The Black Death And The Modern World

In the older cities of the world, any modern excavation could quickly turn into an architectural dig. This happened recently in London, where some railway project unearthed a number of skeletons — leading researchers to believe they have found one of the major burial pits for the victims of the Black Death.

The Black Death had an unimaginable impact on medieval Europe. It first arrived in England in 1348, but resurfaced periodically for many decades. There was no medical science, and no one understood how the plague spread — but they did know that it was incredibly deadly. In England, the plague is estimated to have wiped out 60 percent of the population. People died by the thousands, and in places like London were buried in common mass graves. The railway project workers apparently found one of them.

It’s hard to conceive what the world was like during the plague years. One of my favorite books, Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, brilliantly captures the impact of the Black Death. Many people concluded that the plague was some form of heavenly retribution for earthly wickedness, and different religious cults adopted different approaches — such as self-scourging — to try to erase the sin that they believed was producing such horrible punishment. Others concluded that they were doomed anyway and adopted lives of carefree hedonism. As the death toll mounted, social order broke down. Priests refused to give absolution to dying plague victims. Families abandoned stricken relatives. Long-cultivated fields returned to wilderness because there weren’t enough serfs to tend to them. Gangs of robbers and mercenaries patrolled the countryside. And explicit representations of death and dying, complete with worm-eaten corpses, became commonplace in art and literature.

The 14th century was long ago, but the discovery of the mass grave in London makes me wonder — if a terrible pandemic struck the modern world, decimating the population and making death a constant, everyday reality, would our reaction be so different?

In A Survivalist Mode (II)

Speaking of survivalism, here’s probably the ultimate intersection of capitalism and survivalism:  a chance to buy a share of a fully equipped bunker built to withstand a nuclear attack and allow survival through just about every kind of catastrophe.  The product of the creative mind of an entrepreneur, the project will allow 135 people to live in compact, “cruise ship luxury” for at least a year.

The structure, located in the Mojave Desert in California, was constructed by AT&T in 1965 to protect the telecommunications infrastructure from nuclear attack.  And it has just about all the disaster scenario bases covered, too.  It was “built to withstand a 50-megaton nuclear blast 10 miles away, 450mph winds, a magnitude-10 earthquake, 10 days of 1,250°F surface fires, and three weeks beneath any flood.”

The promoter of the project also knows his end-of-days stuff.  He notes that the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world on December 21, 2012.  Other possible cataclysms include solar flares with electromagnetic pulses that pulverize the power grid and lead to social anarchy, direct asteroid hits, and plagues.

Yes, but would it protect us against zombie attacks?

In A Survivalist Mode