historian worth their salt can tell you, that it was normal people doing their duty to king and country, who have killed 150 million people in the last 150 years. Not some abstract entity or God or philosophy or ethic. It was regular souls who did their patriotic duty without thinking about the consequences of their actions.

So next time you hear someone tell you something that doesn’t agree with your worldview, do not dismiss them as insane lunatics, neither fit for man or beast. Ignore your cognitive dissonance screaming “What do they know!? I know better.” Do the right thing. After all, that’s why we have two ears and only one mouth, eh.

Sometimes people who seem a little crazy are the ones who really get it.

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