“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” — H.G. Wells, 1920
I know that's obvious, but I just felt like I had to say it anyway.
The word "unprecedented" keeps getting thrown around, and I've seen a few people bristle at that.
unprecedented [ uhn-pres-i-den-tid ]
without previous instance
Certainly, the world has experienced plagues and diseases that have wiped out large portions of the population. So in terms of it never having occurred before, the word unprecedented may feel a little out of place.
But if you read the definition of unprecedented beyond its initial entry, you'll find this:
never before known or experienced
We've certainly known about other major infectious diseases. In the midst of an ancient pestilence Marcus Aurelius wrote in his Meditations:
“To bear in mind constantly that all of this has happened before and will happen again—the same plot from beginning to end, the identical staging. Produce them in your mind, as you know them from experience or from history: the court of Hadrian, of Antoninus. The courts of Philip, Alexander, Croesus. All just the same. Only the people different.”
While we may have known of them, for the better part of the last century, we haven't experienced them. Knowledge and experience. Siblings on our journey to wisdom.