A Moment from the Middle Ages

Let’s consider a moment from the Middle Ages.

Of course, people in the Middle Ages didn’t think they were living in “the Middle Ages.” That term was invented during the Renaissance to denote the era between Late Antiquity (after the fall of the Roman Empire) and the writers’ own era.

But I digress. In“An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish,” Bertrand Russell described how many people of the Middle Ages viewed the world:

“Dangers were held to lurk at every turn. Devils would settle on the food that monks were about to eat, and would take possession of the bodies of incautious feeders who omitted to make the sign of the Cross before each mouthful.”

Then, as now, pervasive fear was a very effective way to control people. If you terrify people and then promise them safety, they’ll do whatever you tell them, no matter how unscientific or nonsensical. Even highly intelligent people are vulnerable, because fear hampers their ability to use their intelligence.

Subsitute “viruses” for “Devils” and “face burqas” for “the sign of the Cross” and it’s pretty much the same now as it was back then.

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.
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2 Responses to A Moment from the Middle Ages

  1. I do not watch MSNBC, CNN, or FOX so I can alleviate the fear aspect. I still try to be safe. I do wear a mask when inside and avoid dangerous social interaction. I am hoping a vaccine arrives in the next few months. I will be 70 next summer so I am playing percentages.


    • N.S. Palmer says:

      At a certain point, I think we just make our peace with life. Tomorrow is promised to no one, so we should make the best of today. Reasonable prudence is sensible, but obsessive fear is easier to sell. It is what it is. My motto: be happy, do the right things, and leave the rest in God’s hands, where it always was anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

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