The Worst Time in History to Be Alive, According to Science

The Worst Time in History to Be Alive, According to Science

The ninth plague of Egypt was complete darkness that lasted for three days. But in 536 A.D., much of the world went dark for a full 18 months, as a mysterious fog rolled over Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia. The fog blocked the sun during the day, causing temperatures to drop, crops to fail and people to die. It was, you might say, the literal Dark Age.

Now, researchers have discovered one of the main sources of that fog. The team reported in Antiquity that a volcanic eruption in Iceland in early 536 helped spread ash across the Northern Hemisphere, creating the fog. Like the 1815 Mount Tambora eruption—the deadliest volcanic eruption on record—this eruption was big enough to alter global climate patterns, causing years of famine.

What exactly did the first 18 months of darkness look like? The Byzantine historian Procopius wrote that “the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during this whole year.” He also wrote that it seemed like the sun was constantly in eclipse; and that during this time, “men were free neither from war nor pestilence nor any other thing leading to death.”

Accounts like these weren’t taken very seriously until the 1990s, says Michael McCormick, a history professor at Harvard University and co-author of the Antiquity paper. That decade, researchers examined tree rings in Ireland and found that something weird did happen around 536. Summers in Europe and Asia became 35°F to 37°F colder, with China even reporting summer snow. This Late Antique Little Ice Age, as it’s known, came about when volcanic ash blocked out the sun.

“It was a pretty drastic change; it happened overnight,” McCormick says. “The ancient witnesses really were onto something. They were not being hysterical or imagining the end of the world.”

With this realization, accounts of 536 become newly horrifying. “We marvel to see no shadows of our bodies at noon,” wrote Cassiodorus, a Roman politician. He also wrote that the sun had a “bluish” color, the moon had lost its luster and the “seasons seem to be all jumbled up together.”

The effects of the 536 eruption were compounded by eruptions in 540 and 547, and it took a long time for the Northern Hemisphere to recover. “The Late Antique Little Ice Age that began in the spring of 536 lasted in western Europe until about 660, and it lasted until about 680 in Central Asia,” McCormick says.

"It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year," McCormick told Science.

This period of cold and starvation caused economic stagnation in Europe that intensified in 541 when the first bubonic plague broke out. The plague killed between one-third and one-half of the population in the Byzantine Empire, or Eastern Roman Empire.

There might still be other, undiscovered volcanic eruptions that contributed to the 536 fog, says Andrei Kurbatov, an Earth and climate sciences professor at the University of Maine and another co-author of the Antiquity paper. However, we now know at least one of the reasons people in 536 couldn’t see their own shadows—even at noon.


Top 10 Worst Moments in Human History

So often we publish lists that praise events in human history &ndash tales of victory over diseases, disastrous situations, and the like. But alas, history is also replete with events that we must remember so as to not repeat them, but we wish had never happened. This list looks at ten of the worst moments in history when man showed that he can act with utter contempt for the rest of man.

Sexual abuse of the naive and innocent by authority figures is nothing new to human history, but what makes this example of it especially heinous is that it has taken place under the unwatchful eye of the most powerful Christian organization in the world. Child rape and molestation are, in the common view, possibly the vilest, most despicable sin (and felonies) a person can commit, precisely because there can be no excuse for it. Add to that the sin of homosexuality (we speak here in terms of Christianity), and it seems an impossible situation for a child ever to be found in.

Priests ought to understand these sins better than most people, and in Roman-Catholic cultures all over the world, parents highly revere priests as authority figures, second fathers to their children, and excellent teachers of morality. Hence, the question everyone has asked, &ldquoHow in God&rsquos name could this have happened?&rdquo

It&rsquos not just a matter of well kept personal secrets among the guilty parties. The Catholic Church held meetings in the 1950s concerning sexual abuse of minors by priests, and yet, apparently nothing was done to prevent the growing disaster. Those people known to have a history of committing sexual abuse against others were knowingly ordained and sent to priestly duties all over the world, not just in the United States, but in England, Ireland, Canada, Belgium, the Philippines, and many other nations.

The scandal didn&rsquot hit the mainstream media until the 1980s, raising suspicion of Papal cover-ups to protect the image of Christianity. Fortunately, Christianity&rsquos image has not suffered a fraction of the fall-out that the Catholic hierarchy has. Christ will never be torn down because of man&rsquos sin, or it would certainly have happened by now. The priests are, as of this list, still being hunted down, investigated, and dealt with according to man&rsquos law. God&rsquos law will deal with the guilt of every sinner involved, if you believe in Him, but in the meantime, the Roman-Catholic denomination of the man many hold as the absolute greatest good in history has suffered severe damage to its reputation. Whether it is irreparable depends on how long a consecutive series of superlative Popes the Catholic Church can elect, beginning with John Paul II.

From 1958 to 1962, China experienced a monumental famine that killed at least 45 million people. There are generally two causes blamed for it: natural disasters and the communist policies of Mao Zedong. Chairman Mao defined this period of his rule as the &ldquoGreat Leap Forward,&rdquo and implemented economic and social changes with epic consequences. This entry is quite similar to #6 and #3.

Mao intended to turn China from an agrarian economy into a modern, urbanized, industrial giant on par with the U. S. But forcing his Great Leap Forward on the Chinese countryside led to nationwide crop shortages. Then the Yellow River flooded in 1959, drowning or starving 2 million. The next year, 60% of China&rsquos farmland received no rain at all.

Mao&rsquos idea of forcing farmers into industrial careers further destroyed the harvests. The famine became so intolerable that in some areas, people resorted to canniablism. Millions were tortured to death for the crime of stealing food to feed their families. One man, Liu Desheng, was found to have stolen a sweet potato, and he and his wife and son were urinated on, then forced to eat large gulps of human feces. They both died within weeks.

Mao and his officers meanwhile dined on $1,000 French meals and 20 year-old Scotch whisky. Mao is on record as having told his officers that there would be many deaths due to his Great Leap Forward, but that in the end, they would serve a greater good. The famine only ended when the weather improved in 1962. 5% of China starved to death, drowned, or were murdered.

Ecologists agree that Earth appears to be experiencing a mass extinction at present. These have happened many times in the past. The extinction of the dinosaurs is believed to have been caused most directly by a comet or asteroid impact. That event was nothing compared to the Permian-Triassic extinction, which may have been caused by a Gamma Ray Burst. That event resulted in 96% of all marine life and 70% of all land life dying.

What has happened to plant and animal species while modern man has been on Earth pales in the shadow of these two events, and yet humanity in general is doing terribly little to maintain critically endangered species. Most humans seem to adore &ldquocuddly&rdquo animals. Anything with fur qualifies, and we have many tastes in what animals are beautiful. The tiger is magnificent. In 2005 there were only 250 breeding Siberian tigers in the Russian wild. There are well over 10,000 in captive breeding programs around the world: some people are trying to save species from extinction, while many others willfully poach those endangered animals for the black market.

Tiger penis is considered the ultimate aphrodisiac in some places in China. These magnificent animals are being killed, illegally and at extreme personal risk, for money and sexual gratification. In 2011, the Western Black Rhinoceros was declared officially extinct. They, like so many other gigantic African marvels, had been hunted coldly, and unsympathetically, by humans out for a cheap thrill and what they thought was sport and danger.

Black rhinoceroses are extremely aggressive and have terrible eyesight. They will charge headfirst into trees and termite mounds, thinking they see a territorial challenger. Males weigh an easy 3,000 pounds. The record is 6,380 pounds. There are only about 4,000 left in the African wild as of this list. The reason is two-fold: in 1900 there were several hundred thousand in Africa, but English &ldquohunters&rdquo toured Africa to shoot down the Big Five: elephants, rhinoceroses, cape buffaloes, lions, and leopards.

This lister goes hunting now and then for deer, squirrels, rabbits, and doves, and these animals are very bountiful and fairly difficult to outwit in the wild. The hunter must also be a good marksman. But in Africa, elephants and rhinoceroses are too gargantuan to have natural predators except the very occasional lion. So they stand still or charge in the presence of humans. There&rsquos no &ldquohunting&rdquo involved. You can drive up to either species in a jeep in the middle of day and take pictures.

And armed with a .700 Nitro Express, which propels a 1000 grain solid bronze bullet at 8900 foot-pounds of force, there&rsquos no skill involved. Some people just enjoy killing these magnificent animals for the empowerment it seems to instill. Also, rhinoceros horns are highly sought after in Chinese &ldquomedicine&rdquo for their ability to cure disease and impotence, neither of which the horn can do. It is made of pure keratin, and so are your fingernails. Keratin comes from the Greek &kappaέ&rho&alpha&tau&omicron&sigmaf, which means &ldquoof the horn.&rdquo

There are anywhere from 470,000 to 690,000 African Bush Elephants left in the wild, and they are protected from poachers, but not well. They are poached for their ivory tusks, regardless of the international illegality of buying or selling them. Gorillas are poached for their hands, which are used as ashtrays. Then, of course, there is severe habitat destruction in virtually every ecosystem on the planet, so we can have our diamonds and gold, and build colossal megalopolis.

Splinter-cell terrorism refers to acts of terror, especially bombings, hijackings, and assassinations, committed by agents of organizations operating all over the world free of direct link to any organization. It is the ultimate example of guerrilla warfare, and as the world has seen in the past 20 years or so, huge, powerful, technologically advanced militaries have extreme difficulty stopping these criminals.

Splinter-cell terrorists are responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States of America. Before that, the U. S. remained generally aloof to the global war of attrition being waged against these fanatics (lunatics). U. S. embassies were bombed in Africa in 1998, the USS Cole in 2000, and all the while, efforts were underway to find the leader of the primary aggressor against global civilization, al-Qaeda. That leader, Osama bin Laden, could not be found, until after 9/11, when the U. S. began hunting him down in earnest. It took a decade to catch him. In the meantime, other fanatics the world over were perpetrating atrocity after atrocity against innocent, unarmed civilians of dozens of countries, for the avowed purpose of eradicating Jews and Christians from Earth. Stopping each of these terrorists once they make their presence known can never put an end to the problem.

Islamic terrorists are not the only culprits, as Theodore Kaczynski and Timothy McVeigh prove. It is impossible to make these fanatics respect any military might, since to begin with, they are not afraid to die in the process of killing others. How civilized humanity can put a total end to this terrorism is still debatable, of course. Whether it even can be stopped is also debatable.

The Khmer Rouge were members of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, and during their 4-year reign of terror, from 1975 to 1979, they completely destroyed Cambodia, economically, politically, and demographically. They took advantage of the chaos following the Vietnam War to overthrow the Republican government and set up what their leader, Saloth Sar, who named himself Pol Pot, called &ldquoagrarian socialism.&rdquo It was, in reality, a forced relocation of every single Cambodian citizen from cities to farms where they were forced to farm regardless of skill or health. They were starved to death, beaten to death, overworked to death, and tortured to death.

Anyone deemed &ldquointellectual&rdquo was immediately murdered to protect the regime. Anyone wearing glasses was deemed intellectual. These people were taken out into &ldquokilling fields&rdquo and hacked to pieces with machetes. Every single book that could be found was burned, as was all money. All banks and even hospitals were shut down. The citizens were no longer given more than two bowls of rice soup per day. All religion was banned, and those adhering to any religion were prime targets for murder, including Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims, anyone educated in western universities, and any ethnicity other than Cambodian.

The most notorious details of this sorry moment in human history come from S-21, now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It was a high school before it was taken over. The Khmer Rouge guards forced the prisoners to eat the guards&rsquo feces. The prisoners were forbidden from drinking water without permission, and if they did, they were beaten sometimes to death. They were water boarded, raped, their teeth and genitals electrocuted, bled to death, drowned, and castrated with pliers.

The death toll of this regime cannot be accurately calculated, because records were rarely kept well. The most reliable estimate is 2.5 to 3 million murdered. That was 21% of Cambodia&rsquos population. Pol Pot died on 15 April 1998 of what was claimed to be heart failure. He might have been poisoned, or committed suicide, since he was about to be arrested for his crimes.

One of only two wars to make this list, this one does because of the hideous speed at which hostilities escalated in 1914, and because there is no single villain to blame. Humanity in general is to blame for this one. In retrospect, it appears as if every country in Europe was harboring a festering hatred for one another, and everyone was looking for an excuse to invade. The act that touched it off was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria-Este, by Gavrilo Princip, whose motive was no more complicated than a desire to prove his bravery to the Serbian army, which had rejected him for being too small and weak.

Almost every nation in Europe had a treaty with another nation, and these treaties all said the same thing: if anyone attacks you, we&rsquove got your back. Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia, which prompted Russia to declare war on Austro-Hungary, which prompted Germany and Italy to declare war on Russia, which prompted the United Kingdom and France to declare war on Germany and Italy. Spain and, of course, Switzerland stayed out of it.

The United States stayed out of it until Germany waged total war on international unarmed merchant ships, particularly Lusitania, and because of the Zimmermann Telegram which Germany sent to Mexico, urging it to declare war on the U. S. The British intercepted this memo, but Mexico, to its credit, did not dare attack the U. S.

We can all agree that war is the epitome of human stupidity, and as wars go, WWI may be insurmountable in exemplary idiocy. War theory, if we may call it that, had progressed in terms of modern defense, but not attack: both sides were armed with more or less the very same weaponry, especially the Maxim machine gun, the first truly modern machine gun. It is belt-fed, fires the .303 British, the 8mm Mauser, or the 7.62 NATO, at a rate of 450 to 500 rounds per minute, sufficient to cut men in half, which is precisely what it did tens of thousands of times for 4 years.

The British, French, Germans, Russians, and Americans all had them, and for the first 2 and a half years, the trench warfare involved one side charging out across 100 to 1000 yards of no-man&rsquos land, through shell craters, barbed wire, mud and mines, right into the waiting machine gun lines of the enemy trenches. Each time one side was beaten back with severe losses, the other side thought there would be a weakness and charged after them, right into waiting machine gun lines. Kaiser Wilhelm sent a telegram in late 1914 to his cousin, Tsar Nicholas II, that read, in Russian, &ldquoNicky, how can we stop this?&rdquo

On the first day of the Battle of the Somme River, 1 July 1916, the middle day of the middle year of the Great War, as it was called before 1939, the British conducted the European Slow March, walking, not running, toward the Germans, on the theory that the slower they advanced, the more difficult they would be to hit, and more fearsome they would be to the enemy. After 12 hours, 19,240 British soldiers lay dead in about 25 square miles. This was the most lethal day in the British military&rsquos history.

The Somme was begun in an attempt to draw men of both sides away from the Battle of Verdun, so a decision there could be attained. Instead, the Somme became an even larger battle in scale, and it and Verdun remain the most epic of the War. 698,000 men died at Verdun, 70,000 per month for 10 months. Over 300,000 died at the Somme. Each battle resulted in over 1 million casualties, the debut of the modern flamethrower at Verdun, and the tank at the Somme.

The Germans opened hostilities at Verdun with a 10-hour cannonade of 808 artillery pieces, firing almost 1 million shells, some as wide as steering wheels. Around the French fortifications, the blackened skeletons of trees were festooned with human and horse intestines. The Germans also used ample supplies of mustard gas in both battles. Mustard gas is essentially aerosol hydrochloric acid. One breath of it can kill a man by internal drowning. It also severely burns and blisters skin and blinds eyes.

Both battles ended in utter stalemate, because mobility had not progressed on par with firepower, and that lack of mobility, especially on the first day of the Somme, displayed more directly than any other action in any war the utter futility and insanity of warfare. Neither side could approach the other, but the Germans found their losses more irreplaceable than the combined French and British. When the Americans showed up, the Germans simply could not cope with the overwhelming enemy men and materiel for much longer. About 15 million, military and civilian, died, unless we include deaths from Spanish influenza, which was itself a direct result of the War. That puts the estimate at about 65 million.

There is no one cause to blame for the Bubonic plague&rsquos rise to power in 1346 or so, but Europe in general can be criticized strongly for its primitive belief in witches. Because &ldquowitches&rdquo were hunted down wholesale by reason of an insufferably pervasive fear of the Devil, domestic and feral cats were also killed by the hundreds of thousands, because they were thought to be witches&rsquo &ldquofamiliars,&rdquo that without one, a witch could not adequately cast spells.

So once witch-hunts showed up in full swing and cats started disappearing into the fires, the entire European world was ripe for an epidemic of rats. And the rats showed up in full swing in 1346 in the Crimea, via the Silk Road from China. There were no cats to check the rats stowing away onboard merchant ships, and these rats were infested with fleas. The fleas carried yersinia pests, better known as plague.

Today, this bacteria has been all but eradicated in most places around the world, because cleanliness is next to Godliness. A regular hot bath with soap will rid you of fleas, but such baths were not regular in the Middle Ages. Once bitten by an infected flea, curing yourself is really not difficult at all. Streptomycin prevents the bacteria from replicating, which gives the immune system enough time to tailor an antibody to kill it. Europe didn&rsquot know about antibiotics, and had they, they might have had fair results by eating moldy bread.

Without treatment, plague is one of only three known diseases with a mortality rate of 100%. The other two are rabies encephalitis and HIV. Given the primitive medical knowledge of the Middle Ages, the world didn&rsquot have a chance. Even the best physicians had no clue what to do to protect themselves, much less the populace.

Doctors entered homes only after donning full-body leather armor, helmets and masks shaped like hawk beaks, filled with aromatic herbs, due to the miasmatic theory of diseases. According to this theory, simply &ldquostirring up the vapors&rdquo would cure the area of plague, while the doctor would remain safe breathing in his mask. The masks had red glass over the eyeholes, because even looking at an infected person was thought to cause infection.

Ringing bells was thought to stir up the vapors. Or the sick person could stand next to a latrine and inhale the stench. About the only method that actually worked to a small degree was smoking tobacco, because the smoke kept the fleas away. But the most infamous methods for curing the plague were based on the principle that God was very angry with the whole world.

The Flagellants began roaming the countryside by 1349, especially in Germany, and they beat themselves bloody with Roman-style flails, the same kind used to scourge Christ. The idea was that if they suffered enough, God would relent and the plague would stop. It didn&rsquot work.

So, like clockwork, God&rsquos wrath was blamed on the non-Christians throughout Europe, and that mostly meant Jews. In February of 1349, 2,000 Jews were hacked to pieces and burned at the stake in Strasbourg, on the French-German border. But the plague kept coming. It killed 40% of Egypt, 30% of the Middle East, about half of the 100,000 people in Paris. The worst hit area was Mediterranean Europe, including Italy, Spain, and southern France. There, about 75% to 80% died. The Pope, Clement VI, survived by surrounding his throne 24 hours a day with torches burning close to the floor. In the aftermath, his servants found scorched fleas &ldquolike pepper&rdquo just outside the ring of flame.

England suffered about 20% dead. The total average was about 25% of the whole world, as evidence indicates plague deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and the Orient. As much as 66% of Europe and Asia succumbed. Approximately 100,000,000 people died in 4 years.

Holodomor is the Ukrainian word for &ldquokilling by hunger.&rdquo It is now the proper term for Josef Stalin&rsquos forced starvation genocide against the Ukraine from 1932 to 1933. The manner by which Stalin forced it on the Ukrainian people is open for discussion, but most historians agree that he knew what was happening in the Ukraine and refused to provide relief of any kind, even ordering food shipments diverted from the Ukraine and what food its population had confiscated, violently whenever necessary. He imposed this particularly cruel death sentence on so many solely out of retaliation for the Ukraine striving for national recognition and independence.

Today, we refer to it as a country, Ukraine, with Kiev as its capital city. But at that time, it was still referred to as &ldquothe Ukrainian SSR,&rdquo or simply, &ldquothe Ukraine,&rdquo one of many areas of Russia. The famine was manmade, an imposition directly from Stalin, but whether he premeditated it beforehand is difficult to determine. Most of Russia was experiencing a famine at that time, and Stalin may have seen this a chance to make the Holodomor look, at best, like an accident, at worst, passive justice.

The numbers are the saddest testimony overall in every one of these entries. Records were not well kept during the famine, so the death toll ranges from 1.8 to 12 million. Some scholars have narrowed this down to about 4 to 5 million. The borders were closed by the NKVD, the precursor to the KGB, and anyone attempting to flee to other countries or Russian states was either shot or captured and brought back to starve. 190,000 tried to escape the Ukraine after the first year. Starvation may be the most awful cause of death. The commoners&rsquo despair, agony, and terror led tens of thousands to resort to eating their own children. Many ate their own feet. It did not end until Stalin&rsquos implementation of forced collectivization of grain threatened to destroy all of Russia, not just the Ukraine. Once the police and military stopped stealing everyone&rsquos grain, farmers were able to grow for small communities, as they always had.

This war can be blamed mostly on one man, Adolf Hitler. Let us take a brief look at the motives by which he initiated global hostilities in 1939. Whereas, Stalin was patently paranoid that he would lose his power, Hitler was not afraid. He simply carried a fuming rage which, in childhood, he directed against nothing in particular.

He was imprisoned for his failed Beer Hall Putsch, an attempt to overthrow the Kaiser government, in 1923. While serving 8 months, he and Rudolf Hess wrote Mein Kampf, in which Hitler blamed absolutely everything bad that had ever happened to Germany on the Jews, all of them everywhere on Earth. Whether he actually believed this is open to debate, but there is no denying that he saw in Jews an outstanding scapegoat, one against which all non-Jewish Germans would rally.

It worked better than he could possibly have imagined. He emerged from prison a national hero and 10 years later took control of the government. What followed was a nationwide brainwashing: everyone began hating Jews intensely. Many of the Jews saw the trouble coming and left for England or America. Most stayed, hoping they would be saved. They weren&rsquot, until it was too late.

6 years later, Hitler made good on his promise to acquire &ldquolebensraum&rdquo for the German people, by invading Poland. Britain and France immediately declared war on Germany. Russia made a pact with Germany because Stalin knew he could not conquer Germany at that time. Hitler bided his time before invading Russia 2 years later, in the knowledge that Russia&rsquos military was woefully inadequate. Japan invaded China for its resources, and in September 1940 Japan, Italy, and Germany became the formal Axis Powers, solely because they understood their identical desires to conquer other countries.

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in retaliation for the U. S. embargo on oil, iron, and machinery. The U. S. then declared war on Japan, and there were declarations of war all around. Oh, what a merry world it became so quickly. After 6 years, 71 million people were dead. Rome, Paris, Moscow, Leningrad, and London were smoldering. Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Stalingrad, and Manila were obliterated.

The most infamous aspect of the War will forever remain the Holocaust. It is also referred to as HaShoah, which is Hebrew for &ldquoThe Catastrophe.&rdquo Much has been said about it already on Listverse, so let us briefly examine Hitler&rsquos methods, by which he remorselessly and unsympathetically attempted to eradicate an entire race of humans.

His seething, abiding rage found in Jews the perfect target, and he set about in his political ambitions, surrounding himself with men who agreed, some for power, some out of rage or delight, all out of hatred, that the Jews as a race needed to, and could, be extinguished. The Wehrmacht, for its part, had nothing at all to do with the Holocaust, and had very little idea it was going on. They were an honorable institution, if honor, just as compassion, can be found in war.

The Schutzstaffel, or SS, carried out the murder of 6 million men, women, and children, by poisonous gas, shooting, beating, torturing, &ldquoscientific&rdquo experiments, systematic starvation, and overwork, on the pretense that &ldquoAryans&rdquo were superior humans, and that Jews were no better than cattle, in which terms, the question was asked, &ldquoDo we feel bad when we slaughter cows for food?&rdquo

1.1 million were murdered at Auschwitz, 700,000 to 800,000 at Treblinka, 600,000 at Belzec, 360,000 at Majdanek, 320,000 at Chelmno, 250,000 at Sobibor. Merely because they were Jewish. Meawhile, at least 750,000 soldiers and civilians died in 199 days in Stalingrad. That was only one battle of the War.

Whereas, Stalin never offered any political explanation for, nor a formal admission of, attempting to starve all of Ukraine, and Hitler explained the Holocaust as &ldquoa necessary step&rdquo in the process of purifying and strengthening the &ldquomaster race,&rdquo the Crusades were undertaken by both the Christians and the Muslims for the openly expressed purpose of exterminating the opposing religion along with all its adherents, solely to glorify God. It remains the blackest moment in the history of all religion.

It lasted from c. 1063 until c. 1434, when handheld gunpowder weapons were first used to good effect in combat. Keep in mind, before you denounce God for allowing or causing it to happen, that doing so is foolishly dismissive. Assuming there is a God, the Crusades were not his fault. They remain humanity&rsquos fault by two causes: first, the refusal to tolerate differences and second, the active enjoyment derived from hurting things, especially other humans, since they can best voice their disapproval of such actions.

The use of the word &ldquoGod&rdquo in any language to justify one&rsquos actions of violence is but a means to an end, and also sweetens the enjoyment of another person&rsquos pain, since by denouncing that person as an infidel, the malicious party can believe that person is also destined for eternal agony, after the agony s/he is forced to suffer on Earth. Sounds appetizing, doesn&rsquot it? Because we all get angry at other people for various perceived offenses, deep down doesn&rsquot it sound appetizing to believe those people are going to Hell, regardless of how much they suffer in life? No one would ever admit to it, of course, but it&rsquos a primitive passion innate in every human, and precisely the heart of the Crusades.

In 1099, the 1st Crusade ended in &ldquoChristian&rdquo victory, when knights and soldiers from France, England, Germany, and Apulia (southern Italy) successfully besieged Jerusalem from 7 June to 15 July. They were opposed by the Islamic Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt, under Iftikhar ad-Dawla, who had 400 cavalrymen and a garrison of Muslim and Nubian troops comparable in size to the invaders, about 13,000 for each side. Inside the city there lived over 60,000 unarmed civilians, mostly Muslims and Jews.

Once the city fell, the invaders stormed in, ransacked every building and murdered every single man, woman, and child within the walls. 70,000 people were hacked to pieces &ldquoin the name of Christ.&rdquo The horses waded in blood up to their knees. Probably half the women were raped, and most of everyone was tortured by varying methods. It was unbridled, bacchanalian sadism. About 500 Jews fought alongside the Muslims, then took refuge in a synagogue. The French burned the synagogue to the ground, with everyone in it.

88 years later, Salah ad-Din successfully took Jerusalem back for Islam and allowed all those inside to return unharmed to their homelands provided they paid a ransom. Those who could not afford it were sold into slavery. Two years later, Richard I of England (the Lionheart) arrived with Phillip II of France and Frederick I of Germany. Richard was not the chivalrous hero he is frequently depicted as in films. He spent barely 6 months of his 10-year regency in England. He lived in France, spoke only Langues d&rsquoOil and Langues d&rsquoOc, two dialects of Old French, did not speak any form of English, and used England as a money machine to finance his conquests. He loved the sport and glory of overpowering other nations. His Crusade, the 3rd, ended in an uneasy stalemate.

There would be 6 more Crusades, with the Holy Land changing hands several times, costing hundreds of thousands of lives, all in the name of one god or another. All the while, both bibles stated, &ldquoLove your enemies.&rdquo


Worst Execution Methods: Boiling To Death

A slow and agonizing punishment, this method traditionally saw the victim gradually lowered — feet-first — into boiling oil, water, or wax (although uses of boiling wine and molten lead have also been recorded).

If the shock of the pain did not render them immediately unconscious, the person would experience the excruciating sensation of their outer layers of skin, utterly destroyed by immersion burns, dissolving right off their body, followed by the complete breakdown of the fatty tissue, boiling away beneath.

It seems safe to assume that such a horrendous fate, one of the worst execution methods ever devised, would be reserved for the foulest of murderers, but historical documents refute this.

Emperor Nero is said to have dispatched thousands of Christians in this manner, while in the Middle Ages, the main recipients of the punishment were not killers or rapists but coin forgers, particularly in Germany and the Holy Roman Empire. In Britain, meanwhile, King Henry VIII introduced the practice for executing those who used poison to commit murder.

Shockingly, the practice is believed to have been carried out as recently as 2002, when the government of Uzbekistan, led by Islam Karimov, was alleged to have tortured several suspected terrorists to death in this manner.


Researchers Identify 536 A.D. as The Absolute Worst Year Ever

A foreboding cloud of black ash blocks out the sun from Europe to Asia. An outbreak of bubonic plague coincides with a piercing cold snap. Crops fail. Starvation, darkness, and squalor abound.

All of these conditions were pervasive throughout the northern hemisphere in the year 536 A.D. The year was a tipping point in an era of unprecedented devastation. It was so bad that researchers are now labeling that year the worst time to be alive in the history of humankind. Or as Harvard History professor Michael McCormick told Science: "It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year."

Although the origins of the black, ashen cloud were previously a mystery, a new paper published in the journal Antiquities indicates that a massive volcanic eruption in Iceland triggered the 18 months of darkness. Two more eruptions in the years 540 and 547 would compound the cloud.

The ash blocked out the sun, ushering forth frigid temperatures that blighted crops, resulting in starvation. Adding to the gloom, an outbreak of bubonic plague spread throughout the Eastern Roman Empire in 542 A.D., killing droves and giving way to an economic downturn that lasted 30 years.

The study&mdashco-authored by McCormick, Nottingham University history professor Christopher Loveluck, and glaciologist Paul Mayewski at the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine in Orono&mdashmeasured ice samples in the Swiss Alps for evidence of pollutants and atmospheric change that could potentially shed light on the dark cloud's origins. While conducting the study, researchers discovered lead pollutants in the ice, created by the surge of volcanic activity.

Ironically, historians believe these pollutants sparked the European economy's revival, pulling it out of the deep, depressing chasm around 100 years later. Lead was crucial in the production of silver, which eventually spurred an economic resurgence as the sky cleared and the pestilence waned. As Loveluck told CNN: "There is evidence of total economic transformation between 640 and 660."

So count your blessings. We've got nothing approaching that cataclysmic level of abject despair. At least, not yet.


23 Charts That Show Why This Is The Best Moment In History To Be Born

Sometimes it seems like the world is falling apart. Between Ebola, climate change, Russia's invasion of the Ukraine, and the ongoing war in Iraq and Syria, there's bad news everywhere you look.

Yet while speaking at the UN on September 24, President Obama said that he often tells young people in the United States "that this is the best time in human history to be born, for you are more likely than ever before to be literate, to be healthy, and to be free to pursue your dreams."

So, is this really be the best time to be born?

Absolutely, by many measures — whether you are born in the US or the rest of the world.

Despite the fact that plenty of problems exist, people are healthier now than ever, the world has become significantly less violent, and education is more available now than it ever has been.

Here are 23 charts that show why this is the best time to be born.

1. Child mortality has dropped and life expectancy has grown around the world since 1950.

We've made this graphic that shows how both have changed since then.

The countries are color-coded by region: red is East Asia and the Pacific, orange is Europe and Central Asia, yellow is the Americas, green is the Middle East and North Africa, light blue is South Asia, and dark blue is Sub-Saharan Africa. (An interactive version is available here.)

2. Racial disparities still exist, but infant mortality has dropped by a huge amount in the US since 1935.

3. It's not just the US either. Around the world, people's risk of dying young has dropped from 14% in 1970 to 5% in 2010. Chances of dying before turning 50 were 28% in 1970, but half that now.

4. Here's another chart that helps get that point across, showing the number of children who die before age 5 from 1960 to today.

Bill Gates uses this chart to help demonstrate the ways that vaccines have transformed our world.

5. Vaccines have massively reduced the likelihood of dying or being disabled by many diseases.

This chart shows the change in morbidity from various diseases in the US from the pre-vaccine era to the modern era.

6. In fact, vaccines have helped eliminate many diseases from much of the world entirely

In 1988, the World Health Assembly decided to start tyring to eliminate polio from the world through comprehensive vaccination programs. Look at the progress so far.

7. Infant death rates from all kinds of causes have dropped.

This charts shows changes in the US since 1960.

8. Children born now are much more likely to have access to clean drinking water.

9. And life is getting better in other ways too. Fewer people around the world now have to live on $1 a day.

Global income distribution has shifted so that many people who were making $1 a day are now more likely to make $10 a day.

10. As the numbers of extremely poor people in the world fall, more and more of the population is being pushed into higher income categories.

This chart divides the world into those above the middle class, the middle class, the near poor, the moderately poor, and the extremely poor. Obviously, there's still room for progress, but the percentage of workers that are middle class and above has grown.

11. The number of international conflicts, which tend to kill more people than civil wars, has been declining steadily.

Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker explains that violence of all sorts has been declining for years — by most measures, we're living in the most peaceful time in human history.

12. Despite the fact that we hear a lot about gun murders, firearm homicides have dropped significantly since the 1990s in the US.

13. Youth violence has declined too.

The CDC shows that youth homicides are less than 50% of what they were in the mid 1990s.

14. The decline in homicide rates isn't just a modern day one either. Historical data shows that homicide rates in the modern era are drastically lower than they were centuries ago, and that number is still declining.

15. US data on the long term decline in the homicide rate shows a similar trend.

Thought there have been some fluctuations, there's a clear trend towards fewer homicides over time.

16. Rates of domestic violence have also fallen.

17. Anyone born today in the US is much more likely to grow up literate.

18. That's true for kids born all over the world.

19. And we also live in a world now that takes "rights" into consideration much more than ever before.

20. People born now will most likely receive more years of education than they would have in the past.

21. And that's especially true for women

22. People are much more likely to live in a democratic society.

23. More people have access to the internet than at any other time in history, and that percentage continues to grow.

Bill Gates has said "We're on this rising tide that's not recognized. It's overwhelming how prosperity is spread around the world."

The world is far from perfect, and there are plenty of areas of improvement needed. But is now the best time in history to be born?


AD536: the worst year to be alive - ever

Think 2018 was terrible? Worried about 2019? Think again. Researchers have identified the single worst year in history. And it sounds very familiar .

Feeling down? Struggling to cope? Does life feel like a Game of Thrones? Well, perhaps your worries really are just first-world problems.

Throughout history, our ancestors have had more pressing concerns.

Finding wild weather a problem? How about 18-straight months of fog?

Supermarket prices getting too high? How about watching all your crops wither and die?

Constantly catching some new bug? How about contending with the Black Plague?

Sick of government leadership spills? How about the collapse of civilisation itself?

Put it all together, and you get a date: 536AD.

Harvard University medieval historian Michael McCormick has set out to find out just how bad things were, and what caused it all.

He’s come up with some answers.

“It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year,” Professor McCormick says.

It was the darkest moment of the Dark Ages.

Now we know why. And when things started to get better again.

BLANK AND PITILESS AS THE SUN

Times weren’t great. The Western Roman Empire had collapsed 60 years earlier, when Emperor Romulus was defeated by the Germanic war lord Odoacer.

Without the central rule of law, Rome’s old provinces throughout Europe became increasingly isolated. Infrastructure such as aqueducts, public baths and roads were failing. The highways were thick with brigands. Local strongmen surged forward to fill the power vacuum.

But things were about to get much, much worse.

Professor McCormick has told the American Association for the Advancement of Science that 536 may not have been the exact worse year — but it was the year things fell apart.

The next decade would be a living hell.

The results of his study were published in the journal Antiquity.

It was as if the gods had abandoned Europe, China — and much of the land in-between.

A mysterious fog rolled over Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia.

For 18 months it sat there — plunging the lands into darkness.

𠇊nd it came about during this year that a most dread portent took place,” wrote Byzantine historian Procopius. 𠇏or the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year.”

It was just the start. The following decade would be the coldest recorded for at least 2300 years.

But, in 536, snow would fall in summer.

What caused it all has long been unknown.

But a 1990s analysis of the growth of tree rings during the era proved the historic records: the summers around 540AD were certainly very cold, severely stunting their growth.

MERE ANARCHY IS LOOSED UPON THE WORLD

Roman Emperor Justinian. Source:News Limited

Rome’s Western Empire may have collapsed. But the Eastern Empire still stood.

Emperor Justinian the Great seemed firmly ensconced. He was in the 10th year of his — until then — prosperous reign.

𠇊nd it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear nor such as it is accustomed to shed,” Procopius described.

Elements of the thriving network of international trade established over the past 600 years lingered. Nations and provinces still relied upon each other for vital resources.

After 536, this would not last. But it would contribute to making things worse.

Bubonic plague began its relentless march.

Among people and animals already reeling from starvation, the Black Death would extract a terrible toll. And the disease-carrying parasites would spread far and wide carried by ships, wagons, and travellers.

In 541, the Roman port of Pelusium in Egypt became the first major population centre to be brought to its knees by plague. The following Plague of Justinian killed up to one half of the entire population of the Eastern Roman Empire — bringing on its collapse.

Europe, the Middle East and much of Asia fell into economic and societal collapse that would last just over a century.

It was what would commonly become known as the Dark Ages.

Entire peoples would uproot and swarm across Europe, seeking new lands to plant their crops.

It was the era that spawned legends such as that of King Arthur — with lingering memories of a lost golden age, and a yearning for a hero to bring back the good times.

SOME REVELATION IS AT HAND

How things got so bad, so fast, has long puzzled historians.

Was the Roman Empire simply too corrupt to survive?

Were the �rbarians’ stampeding and ravaging their way across Europe?

And what was the cause of that choking cloud of fog?

Professor McCormick and his team say they now have an answer.

Careful analysis and dating of ice cores exposed evidence of an event that sparked the global catastrophe.

Vaporised glass. Sulphur. Bismuth. All were blasted high into the sky, creating a thin film reflecting sunlight back into space.

Glaciologist Paul Mayewski of the University of Maine says the ash appears to have come from a volcano in North America, or perhaps Iceland.

It blew — big time — in early 536. It spewed ash across the entire Northern Hemisphere.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

The volcano erupted twice more — in 540 and 547. The consequent ash clouds served only to revitalise the climate changing impact of the first.

But the ice core reveals more.

Each tree-ring-like layer of ice acts like nature’s logbook of what was happening at the time.

Among those layers associated with 640AD was found a sudden spike in particulate lead.

And historians knew where that came from.

The wheels of trade had begun to roll again.

And greasing it all was the flow of freshly-minted silver coin — the processing of which produces the lead pollution.

THE DARKNESS DROPS AGAIN BUT NOW I KNOW

Professor McKormick’s team found microscopic particles of volcanic glass in a Swiss glacier dating from 536. Ice cores and tree-rings from Greenland and a peat-bog cores from welsewhere in Europe also contained similar particles.

Indications are they came from a volcano in Iceland, but the samples are too small to be certain. The researchers say they want to examine cores from lakes in Europe and Iceland to identify more fallout from this catastrophic event.

Once identified, there may be clues as to why this particular eruption proved so devastating.

What the ice-core record shows. Image: Antiquity/Nature Source:Supplied

Wherever the volcano, the jet-stream winds propelled the plume across Europe and Asia. Beneath it, the chilled-fog formed.

The ice also tells the tale of the end of this dark age.

Archaeologist Christopher Loveluck of the University of Nottingham says in Antiquity that the ability to precisely date sample cores was a major breakthrough for historians.

Ice cores are proving to be a fantastic resource for inferring what has happening at any given point in history. Each snowfall lands on top of another, building up layer-by-layer ice sheets that capture snapshots of what was in the air for each given season.

“We’ve entered a new era with this ability to integrate ultra — high-resolution environmental records with similarly high resolution historical records,” Loveluck says. “It’s a real game changer.”

The cores reveal the smelting of lead ore to extract silver produced a surge in pollution in 640, and again in 660.

Economies were thriving once again. Gold was becoming scarce for coins. So silver found itself suddenly in great demand.

“This unambiguously shows that, alongside any residual pool of Roman bullion and imported metal, new mining facilitated the production of the last post-Roman gold coins — debased with increasing amounts of silver — and the new silver coinages that replaced them,” the researchers wrote.

NEW. FREE. 'new insight into the dynamics of metal and coin production, and contemporaneous social transformations in the early medieval West'

Alpine ice-core evidence for the transformation of the European monetary system, AD 640–670 - Loveluck et al.https://t.co/GpLmD8V51l pic.twitter.com/0dNnpSorjq

— Antiquity (@AntiquityJ) November 16, 2018

Loveluck added: “It shows the rise of the merchant class for the first time,”


How darkness, famine and disease made 536 AD ‘the worst year in human history’

A HORRIFIC combination of darkness, famine and nasty disease pandemics made 536AD the worst year to be alive in, a historian has said.

Harvard professor Michael McCormick said 536AD is a prime candidate for the unfortunate accolade of the worst year in the whole of recorded history.

At the start of that year, the Middle East, Europe and some parts of Asia faced 18 months of complete darkness caused by a mysterious fog.

It caused snowfall in China, continental-scale crop failure, extreme drought, famine and disease throughout most of the northern hemisphere, reported Daily Mail.

The harsh year was caused by a cataclysmic Icelandic eruption, according to scientists.

Archaeologist and medieval historian Prof McCormick told Science Magazine the world isn't thought to have recovered until 640AD - more than 100 years later.

He said: “It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year.”

Effects on the climate were so severe that the records tell of “a failure of bread from the years 536–539”.

Temperatures in the summer of 536 fell to between 1.5°C and 2.5°C, making it the coldest decade in the past 2,300 years.

Historians have long known that the middle of the sixth century was a particularly dark period in what used to be called the Dark Ages.

But the source of the mysterious clouds has long been a puzzle.

However, McCormick and glaciologist Paul Mayewski at the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine believe they have figured it out.

At a workshop at Harvard this week, the team reported that a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in Iceland spewed ash across the Northern Hemisphere early in 536AD.

After that, there were two other massive eruptions in 540 and 547.

The repeated blows, followed by plague, plunged Europe into economic stagnation that lasted until 640AD.

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Volcanic activity is believed to have produced millions of tonnes of ash which spread over vast swathes of the world.

Spikes in the ice core for lead proved smelting was taking place to create silver and this coincides with the advent of coin minting which helped revive the economy, according to archaeologist Christopher Loveluck of the University of Nottingham.

Researchers found that a century later in 660AD the silver became the coinage of choice.

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Steven Pinker: This Is History's Most Peaceful Time--New Study: "Not So Fast"

In his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Harvard University psychologist and famed intellect Steven Pinker argues humans are now living in the most peaceful era in the history of our species.

At the time the U.S. was mired in two wars in the Middle East and Central Asia, the conflict in Darfur had just come to a close and terrorist insurgent group Boko Haram was setting off bombs across northern Nigeria. Such examples still abound years later. Last week violent incidents in New York City and Sutherland Springs, Texas, left many dead and injured. &ldquoThe claim that we are living in an unusually peaceful time may strike you as somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene,&rdquo Pinker wrote. &ldquoI know from conversations and survey data that most people refuse to believe it.&rdquo

Yet there is plenty of evidence supporting Pinker&rsquos claim. Most scholars agree the percentage of people who die violent war-related deaths has plummeted through history and that proportionally violent deaths decline as populations become increasingly large and organized, or move from &ldquononstate&rdquo status&mdashsuch as hunter&ndashgatherer societies&mdashto fully fledged &ldquostates.&rdquo

Still, there are many ways to look at the data&mdashand quantifying the definition of a violent society. A study in Current Anthropology published online October 13 acknowledges the percentage of a population suffering violent war-related deaths&mdashfatalities due to intentional conflict between differing communities&mdashdoes decrease as a population grows. At the same time, though, the absolute numbers increase more than would be expected from just population growth. In fact, it appears, the data suggest, the overall battle-death toll in modern organized societies is exponentially higher than in hunter&ndashgatherer societies surveyed during the past 200 years.

The study&mdashled by anthropologists Dean Falk at The Florida State University and Charles Hildebolt at Washington University in Saint Louis&mdashcut across cultures and species and compared annual war deaths for 11 chimpanzee communities, 24 hunter&ndashgatherer or other nonstate groups and 19 and 22 countries that fought in World Wars I and II, respectively. Overall, the authors&rsquo analysis shows the larger the population of a group of chimps, the lower their rate of annual deaths due to conflict. This, according to the authors, was not the case in human populations. People, their data show, have evolved to be more violent than chimps. And, despite high rates of violent death in comparison with population size, nonstate groups are on average no more or less violent than those living in organized societies.

Falk and Hildebolt point out Pinker&rsquos claims are based on data looking at violent death rates per 100,000 people. They contend such ratios don&rsquot take into account how overall population size alters war death tallies&mdashin other words how those ratios change as a population grows, which their findings do. There is a strong trend for larger societies to lose smaller percentages of their members to war, Falk says, but the actual number of war deaths increases with growing population sizes. &ldquoThis is not what one would predict if larger societies were less violent than smaller ones,&rdquo she says. Falk adds that small communities are not necessarily more violent than larger populations&mdashthey are simply more vulnerable to losing a significant portion of their population due to outsider attacks. &ldquoIf I walk down a dark alley at night, I am potentially more vulnerable to being killed than I am when I attend a football game,&rdquo Falk says. She admits citing a population of one in an alley is an extreme example. But she adds that smaller populations suffering a higher percentage of casualties at the hands of another population are not necessarily more innately violent than large modern societies are&mdashthey might instead just be the victims.

The outsize rise in total war-related deaths associated with larger groups of people may be due, in part, to the advances in weaponry and military strategy that come with increased communication and collaboration: A similar degree of violent behavior enacted by a similar number of people just does more damage on a nuclear scale than it ever could with axes and spears.

For his part, Pinker disputes the new findings. &ldquoThe claim that the difference between [chimp] death rates can explain the difference in [absolute] death rates between the New Guinean Dugum and Nazi Germany or the difference between [the] U.S.S.R. and India in World War II falls into this category of mindless curve-fitting,&rdquo he commented to Scientific American, referring to the study&rsquos data on absolute numbers of deaths and the fact cultural and geographical factors can greatly sway war-death totals in individual populations. &ldquoPresumably the fact that Hitler invaded the Soviet Union whereas India was thousands of miles away from the major theaters of war has more to do with that difference than their population size!&rdquo

He also argues the authors exaggerate what they describe as &ldquoexponential&rdquo growth in deaths among large populations, given that their data shows the average war deaths during World Wars I and II&mdashand surveyed across the last two centuries of data for nonstate groups&mdashdid not rise all that significantly as populations grew, and differ wildly among populations. He goes so far as to say the authors &ldquomisdescribe their own data,&rdquo noting their numbers suggest total deaths during World War I actually decreased with increasing population size. &ldquoUsing that average to conclude that humans are more violent than chimps and that war deaths scale exponentially with population size is going way beyond what the data can support,&rdquo says Pinker.

Pinker points out many anthropologists are committed to some version of the noble savage theory&mdashthe idea that in the wild humans are innately good, only to be corrupted by society and civilization. Falk acknowledges this, in part, motivated her to undertake the study. &ldquoAs anthropologists we were primarily concerned about the negative portrayal of small-scale societies as more violent than &ldquocivilized&rdquo state dwellers.&rdquo

Yet Falk and Hildebolt do not believe any bias skewed their results. &ldquoWe had no expectations regarding absolute number of war deaths and population sizes, and we were indeed surprised by the [results],&rdquo Falk says.&rdquo

In The Better Angels of Our Nature Pinker wrote our cognitive faculties predispose us to believe we live in violent times&mdashand modern media does not help: As he puts it, &ldquoIf it bleeds, it leads.&rdquo Our tendency is to broadcast negativity. We only leave Yelp reviews when our steak was overcooked. We leave comments online when we are outraged, not enlightened. And we typically approximate the probability of something happening based on when we last witnessed it. Pinker believes that even in times of very low violent deaths there will always be enough such incidents for the media to exploit enough to warp our sense of the reality.

It may be too early to say exactly how our new hyper-connected culture will influence rates of violent mortality. Does increased awareness and exposure to the world&rsquos wrongs via a 24-hour global news cycle render us wearier of violence or more empathetic to the victimized? Or do horrific and continual mass killings in turn incite more copycat violence?

Pinker cites a number of trends through history he feels support the idea that despite the seemingly continual carnage in the world, we have actually inched toward a more civil society. Our transition from hunter&ndashgatherers to farmers is thought to have reduced violent death fivefold between the Middle Ages and the 20th century, Europe saw a 10- to 50-fold drop in murder and in the 70-plus years since World War II warring among the leading powers has for the most part stopped, a first in the history of civilization.

None of this gives Falk much comfort when it comes to mass-scale war and mortality, given that modern weaponry can inflict sky-high total death counts. Astronomical death tolls can be tallied in a matter of days, even minutes, not decades. &ldquoAll it would take is for one homicidal leader&mdashwho we know exists&mdashto unleash a weapon of mass destruction,&rdquo she warns. &ldquoThe 70-odd years that have transpired since World War II is a proverbial drop in the bucket compared with the five [million] to seven million years humans and our ancestors have been around. The probability of World War III is not negligible.&rdquo


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Is There a Worst Way to Die?

Anna Gosline's recent article in New Scientist, entitled "How Does It Feel To Die?" got our hearts pumping here at HowStuffWorks. Gosline interviewed experts to find out what it's like to drown, fall from a tall building and ride the electric chair, among other terrible ways to die. This got us to thinking: Is there a worst way to die?

As it turns out, determining which mode of death is the worst way to go is subjective. There are impromptu polls on sites around the Internet (burning has a high ranking). But there's no consensus among professionals like physicians or funeral directors about which method is the least desirable way to exit this mortal coil. A person's fears may factor into his own personal worst way to die. The thought of falling to one's death from a tall building, for example, would probably scare the daylights out of someone who is afraid of heights, but wouldn't qualify as the worst death for someone else.

Awareness of the type of death and fear of the unknown can also make one kind of death more grisly than another. Dying in a plane crash is one example: The time between the airplane beginning its rapid descent and the moment of impact is more than long enough to generate terror. What's worse, depending on the circumstances, the passengers may remain conscious during the entire process. The plane is literally -- and unstoppably -- carrying its passengers to their probable deaths, and of this they are all totally aware.

With most forms of death, unconsciousness meets the victim before the grim reaper does, thus releasing the dying person from the fear that grips him. But the moments before death can be fraught with fear and pain.

A physician we interviewed recounts the story of a laborer in Africa who worked around vats of sulfuric acid -- one of the most caustic forms of acid. The man fell in one day. He quickly leapt out, but was covered in sulfuric acid, which immediately began to burn him chemically. In a panic and excruciating pain, the man ran outside. By the time his coworkers caught up to him, the man had essentially dissolved.

The acid burned the man to death, searing through skin, cauterizing blood vessels, and eating through organs until he died. The pain would be unbearable, and the circumstances irreversible. This is unquestionably a really bad way to die.

But what is it about stories like this? Why is it that on some primal level we feel the urge to imagine the man running madly about as his tissue fell away from his bones? Why do articles like Gosline's become so popular? In other words, why do we think about death? Read on to find out about an entire field of study dedicated to exploring death.

Thanatology and Ernest Becker

Death looms around us all, but for the most part, people try to avoid thinking about it. The success of antiaging skin care products and the hospital's increased role as supporter of life beyond the time after quality of life diminishes both attest to this. But while people in most cultures may avoid thinking about death, others find it a fascinating study. An entire school of thought is dedicated to the study of death and dying -- along with its processes, like grief. This field is called thanatology.

Thanatologists believe that humans have compartmentalized death in a quest to trick ourselves into believing that we will not die. Unfortunately, by failing to confront our own mortality -- or even the mortality of those around us -- we will be ambushed when death inevitably comes knocking. What's worse, we will fail to live our lives in the best manner possible: It is the person who has accepted his own mortality who will live life to the fullest, say thanatologists.

Those who study death -- physicians, funeral directors and psychologists alike -- point out that before the early part of the last century, death was a very visible part of life in Western culture. When a person died, he most likely died at home. His corpse was often laid on a sofa or in a bed in the living room ironically enough, and meals were taken around it. Family members slept near the body of their deceased beloved. They had professional photographers take photos of the family gathered around the body, which was sometimes propped up with the eyes open to make the dead still appear to be alive.

This process often took place over the course of days before the person was buried. Both adults and children were exposed to the body. In this way, a child became socialized with death, and was arguably more ready to face his own mortality than the children of today.

So why is death so hard for many people to confront? Fear of the unknown is certainly one reason, but there is also another, more sublime aspect that is based on modern medicine.

A century ago, a person with cancer would die. A person with access to today's medical technology has a much better chance to live. In this manner, some have come to see medicine as a way to cheat death, and rather than confront the fact that they will die one day, they look instead to medicine to save them from their inevitable fates.

This is what the psychologist Ernest Becker considered a distraction. Becker won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for his book, "Denial of Death." It was Becker's opinion that culture at large served to distract all of us from our impending deaths. It's as if we are all on the same roller coaster, chugging slowly up toward the tallest hill. At the crest is death, and every one of us will eventually make it to that crest. Culture in this metaphor is a set of giant televisions on each side of the coaster tracks, which some people choose to watch rather than look up toward the top of the hill and consider what's beyond the hill.

But although some allow themselves to be distracted, we are all unconsciously fully aware of our finite time here on Earth. In Becker's opinion, this causes feelings of anxiety and woe and is expressed through aggressive acts like invasions and wars.

Becker's field of study -- referred to as the psychology of death -- does suggest a worst way to die. Since culture has the potential to distract us from confronting death, it can lead us to waste our lives. The worst type of death, according to Becker's theory, would be one that followed an insignificant life.


Watch the video: 7 Worst Times To Be Alive in Human History Hindi by the virtual factz.