The Bright Side of Chaos: Before The Shock Doctrine, There Was the Black Death

The Bright Side of Chaos: How Major Calamities Set The Stage For A Better World isn't always going to light and breezy.

Moreover, it's not going to be the most complex take on history. There's details that will be skipped, but I'm trying to paint the broadest picture possible.

The point is: people need to believe in the face of major global catastrophes that there is hope for recovery.

It's not enough to say "we'll get through this" and leave it at that. People want to know there's more on the horizon, and that a new day will come.

It's a foregone conclusion that major global catastrophes are hard to simply "get over" and move on from.

The COVID-19 Crisis will permanently change us in many ways, and the impact of this event will last for decades to come.

The aftermath of a crisis, though -- the cultural inertia, the societal shock -- have variable timelines, depending on what happened and how wide-reaching the impact is. In 2020, it's probably going to be more like a few years of collective bewilderment.

In ages past, it was decades, even centuries, before things got better.

Case in point: the years after the Black Death.

Black Death

When the Black Death finally subsided in 1351, somewhere between 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia had died. The plague's impact was so great that it took almost 200 years for the global population to get back to pre-plague levels. 

It goes without saying this event had a dramatic, profound effect on world history. Europe was quite honestly never the same again after it.

But it wasn't all bad for Europe. Far from it.

In the decades following the Black Death, Europe -- a continent that was certainly overpopulated prior to the plague in proportion to its food supply and incredibly unsanitary cities -- underwent a transformation that gradually paved the way for its eventual rise as the planet's preeminent regional power.

First off, the passing away of millions meant that surviving peasants in Western and Central Europe were considerably more valuable to economies. Their wages improved, their standards of living increased, and Europe's economies enjoyed a surprising economic boom because of it. The feudal system gradually collapsed, and Medieval Europe came to an eventual end.

This meant that the foundations for technological innovations that made farming easier and more efficient were in place; less people meant a need for better ways to harvest food.

The larger point? Tragedy is difficult to bear at first, but things can and do get better over time. Even if it doesn't seem like it at first.

History is on our side for things to get better after a catastrophe.