It could be (much) worse

I remember exactly where I was four years ago. My manager was American, but insisted I at least pretend to work. A New Yorker, I suspect she thought the election was a foregone conclusion. By lunch (Australian time), she was watching the live feed with me as a horrified silence crept across the office. I went to a bar later with some friends and we watched Trump’s acceptance speech while two men in MAGA hats danced nearby. The hats had not yet lost their circus performer quality and we watched them a little confused.

The absurd has long given way to the sinister. Trump has already promised to tie up the results in court. His supporters surrounded a Biden campaign bus as it drove through Texas. The fact that they were armed, as they tried to force an opponent’s campaign bus off the road, barely merits a click in today’s climate.

As an antidote to a world that sometimes feels on the verge of disintegration, here are some accounts from times when the civilized world really did collapse. The Silk Roads (which I’ve discussed here and here) recounts how contemporaries reacted to the sack of Rome in 410 A.D.:

In Jerusalem, the news was met with disbelief. ‘The speaker’s voice failed, and sobs interrupted his speech,’ wrote St. Jerome, ‘the city that had conquered the whole world had itself been conquered… who could believe it?’ Who could believe that Rome, built up through the ages by the conquest of the world, had fallen, that the mother of nations had become their tomb?’

Nearly 800 years later, the then centre of world civilization – Baghdad – was also dealt a fatal blow. This is how a contemporary described the bloody swathe cut by the Mongols through the Muslim world:

I wish I had never been born, wrote another, so I would not have had to live through such traumas. At least the Muslim Antichrist will only destroy his enemies, he went on; the Mongols, on the other hand, ‘spared none. They killed women, men, children, ripped open the bodies of the pregnant and slaughtered the unborn.’

Petrarch on The Black Plague:

Our hopes for the future have been buried alongside our friends

Happy Election Day. Please vote if you can.

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