EUGEN OVIDIU CHIROVICI
Past Grand Master, National Grand Lodge of Romania
Honorary Director, MASONIC FORUM Magazine
If we turn to the study of the history of mankind, we observe time and again that the most important leaps in our development have come as a result of the confrontation of new sets of necessities, who turned up in the wake of certain catastrophes, of greater or lesser intensity. A famous anthropologist summed up this thesis in a pithy phrase: “But for the barrier of water, we should not have invented navigation”. So let us ask, Do contemporary crises conceal the germs of such a leap?
The known history of mankind begins with an unparalleled catastrophe: the deluge.
The end of the last ice age, following the melting of the ice, provoked a veritable planetary cataclysm.
Almost all known religions give an account, in the way of myths, of this catastrophe, which may have exterminated most of the population than extant.
But this very cataclysm also led to the apparition of fertile areas in the Delta of the Nile, the Danubian Delta, Asia Minor, and the Valley of the Rhine.
The hunter-gatherers of the “ice age” were gradually replaced by agricultural populations, the sedentary replaced the nomads. The first city states appeared; exchanges and commerce developed.
A mere two-three millennia brought changes that had not been recorded in tens of millennia previously. Cain had killed Abel in vain.
The agriculturists won the “war” on the historical scale. They started the evolutionary path on which we travel today.
In the Middle Ages, the Great Plague epidemic that spread throughout Europe in the second half of the 14th century exterminated two thirds of the continent’s population. This plague remains to this day the greatest catastrophe of the Old World.
Comparatively, the two World Wars of the 20th centuries and the Spanish Flu epidemic that followed the first represent a mere farce.
But that epidemic shattered the all-powerful, petrified conscience of the Catholic Church, thus opening the path for the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance and completely reset the world as we know it.
The confrontation between the forces of Reformation and Counter-Reform climaxed in the Thirty Years War.
For the Germanic peoples, this conflict was a catastrophe of previously unknown proportions.
According to the opinion of some historians, one in three Germanic people was hurt or killed in that war.
But that conflict gave birth to the concept of the nation-state, the geopolitical notion that, novel at the time, has become the centrepiece of the modern world as we know it today.
The space that become religiously Protestant “invented” industrialization. The temperance preached by this faith permitted accumulation; accumulation led to the appearance of institutions meant to manage the savings thus accrued to workers; the amplitude of these savings was unprecedented; hence banks, stock markets, multinational corporations.
The appearance of these institutions, alongside industrialization, facilitated the most important technological leap in the history of mankind. The motion from the hunter-gatherer state to the agriculturalist lasted two millennia. The motion from the agricultural economy to the industrial economy took a century.
The two world wars determined, in the contemporary world, an unprecedented development of science and technology. In the ’20s of the previous century, people believed warm-air dirigibles were the way of the future…
In the ’50s, commercial jets were already crossing the skies regularly. The USA did not merely invented the jeep, but had already produced, in a mere three years, more than 600,000 such all-terrain vehicles which he sent to war theatres in Europe and the Pacific.
More, perhaps, than Ford’s Model T, the jeep contributed to the idea that every American can drive, as a consequence of mass production on assembly lines in factories reaping the benefits of the economies of scale, his own car. Women replaced men, who had gone to fight the war, in these factories. Many of the professions they practiced had previously been reserved for the strong sex. They did just fine.
The sacrifice of black men and women in the front lines and generally in the war effort also destroyed the racist prejudices about superior races and inferior races. The path to full civil rights was not only open, but moving down that path was irreversible.
So also it was with very local catastrophes, whose influence on global events is smaller. The great Tokio earthquake quickly gave rise to the most efficient social insurance system, the Japanese.
The frequent work accidents in the mines of Scotland and Wales led in the 18th century to the invention of life insurance. More recently, the Chernobyl explosion, as more recently still, the Fukushima meltdown, brought new warnings about nuclear energy, which may be as lethal as it is cheap.
The stock market crisis of 1847 led to the creation of central authorities to elaborate rules of functioning and to oversee their implementation and compliance with them by all companies involved.
Purely military conflict is reduced in importance today. The US military shattered the Iraqi in a mere two weeks, employing ten times fewer men than it had in the single Operation Overlord in the Normandy Invasion.
Technological development nowadays makes conventional military conflict unlikely, seeing as how NATO forces overwhelm any other potential military opponent.
The crises of the last two decades, following the end of the Cold War, were therefore not military – as they had been in previous millennia – but rather humanitarian, economic, financial.
Some six decades ago, it was nearly impossible to persuade the legislature of a developed nation, whichever you would, to pass a law forcing major companies to invest in non-polluting technologies.
Today, the European Union is about to adopt the most audacious initiative in this domain. Even the reluctant Germany (which is paying a steep bill) is supporting such an initiative, pressured by the “greens”.
A planetary consciousness is about to be born and, moreover, to bring into being concrete and coherent actions by the use of quasi-instantaneous means of mass communication, which are cheap and universally available.
The current economic crisis will have one certain long-term effect: it will limit the public bureaucracies’ ability to juggle taxpayer monies. It will end the wastage that characterized the several last decades.
Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal are countries which, for decades on end, weaklneed their economies by cleptocracy, mass evasion of taxes and discrediting political coteries. The public suffered these insults and abuses because it was enjoying prosperity and so it did not feel bothered overmuch by the wastrel behaviour of the decision-makers.
Nowadays, when the celebrations are clearly over, the same public has awakened to the realization that it has been enjoying government welfare bought by piling debt on debt with enormous sums of money that have suddenly evaporated.
The incoming politicians will be forced, by a much harsher reality, to quickly learn the pragmatism which describes the habits of the corporate types and so to learn some accounting for its spending of public monies. Sooner or later, all countries will be forced to adopt a very different attitude to the one popular until recently regarding the resources at their disposal, including financial resources.
Perhaps the moral of this last succession of crises, which may not be over, as we are now looking back at its beginnings, will be that the age of wastage is over, including for the opulent Occident, and mankind will learn again that milk and meat are not miraculously produced in factories.
Every “brave new world” was born in agony. Each time, however, mankind found the resources of wisdom not merely to survive, but to conquer. I have no doubt that this will happen again nowadays. But the period to come will be one which, at least from the economic point of view, will try everyone’s nerves.