Now we really need a sense of oneness of seven billion human beings
- His Holiness 14th Dalai Lama
We can't stir a finger in this world without the risk of bringing death to somebody
- Albert Camus, ‘La Peste’
A while ago I wrote about the historical myths masquerading as hard facts, taught to me as a credulous schoolboy. Another comes to mind just now. I long understood that Blackheath in London is thus named due to it being the location of a plague pit used for victims of the Black Death and/or the Great Plague. Now that I think about it I don’t know if I learnt this in school or from a bloke in a pub. Either way it turns out that the name – or some variant – appears at least 200 years earlier than the Black Death and probably referred to the dark colour of the foliage on the Heath.
Undoubtedly there are old plague pits throughout London and the rest of the country. The major plague outbreaks and lesser epidemics killed countless millions of people who, at a loss to understand the true cause of the pestilence, believed it to be a punishment visited on them for their sinful ways.
The Black Death was probably the most prolific killer in human history. Originating around 1346, in Central Asia it travelled along the Silk Road, courtesy of fleas hitching a ride on black rats, reaching much of central and Western Europe by 1350.
The Great Plague in London in 1665 & 1666 killed about 25% of London’s population and is regarded as the last major plague epidemic in this country – so far.
Notice that it took 4 – 5 years for the Black Death to cross the continent, when the fastest form of transport was a horse. It is a feature of the modern world that people can travel across the planet in a day, and carry bacteria and viruses and duty free with them, The Spanish flu (1918 – 1920) got a bit of a free ride thanks to soldiers returning from the Great War. As if they hadn’t already suffered enough.
By contrast Covid-19 spread around the world in a matter of weeks. Imagine for a moment, if this virus had been far more contagious or if it had a much higher rate of mortality. It’s a frightening thought.
In 1340 the population of the world was around 440 million. The Black Death reduced that by as much as 25%. Today the population in 7 billion. How much greater is both the danger and our responsibility to each other.
In the modern world we are so interconnected, our actions and decisions having the possibility of global consequence at great speed. We need to be mindful of our actions and responsibilities. We are not alone. We are part of a huge organic network, in which the smallest deed can have global consequences. It is the butterfly effect made real.
In a recent BBC interview His Holiness The Dalai Lama said the following:
"In the past there was too much emphasis on my continent, my nation, my religion. Now that thinking is out of date. Now we really need a sense of oneness of seven billion human beings.”
There are things that can destroy us, over which we have no control. But we can and must desist from those entirely human destructive and selfish actions over which we have total control and whose cessation is a simple decision, albeit one which requires a global unity of purpose.