That glass? It's half full. Why?
From the vantage point of "seven hundred years later", the Black Plague is a safe little tragedy to examine. We may wince, we may even feel for individual stories of towns utterly ghosted - perhaps it's even scary, in a way. But overall, the plague is an object of study rather than the inspiration for deep personal feeling. It's not "our" horror.
In a new time, with different horrors, there are of course a lot of people feeling deep personal feelings, direct fear, and actual threats. Who needs medieval barbarity? We unquestionably have our own.
One of the received lessons of history is that after the Plague, society changed for the better - with the decimation of the population, "upwardly mobile" became a thing, the middle class was born, prosperity prospered, and ironically the general state of human health actually improved, along with innovation. Eventually, the feudal system died, democracies and republics were born ...
It's a complex question, and the happy ending here is neither unquestionably happy nor even remotely an ending. Even if human progress did occur (and I am not the Whig to comment), was the price worth it?
It doesn't matter.
Let us not forget: democracy existed centuries before the plague, as well. And died then, too. Tragedy is the nature of life, just as much as joy. There's no avoiding it, even when its particulars might be headed off in one way or another. Sometimes it's manmade, sometimes not, sometimes humanity gives an assist to a virus and what was a natural disaster is exacerbated to staggering proportions.
Good and evil are constants. Not cycles.
For all those republics born after the population shift, for all those inheritors a generation after 1348 who owned more and were able to leverage it, for all human innovation - there exist crimes great and small, there are oppressions, there is theft and cruelty and utter, pigheaded stupidity.
The older I get, the more I believe, humanity honestly does not change.
Unfortunately, I've also begun to believe humanity honestly likes to be stupid, as well. It's easy, it transfers responsibility to those who feel they must think, it absolves us of even understanding the consequences of our own slovenly communal behavior. It is also an act of will.
I can put quite a few faces of people I know to the sentiment "I just don't know that much about politics." And it does kind of make me angry, but more than anything it makes me despair, because that is a choice.
And yet, and yet. And yet.
For all we endure shock on an international scale at Brexit, at Trump, at what-have-you outrage of the day, I am the kind of researcher, burrower, study-er, learn-er, need-er who must find the other side of a coin.
"Nearly a quarter of the population of the world died in a pandemic? Yeah, but look at what happened next."
We're not going to survive if we don't contemplate what might happen next. Humanity can't NOT look to tomorrow, it's how we are wired. It's the mechanism of both how we hope and how we fear. "Even if not for me, there will be a tomorrow - for someone, for almost everyone."
This is how causes are born; we fight today in the name of tomorrow, and we fight for ourselves in the name of everyone else. It's not altruism: it's a relay race. Someone must carry the baton of hope, of dissent, of anger or righteousness. The baton becomes the thing, and we carry it for ourselves but we don't fail to pass it along so it can keep going.
I don't believe evolution - history - has been a progression from ignorance to enlightenment. But I don't believe it's a cultural decline, either.
I don't believe in the end of times, I don't believe in complete human degradation, even when so many examples can be found.
For many, religion is the tool to manage fear that humanity's going to end someday. For me, it is entirely the opposite. It's the tool with which I grapple up and down the eternal landscape of mankind's own eternal good and evil, right and wrong. They are always with all of us, always options. So I have to daily make the choice - today, right, or wrong. Today, goodness or wickedness.
Because: the sun's going to come up tomorrow. Even if it doesn't come up on me.
What hope is there for our fears today? Bipartisan cooperation reborn? That could be good. Indeed, a redefinition of the terms that even give rise to the idea of "bipartisan" - the end of the two-party system? As tired as almost everyone is of negative campaigning and candidates who fail to engage us (American voter turnout is horrifyingly low), that could be an improvement, if a bit giddy-making for those of us codgers used to easy (hah) duality.
Let's find out, shall we?