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The Black Death

August 6, 2013

In the year 1347, the Black Death arrived on the shores of Europe. Chances were, if you fell ill, you’d die within the week. Fatality rates ranged from 25% to 50% of the infected population. The Black Death ended Feudalism and undermined the people’s faith in the church. But it did something else, which is far more relevant today. It illustrated that civilization and society are voluntary organizations. There are no requirements to join; we do so for the common good, the collective good.

An eye-witness to the Black Death, the Florentine writer Giovanni Boccaccio, put it this way:

[S]uch fear and fanciful notions took possession of the living that almost all of them adopted the same cruel policy, which was entirely to avoid the sick and everything belonging to them. By so doing, each one thought he would secure his own safety.

Some thought that moderate living and the avoidance of all superfluity would preserve them from the epidemic. They formed small communities, living entirely separate from everybody else. They shut themselves up in houses where there were no sick, eating the finest food and drinking the best wine very temperately, avoiding all excess, allowing no news or discussion of death and sickness, and passing the time in music and suchlike pleasures. Others thought just the opposite. They thought the sure cure for the plague was to drink and be merry, to go about singing and amusing themselves, satisfying every appetite they could, laughing and jesting at what happened. They put their words into practice, spent day and night going from tavern to tavern, drinking immoderately, or went into other people’s houses, doing only those things which pleased them. This they could easily do because everyone felt doomed and had abandoned his property, so that most houses became common property and any stranger who went in made use of them as if he had owned them. And with all this bestial behaviour, they avoided the sick as much as possible.

In our modern society, husbands abandon wives and children, children abandon parents. Some Americans think working hard and keeping their noses to the grindstone will protect them; others fall into hedonism; morals, laws and social conventions collapse, because the people feel they are all doomed. Now look at any major city in the United States. In Baltimore, Maryland, there are over 7,000 abandoned, derelict homes. In Detroit, 50% of the adult population is chronically unemployed. Then there is Youngstown, Toledo and Cleveland Ohio; cities in ruins with only enclaves of the financially healthy, adopting the same cruel policy to entirely avoid the sick and everything belonging to them. By so doing, each one thought they could secure their own safety.

Currently, there are at least 34,700,000 unemployed, underemployed and displaced Americans. The number of family members living with relatives is now nearly 20% of all American households. The largest increase has been in the 25 to 34 yrs age group, making up two-thirds of the total number.

The plight of the lower and most of the middle classes was even more pitiful to behold. Most of them remained in their houses, either through poverty or in hopes of safety, and fell sick by thousands. Since they received no care and attention, almost all of them died. Many ended their lives in the streets both at night and during the day; and many others who died in their houses were only known to be dead because the neighbours smelled their decaying bodies. ~ G.B.

Someone tell me, please, how is this different from our current American life?

“In this suffering and misery of our city, the authority of human and divine laws almost disappeared, for, like other men, the ministers and the executors of the laws were all dead or sick or shut up with their families, so that no duties were carried out. Every man was therefore able to do as he pleased.” ~ G.B.

A generation of Americans see no future for themselves — a generation who see themselves as doomed. Recently, in a Bloomberg article about Detroit’s bankruptcy, the most common explanations given for Detroit’s financial woes by the audience were: Democrats, Unions and Black mayors. Post-racial America…give me a break. A plague such as this must have a reason, God’s wrath over man’s sinful nature, perhaps, but it’s too abstract and nothing could be done about it. So instead, let’s find a scapegoat!

To the learned minds of 1348, the answer was obvious; it was the Jews causing this plague. Under torture, many Jews confessed to poisoning Christian wells. To the learned minds of 2013, it is equally obvious, “its Black mayors,” unions, Democrats and of course, the Jews. Across Europe in 1348, the Jews were burned, incarcerated or expelled by the thousands, much in the same way African-American youth are treated in America today. One in three Black men will go to prison. Under New York City’s stop and frisk policy, being a person of color is reason enough to be stopped and searched.

How do people pull themselves up by their boot straps when they have no boots? The student loan debacle proves this point and what conclusion for the future should be drawn by the students, inner city dwellers and people of color?

“Since they received no care and attention, almost all of them died. Many ended their lives in the streets both at night and during the day;” ~ G.B.

Does this sound at all familiar?

“A dozen people were killed and at least 62 wounded in gun violence that rang out across Chicago over the long Fourth of July holiday weekend.” ~ Huffington Post

When you’re young and you have nothing, pride becomes pretty important. You have no future; most of your role models have abandoned you or are either in prison or dead. What does life mean, when you’re doomed from the start?

“Others thought just the opposite. They thought the sure cure for the plague was to drink and be merry, to go about singing and amusing themselves, satisfying every appetite they could, laughing and jesting at what happened.” ~ G.B.

This is the new Black Death, a deadly plague, afflicting tens of millions of Americans. The wealthy lock themselves away in gated communities, while millions more are powerless, locking themselves away, fearing the plague reaching their door, the next step down. With less than 5% of the world population the United States incarcerates 2.3 million people; China has 1.6 million prisoners with four times our population.

I want you to understand, if you’re poor or a person of color, and you’re arrested by police, you will be convicted of the charge. Robert Leone was arrested in 2010 for failure to stop. The Pennsylvania state troopers then beat Leone senseless, charging him with a litany of crimes to cover up the beating. One of the charges against Leone was for assaulting an officer. Leone had used his face, while handcuffed, to break a state trooper’s hand and was charged accordingly. Chained to a gurney in the emergency room, Leone begged for help from the hospital staff, explaining his beating at the hands of police. Overhearing Leone, police ordered the examination room emptied and proceeded to beat and taser Leone again.

How is one persecution any different from any other? Your best hope is to live through the beating and not be sentenced for too long a prison stay. In Leone’s case, the goal was to keep him incarcerated, until the statute of limitations had run out, preventing Leone from suing police.

This plague, which afflicts us, is man-made. The disease is Capitalism; it is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans every year, both directly and indirectly. It is responsible for the health care crisis, the banking crisis, the mortgage crisis and the drug problem. It is responsible for crumbling cities and unemployment; it’s responsible for junk food and GMO crops. It is responsible for fracking and every other form of industrial pollution. Capitalism isn’t an economic system; it’s a disease, a plague, the Black Death.

“For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and once they’d done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away” ~ George Orwell


About the Author: David Glenn Cox is a senior staff writer for TLR and an award winning author and musician; he is the author of the novel, “The Servants of Pilate”.


One Response to The Black Death

  1. liberalvoice on August 14, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    Nice article David! The disease is one that has been spread and promoted by the likes of Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and all the champions of mindless avarice, and has taken hold of America. The future looks dubious for the majority of Americans who seldom if ever get a fair shake. The new capitalism is a cancer that is eating the heart of America.

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