Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Disasters: a warning from a historian

Just started reading Barbara Tuchman's portrayal of the 'calamitous' 14th century, A Distant Mirror. The century began with unusually cold weather and devastating famines, the Hundred Years War between England and France kicked off, and then came possibly the worst disaster in history, the Black Death, which carried off perhaps one person in three.

But Tuchman warns us that one of the dangers of writing history is that the 'bad side - evil, misery, contention, harm' tends to get recorded more than the good: 'In history this is exactly the same as in the daily newspaper. The normal does not make news.'

The author goes on: 'Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts.' Yes, lots of disasters happen, but most of us will be lucky enough never to experience one. So a sense of proportion is important.

Governments need to take note too. By trying to prevent anything bad happening (which cannot, anyway, be achieved), they often pursue policies that are in themselves damaging - something we often see in the field of 'security' - http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jan/19/gchq-intercepted-emails-journalists-ny-times-bbc-guardian-le-monde-reuters-nbc-washington-post

Incidentally, so far A Distant Mirror is a great read. 

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