Viewpoint: Human history hit a rough spot in 2020

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Karen Rubin, Columnist

New Year is typically a reflective time – a time for resolutions and contemplation of time already spent on this Earth and time left.

As we turn the page on the calendar, I will share a mind game I have been playing: There are presently 7.8 billion people alive on planet earth today, how many human beings have ever walked this Earth over the course of our 200,000 years in evolutionary history?

In that time, humans have almost gone extinct at least three times (from climate catastrophes) and have had to start over from virtually scratch with a handful of humans (perhaps this explains the origin of the Adam and Eve story, and how Cain could be cast out with a mark to let the rest of humanity know his sin; could the story really be a parable of climate destruction?).

Then you have to calculate for plagues (30-50 percent of Europe’s population was killed in the Black Plague, 1347-1351; 3-5 percent of all humanity died in the 1918-1920 Spanish Flu a century ago). Add in volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, fire, flood, tornadoes, hurricanes, famine and drought. Then there are the catastrophes humanity has done to ourselves: genocides, civil wars, world wars, religious wars.

From “it will magically disappear by Easter” to almost 20 million infected (double the number on Nov. 3) and more than 350,000 dead in the United States alone (125,000 more than on Nov. 3), 82 million infections and 1.8 million dead worldwide, the coronavirus pandemic is the latest scourge on humanity, but certainly not the last.

So, figuring out how many humans have ever lived, based on 7.8 billion today, working back 200,000 years is not a solution, because you can’t figure out how many managed to reproduce themselves before they died.

But apparently some insurance actuarial can figure it out because I recently heard a statistic that two-thirds of everyone over the age of 69 who has ever lived is living now.

Why is this bottom line number important to me?

It goes back to the old saw that “most people are good.” How do we know that? What if the majority of the 7.8 billion people who we know are alive today, even 51 percent, were not “good?” And what if only a small percentage of the 7.8 billion we share this planet with were actually evil? If say 10 percent, that would mean 780 million evil doers roaming the world today.

And as we have seen, it only takes a few to do maximum damage to the many.

There were 10 million Native Americans living in North America at the time of Columbus. A few bands of explorers and then a few colonists came and decimated them, first by plague and then by calvary. (They even called it the “New World” as if the continent hadn’t been inhabited for 10,000 years.)

It took only 19 hijackers commandeering four airplanes, flying around for two hours until they reached their mark, to fundamentally change American society. Six men have been indicted for allegedly conspiring to kidnap and kill Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Two men set off the bomb that felled the federal building in Oklahoma City; one man massacred 61 in Las Vegas; one man snuffed out the young lives of 26 in Sandy Hook; one man murdered 17 in Parkland school.

The human body, the human mind is so vulnerable, so exposed. It doesn’t take many or much to inflict pain and suffering.

It only takes one disturbed individual, one “lone wolf” bent on suicide or depraved vengeance or political vendetta to show just how vulnerable the many are to the few.

We make it so easy for one person to do such horrific carnage, making weapons used for war readily available.

“This bombing was a reminder of the destructive power that individuals and small groups can muster, and the need for continuing vigilance,” President-Elect Joe Biden remarked at a national security briefing after an RV exploded in downtown Nashville on Christmas.

It only took one man to unleash a world war and genocide that killed 75 million soldiers and civilians.

And, apparently, it only takes one narcissistic sociopath to cause mass havoc and fear over a threat to shut down government for a second time, to cast tens of millions into poverty and into homelessness in the middle of winter amid a runaway pandemic, one man to tear children away from their parents, to execute more prisoners in a month than in 130 years while liberating mass murderers, to set policy that has resulted in the death of one in every 1,000 Americans.

This country was founded on the principle that no one person – no monarch, no czar, no dictator – could have the power of life-and-death or claim a “divine right” to rule.

But apparently it takes only one wielding the power of the presidency in a blip of an eye, a mere four years, to undermine 250 years of a democratic republic, snuff out the light in that “beacon on a hill” of human rights and decency and break that arc that was supposed to bend toward justice.

This country was founded on a guiding principle of “Rule of Law” and “equal justice under law,” but what if “Might makes right” and “He who has the gold makes the rules” after all?

I should be ecstatic at the prospect of 2021, not merely for putting the mega-horrific 2020 behind, the prospect of getting the coronavirus under control (still months away) and especially for Joe Biden taking the reins of government from the monster who callously, criminally rooted for millions to sicken and die for his own political and personal gain and fiddles while he puts a match to America and the planet. But I am still having nightmares.

For me, the New Year this year won’t begin at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, but at 12:01 p.m. on Jan. 20.

 

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