What’s wrong with us? Did the plague make us different?

I’ve just finished reading The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.  As well as being an excellent read (as usual, ignore the garish cover) there was an idea in it that resonated.   Its set in the present day, and at the time of the Domesday proper, at the start of the plague in Europe.  It compares compassionate action through the behaviour of a couple of characters who are both concerned with the wellbeing (physical and spiritual) of another – the main protagonist, a time traveller.

The idea that hit me, and it’s pretty minor in all the Big Ideas floating around in the book, is that all those who cared for others in the Plague died, leaving the selfish and self-obsessed: and it is the decendants of those we live with today.  It reminds me of the anglo/whites in Australia: those who are descended from either lower class criminals who were tough enough to survive the inhospitable Australian landscape, as well as the screws.

Its an interesting thing to ponder: to think about how much the plague formed our culture of ‘I’m all right’, and rugged individualism, against the communal, spiritual and admittedly  entirely superstitious lives lived before.

Perhaps, and I’m just meandering here, since we are faced with another potential catastrophe in terms of climate change, we need to get some of those communal ideals back into our public sphere.

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