Hurricanes, earthquakes and pandemics are natural crises. The ancient origin of the word ''crisis'' means a ''sieve''. It occurs in many European languages from Greek krinein to Old Irish criathar. This word for separation implies a moment of decision, when different paths diverge, and a choice must be made.
Though much over-used today, the word ''crisis'' in the English language originally had a 15th-Century specialist medical meaning. It referred to the turning point in a disease, that change which indicates recovery or death. A crisis only becomes a disaster when it is mis-managed - like a doctor using the wrong treatment on a disease. We are the sum of our choices.
This week we have watched the UK government repeatedly wrestle with decisions about how to best to manage the unfolding Covid-19 crisis. The UK's current approach - do little to achieve herd immunisation - is a direct descendant of the 19th-Century philosophy of laissez-faire which held that society and markets were self-correcting.
This is part of a persistent pattern of British political thinking that is hostile to government interference in society, even if it risks lives to sustain its rigid ideology. Of all people, we, in Ireland should know this because such thinking was the direct cause of the massive excess of deaths from the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s.
The potato failure was a wholly natural event caused by the fungus-like organism Phytophthora infestans. The fungus itself was not the cause of more than one million deaths. The disaster of the Irish Famine was caused by the mismanagement of the resultant crisis. It remains one of history's worst example of government mismanagement.
More than 150 years later, Ireland is the only country in the EU that still has fewer people than it did in 1840. How did this happen and what can we learn?
To understand what happened, we need to see the context. The middle of the 19th-Century, when the Famine started, was a period of history with many striking parallels with today's world. New discoveries, technologies and ideas were being excitedly shared and discussed by the newly emergent and rapidly expanding printed mass media. There was widespread discontent by radical critics who used an early mastery of the new media to question traditional social norms. There was no shortage of ideas about new ways to organise society.
Three strong ideas emerged from the intense debate about how best to govern during this period. These are seldom explicitly discussed today - yet they still underlie much political thought and action.
One was nationalism, a new idea in a time of kings, which included support for one's own place and often vilified or moralised about other, supposedly inferior, people.
The second was an idea of that linked religion and material success. This held that prosperity was a judgment by God to reward good people and good nations. In the US this was called ''manifest destiny'' and in the UK it was referred to as ''providentialism''.
A third idea that emerged during this time was the idea of ''natural forces'' - in everything from evolution to economics. This latter idea gave rise to the economic theory of laissez-faire - a doctrine of inaction by which governments let events take their natural course and await a market response to correct any problems.
In another historic parallel of crisis and government, the Famine coincided with the establishment of a new British government. Establishing free trade and laissez-faire economics were their priorities. The task fell to two individuals, Viscount Charles Wood, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Sir Charles Trevelyan, his most senior civil servant at the Treasury.
Both men ideologically opposed intervention by food aid for Ireland, fearing that it would ''undermine the market'' by allowing in the cheap imported grain that would prevent Irish starvation. Furthermore, they believed that ''a want of food and employment is a calamity sent by Providence'' and, in an uncanny anticipation of the current UK thinking about herd immunisation, they hoped that starvation had ''precipitated things with a wonderful impetus, so as to bring them to an early head''.
Trevelyan believed "the judgment of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson". Trevelyan was described by an Irish contemporary as ''sustained, but also blinded by his conviction of doing right''.
This shows how the three ideological drivers of racist nationalism, laissez-faire economics and moralising improvement all sealed the fate of Irish Famine victims.
Troublingly, nothing was learned by this huge loss of life in Ireland. Thirty years later, the British in India oversaw another famine that killed as many as 10 million people, while 20 years later, beginning in 1896, they again mis-managed famines that may have resulted in up to 20 million more deaths.
Now history is repeating itself, except this time the potential victim of ideological rigidity will be the people of Britain themselves. Advisers appear to believe that there is a choice to be made between business and people. If this persists, then the UK is on the brink of a large-scale episode of avoidable excess mortality.
If we have learned anything in the last two centuries it is that nature is a poor model for human affairs. This usually happens because over-simplified elements, of larger more complex models, are taken out of context and used by populists to further their own aims. The use of Darwin's theory of evolution by racists is the most famous example of this misuse.
Unfettered free markets may be ''natural'', but all decent societies also manage capitalism by using legislation to curb monopolies and by putting in place social welfare systems to protect the least fortunate. Similarly, natural crises all need to be managed. We make plans for natural disasters, by avoiding flood plains, landslide and tsunami zones, while we adapt building codes in earthquake zones. The current globally coordinated attempt to flatten the virus growth curve is a supreme example of crisis management with abstract ideas being put into action in advance of infection by intelligent, purposeful societies.
We are living through a real crisis. In Ireland we are witnessing what the good governance of a real crisis looks like - compared to the other manufactured crises of late that we have swallowed hook, line and sinker.
Could Ireland's calm, careful, decisive leadership be more different to that in the UK and US? The highly functional de-facto dual government of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael is providing proper effective, articulate and reassuring leadership, in sharp contrast to the stunned silence of the new left who so recently clamoured for change for the sake of change.
The 1916 Proclamation promised ''the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies''. Unlike the UK's responses to the Famine of the 1840s, this will be organised in the best interest of the Irish people. If there was ever a meaningful reason for self-determination it is surely this. To chart a plan and to successfully manage a crisis, unencumbered by abstract ideologies or dogma in a way that puts people first, for the good of all, no matter what.
When we made a new country, this is what we made it for.