Matt Heath: Ok, it hasn’t been a vintage year but there’s been far, far worse

There is a lot of negative chat directed at 2020 at the moment.Some New Zealanders have been turning the year into a swear word. “That’s a load of 2020”, “I stepped in a massive pile of 2020″, “you can get 2020ed.”

There is no doubt the year has had its issues, but I’d argue that across the massive expanse of human existence, here and now is a decent place to be.

We certainly have more food, shelter and air conditioning than we’ve had historically. People slagging off 2020 should try living in 536. That was a bad time featuring, among other things war, famine, plague and a worldwide satanic fog that turned day into night for a whole year.

The ‘it could be worse’ approach is a smug but helpful way to make yourself feel better about things. It’s about applying perspective to events. If someone yells at you at least, they didn’t hit you. If someone hits you at least, they didn’t stab you.

If someone stabs you at least, they missed your heart. If someone stabs you in the heart, at least it was you and not one of your children.

If New Zealand in 2020 seems terrible at least you’re not living in the Bengal Province of India in 1943. That was a rough time. World War II was raging across the planet.

Humans were living through terrifying death and destruction on a scale never seen before. In the Bengal Province, it got worse. They suffered a famine that killed 3 million people. You are already at war, you are scared, your young people are away fighting, then everyone you know suddenly starves to death. 2020 is a lot of things but it’s no 1943.

When asked to name the worst year ever many historians turn to 536.

In January a catastrophic Icelandic volcanic eruption spread a thick ash cloud across most of the planet. With no volcanologists about to explain what was going on people assumed the fog was a creation of satan.

The black out lasted the whole year and deep into the next—nearly two years of constant night.

The Byzantine historian Procopius wrote, “a most dread evil portent took place. The sun gave forth no light”.

Many thought it was the end of the world, and for many, it was. Global temperatures plummeted to a 2000 year low. Crops failed across Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Famine hit.Tens and tens of millions died, and those lucky enough to survive were hit by the Black Death five years later.

Imagine that. You are just getting your life back together from the two-year satanic fog. Things are looking up.Then all of a sudden a third of the entire global human population mysteriously drops dead in screaming pain. It’s not like things were that good in the years before that either.

The death fog of 536 came on the back of decades and decades of horror. The Roman Empire had collapsed in the 5th century leading to previously unseen chaos and brutality. Genocide, destruction, disease and starvation were standard for a hundred years before things took that nasty dark volcanic turn for the worse.

2020 has been a tough year for many in New Zealand. People are doing it tough up and down our beautiful country. That’s not good, but at least we’re not freezing and starving to death in an unexplained year-long satanic fog. 2020 is no 536. It’s not even a 1943 or a 1576. Hopefully, that makes you feel a bit better about things?

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