If you think COVID-19 is bad, let me take you on a trip back to 1665.
(The book referenced here “A Journal of the Plague Year” can be found on Amazon.)
Video transcript follows:
My friend, Azra Raza, recommended this book to me very recently. This is called A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. It is an autobiography of living during the Black Death of London in 1665 and what it was actually like.
In 1665, London’s population was 460,000. 100,000 people died of the plague. It was so bad that black marks would start appearing on people’s skin and it would start puffing up. They would get puffed up with infection, and within a few days or a week they’d be dead. Very often they would go crazy before they died, which sometimes meant that people would literally run naked out of their house and run through the streets and get a bunch of other people infected, before they dropped dead.
They had to make a law that anytime a household had anybody who had the infection, they would immediately station a guard outside the house and forbid anyone to leave. They would paint a red cross on their front door so everybody knew that it was an infected home.
Anybody who had any money or resources fled to get away from it, often spreading the infection with them as they went.
There’s a story of a guy who tried in vain to find a midwife for his pregnant wife. The wife actually had the plague, so he did his best to be the midwife himself, and she gave birth to the baby, and both baby and mother died. Then he died of a broken heart when it was all done.
There were so many poor people that they would take any job they could get, and often the jobs were pulling around what they called the “dead cart.” In fact, if I had to pick another title for this book, I would call it The Dead Cart, because that is the phrase that you see most often in the book. It’s the cart that carries off the dead people. They would just dump their bodies in a giant mass grave in a church yard, then shovel some dirt over the top of the next layer of bodies so that it didn’t spread the infection any worse.
Nearly all business ground to a complete halt. If you went to the market to buy something, they’d put your money in a jar of vinegar so that it would disinfect the money.
People were fleeing London into the countryside, and if they had a horse, that was a problem because horses can only travel on roads. They had checkpoints stationed on all the towns to keep people from coming in, so people would flee into the fields and they would live in tents and lean-to’s.
There were all kinds of people selling snake oil, which would allegedly cure you of the disease. There were people stomping around proclaiming doom and destruction to everyone. This is what it was like. Any ship that came in from overseas, all the crew had to be quarantined for 30 days before they were even allowed to leave the ship. It was absolutely horrific.
Now, let’s compare it. What have we got right now? I had Chinese food delivered to my house last night, and that’s what we had for dinner. If this was happening 15 years ago, we’d all be texting each other at 5 cents per text message, but as it is, if you don’t have enough money to buy Zoom you can use Skype for free, or you can use Google Hangouts for free, or Facetime or whatever the equivalent is on other platforms.
You can get a hold of just about anybody because you know where they all are. Almost everybody is available to talk, if you want to talk to your friends. You’re not locked in a house with a guard stationed out front, not allowing you to leave.
The government is sending a whole bunch of people – at least people in the lower income strata – $1200 checks. The government has not sent a PPP relief bill to every small business, but at least an appreciable percentage of small businesses have received a loan that is forgivable if you meet certain conditions, and it then becomes a grant.
And guess what? As far as I can tell, only about 0.5% of people appear likely to die if exposed to the virus. I know about 5% of the people who get the virus die, but they’re in recognizable groups of vulnerable stratifications. We don’t really know the statistics, but we know that a lot of people who are exposed to the virus don’t even get it.
So you know what? We are living in the Waldorf Quarantine Astoria. Yeah, it’s hard, but if you think it’s hard, read this.
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