The Storm Before The Calm

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As Winston Churchill once said: “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”. It’s a tired, oft-repeated saying that didn’t even originally belong to Churchill; but damn, it has never been as relevant as it is today.

In times of prosperity progress seems to slow to a crawl as we lose a common enemy to focus on. Without a common enemy we turn to in-fighting and ‘me-ism’, losing the importance of tribalism and mismanaging lessons from history.

Through the lens of ‘Anglo’ culture, we’ve had some great enemies in recent years. The Germans, the Russians, even the French before both of them. But after every battle comes a peace and after every peace another battle.

We see this in literature as well as history. If we accept that humans must always be in some kind of conflict, then we can narrow down that conflict to one of four main types according to literary tropes. There’s man against man, man against society, man against self, and lastly man against nature.

You may already see the parallels between several of these, and at any stage inhuman history I’d argue that we’re always facing one of these four conflicts. Right now, during these COVID-19 times, our enemy is nature, and it’s fascinating to watch. With an intangible force knocking at our door, who do we turn to?

During this crisis, as in so many crises that have come before, people have flocked to the lessons of history to feel safe and comforted. They want to know we aren’t on a new frontier of human experience, and very rarely are we proven wrong.

When The ‘Rona hit hard, everyone was an overnight expert on the history of pandemics. The Spanish flu and The Plague were no longer dry passages in large hardback books, but topics of conversation on everyone’s tongue.

Personally, I’ve always loved history, and the more I come to know about our history, the more I come to respect Churchill’s words. If you look at the world through a historical lens you start seeing patterns everywhere. Save the upcoming inevitable climate crisis, there is no modern event that is wholly original. History is basically the Spiderman franchise – it never stops remaking itself. 

So, what do we learn from history when we look back? We learn that great suffering always leads to great progress, and I know that sounds borderline psychotic, but it’s true. 

While we’ve established history repeats itself, it’s also important to acknowledge the repetition is cyclical. There is always a crisis followed by a societal high leading into individual awakening, societal unravelling, and finally another crisis. Take the 20th century as a recent example: WW1, The Great Depression and WW2 ravaged the world in a one-two-uppercut, leaving no country unaffected. It was a series of reality shattering events that remains unprecedented in written memory, and despite the untold anguish, humankind snapped back—stronger than ever— leading to the most peaceful and prosperous period inhuman history.

This pattern happens over and over again on both the macro and the micro level. In the early 1200s Genghis Khan led his Mongol hordes across half the world, raping and pillaging along the way. It’s estimated that nearly 5% of the world’s population was wiped out, a feat unmatched by history’s deadliest wars. Despite the great suffering, Genghis’ heirs united half the world under one banner, re-establishing the Silk Road to its greatest-ever extent. Knowledge and trade had never before flowed as freely between Europe and Asia and a new golden age was born.

Not convinced? Let’s compare our current situation with a heavyweight of human suffering – The Black Death. This strain of bubonic plague peaked in Europe between 1347 and 1351 and resulted in the complete decimation of feudalistic society. It was a cataclysmic event at the time, yet ultimately greatly contributed to The Renaissance, a period of cultural evolution unrivalled to this day.

Greatness is forged in the fire of adversity, and the adversity we face today is the greatest we’ve seen in a generation. But it too shall pass. History teaches us that we’ll look back on COVID-19 and say this was our greatest victory. Right now, we face the crisis, but soon enough—though maybe not for a couple of years yet—we’ll reach a new cultural high. At the very least, it’s something to look forward to as we emerge from our houses into the wide-open world.

Sometimes we forget that we’re actually living through history, and soon enough the history books will write about us too.

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Oscar Hammond, Junior Copywriter @ 50 Crates

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