Sunday, February 19, 2012


Occupy the meritocracy of democracy!

Consider the case of a disease that not only threatened to kill many, it threatened to kill all. The Black Death killed 1.5 million out of 4 million people in England between 1348 and 1350. There was no medical knowledge of the disease. It was not known how to treat it at the time.
Was the plague a curse from God? Was it punishment for sin? What caused the disease? From where did it come?
The outbreak of the Black Death actually started in China in the 1330’s. It was transported to Europe by Italian merchant ships that arrived in Sicily in October of 1347.
Boccaccio recorded the symptoms: “The first signs of the plague were lumps in the groins or armpits. After this, livid black spots appeared on the arms, thighs and other parts of the body. Few recovered. Almost all died within three days, usually without any fever.”
Medical inquiry has to evaluate relevant evidence. Questions regarding God’s role are set aside to favor the investigation of the relation between physical symptoms and causality. Theology can interpret findings after a cause has been identified and a treatment has been devised.
What were the people of England to do? Suppose they knew that the disease started to rampage after a ship had landed from Italy? Should they assume biological warfare? Should they send an army to Italy; then on to China? Would that cure the disease?
It became apparent to objective observation that it was fleas from rats that started the contagion. The rats had climbed onto the ships that sailed from China to Italy; then from Italy to England. It was then spread by close contact with other humans.
What could be done? It was the lack of community sanitation and the close living quarters that provided a favorable environment for the disease to spread. Garbage was not taken to public landfills. Bodily waste was not disposed away from the household. The unsanitary conditions were favorable for the rats that harbored the fleas that spread the contagion.
The cure for the time was environmental. They didn’t come up with an inoculation that cured the disease. They had to change the living conditions. Community and household sanitation had to be improved to the extent that the rats would not have such a happy home.
This was a time in history where Europeans were coming closer to understanding the microbial causes of disease. The fleas on the rats were the vectors for the disease, but it was some invisible microbe that caused it.
The environment established by humans was favorable to the communication of the pathogenic microbe, so improvement of living conditions would come to provide a preventative measure.
Did everyone respond objectively to the plague? Albert Camus, a writer associated with existential philosophy, wrote a novel called “The Plague” that evaluated the social situation. He used it to comment on the German occupation of France; an occupation that had only recently ended.
The leadership of the time was sectarian. They supported state religion. They called it Christianity. They said that the disease was a punishment from God. They used it to control the population by frightening it into submission. They tortured suspects. They killed people who were not Christian. Quarantines of infected communities and the documentation of physical conditions were the only effective actions applied by the government.
The central character, Dr. Bernard Rieux, heroically applies objective inquiry into finding a treatment for the malady. Ultimately, the plague ends on its own despite the lack of medical knowledge. The torture and execution of suspects would prove to be criminal. The plague would eventually come to serve as an argument for public sanitation. 
A movie called “Black Death” was released in 2010. It is set in England during and after the period of affliction. A friar is called to investigate reports of resurrected bodies in a town in the country. He is sent with an envoy of knights appointed by the bishop. The movie becomes a depiction of the conflicting claims of christianity and paganism, but ultimately it serves as an argument against devotion to destruction. The argument also supports freedom of religion.
The town where the friar was sent did not suffer from the ravages of the disease. They claimed that the plague was a punishment from the christian’s vengeful God. It did not affect them because they were not christians. The christians on the other hand were convinced that the claims of resurrection were the work of a necromancer and witches.
The pagans tortured the christians to get the renunciation of Christ as God. The christians killed the pagans for witchcraft. The cruelty of the affliction ruled the actions of both sides. It was not a typical movie insofar as both sides were shown as being wrong. Neither side was depicted as being just. The development of the central character was not heroic. It was pathetically tyrannical.
Neither side favored the rule of law based on due process in investigation. Their only investment in evidentiary investigation was to determine if the people whom they did not know were christian or pagan. The findings were then used to put the members of the other side to death.
It was emotionally disturbing and seemed all too historically accurate. I wouldn’t call it enjoyable entertainment, but it had an educational value in the implied support for non-sectarian and representative government.
This review of the bubonic plague serves as a lesson from history. The disease was not a punishment from God. Faith in liberty and love however played a role in calling for improvement in medical knowledge, public sanitation and representative leadership for the general public.
Praise for the God of gods then, is not a call for sectarian government or state religion. It is a call for learning about representative leadership for human being from the lessons of history.
Fm. Ps.50
you are the God of gods.
You call the earth
from each rising
of the sun
to the next.
You reveal yourself out of Zion;
perfect in beauty;
majestic in glory.
God will come from
before the dawn.
LORD, you come
from nowhere
out of silence.
A consuming flame
precedes you.
There is a raging storm
all around you.
You call the heavens and the earth from above
to witness the judgments of justice.
“Assemble my people.
Renew the covenant of love.
Seal it with sacrifice and celebration.”
Let the heavens declare the rightness of justice;
for God is the judge.
One thing government and people have in common is the conflict of battling factions. Initially, it can seem that the answer to factional conflict is to eliminate the factions. This is the basis for dictatorship however. Dictatorship always shows favor to one group to the disadvantage of others. It is “the party” that rules over and against any other parties.
Democracy operates on the assumption of factional disagreement. Debate is entertained from at least two parties to find agreement by the reduction of disagreement. The goal is to weigh the oppositions against each other in order to find a resolution. The participation of the people is required. Otherwise, representation is limited to those opposing factions that can afford to support the debate between the political leaders.
The “Underworld” movie series looks at the battle between vampires and werewolves as factions of society. The vampires are the death dealers. They represent the aristocracy that was out to eliminate opposition. Currently, they have a correspondence with that industrial leadership that seeks to destroy the competition.
The werewolves used to be slaves to the vampires. The vampires operated at night. The werewolves worked in the day. They were the hard working peasants who had worked so hard that they became as fit as warriors. They became so strong in serving that they rebelled against oppressive leadership. They represent labor. This movie series is about class warfare.
The romance between Michael and Selene underscores the love that can grow within the drama of war between factions.  War and oppressive government can be so cruel that the cruelty threatens to eclipse the experience of love. Humans won’t reproduce without love. The species would die were it not for the reproductive urge. Somehow, couples find a way to love working together. This love represents the ability to stay together to the end; to the last breath.
Romance is eclipsed when opposing factions play the love of the couple for each other against the responsibility to parent offspring. The pattern had been for the male to act as the income provider and the female to act as the household manager. Modern life and democracy have altered the pattern. Now, both parents often work. The male is not necessarily the primary income provider.
Currently, the trend to promote the industry of war is an effort to regress to the old pattern of male domination. Democracy abhors single party leadership. Representative leadership is not patriarchal. It is not matriarchal. It is a meritocracy that values experience with education.
Don’t succumb to the call for regression. Occupy the meritocracy of democracy.
Steve K.

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