19 COVID Thoughts #14
Updated: Jul 30
Following the bubonic plague, the western world saw a number of positive social changes. With increased mortality rates across society, there were structural alterations to the wealth concentrations. There was a rise in the power of the merchant class and a dilution of the nobel class. This was brought about by the mutual benefits --money and prestige -- marriage between the classes afforded. Suddenly, the dearth of skilled and unskilled labour meant that each could charge a higher premium for their work. Similarly, there was an opening of the clergy to lower social classes brought about by the difficulties of filling the positions from the usual sources. Overall there was a redistribution of wealth and a restructuring of who is important to the running of society and what kinds of people can be in positions of power.
Following the bubonic plague, the style and theme explored in these memento mori proliferated in art and literature. One of the artistic style or presentations that increased in popularity were presentation of the the Danse Macabre. It consists of the dead or a personification of death summoning representatives from all walks of life. They dance along to the grave, typically with a pope, emperor, king, child, and labourer. Bergman’s The Seventh Seal finishes with one; albeit with a different assortment of people. The effect of seeing these people together, presented on a level playing field, reminds us of the fragility of our lives and how vain our ambitions are.
The complex relationship of the state and citizen has been highlighted recently: seeing the benefits of a government supported health system — most explicitly in the US where the lack of a national healthcare system highlighted the class divide with people unable to afford testing or treatment; the death of George Floyd and the rage on the streets of America and across the world at police brutality and institutions and societal racism; the Irish state's unhealthy relationship with for-profit companies captured in the exploitative conditions and high mortality rates in direct provision centres and nursing homes; the rise in reported cases of domestic abuse and a second wave of the MeToo movement; a multitude of issues around homelessness the lack of care afforded the housing situation in Ireland; the difficulties experienced by the traveller community during the lockdown; the steep rise in suicide rates across the country.
Peoples relationship with where they live, where they are from and how they want to interact with their surroundings are being reassessed and reinterpreted with new fervour. The local, the national and the global are all being reframed.
Plagues level societies.