Now is Always Better Than Then

It is common (on both the left and the right, among atheists and religious people) to believe that people are less happy, less free, less everything now-a-days than they were in some glorious past. My theory is that the glorious past is always about 30 years old because communal recollection only goes back 30 years. So when I was growing up (in the 80's), the 50's were perfect . . .

I'm not a fan of the glorious past because (1) I don't believe it ever existed; (2) NOW is so much better than THEN.

Here is my life NOW compared to what it would have been THEN--in this case, 150+ years ago:
Margaret Fuller's intense education--supported
by her father--was considered unusual, and
she was still pulled back into "domestic"
  • I can read and write (this has not been true for most people--men and women--throughout history, discounting the Puritans' obsessive reading stats).
  • I have access to a plethora of information; I can fortunately access information about religions, jobs, politics, education, and books and, unfortunately, pornography, racist and Holocaust denial material. The unfortunate guarantees the fortunate. (Speaking of which, although I have been criticized on my blog, I have never been contacted by legal representatives for my rather innocuous blog's content.)
  • I am educated; it was considered normal for me, a woman, to attend both high school and college.
  • My job choices are not limited to farm work, factory work, being a nurse, teaching little children, or service (maid, etc.).
  • I teach, and although a few of my immigrant students find this unusual (a woman teacher!), nobody considers it abnormal .
  • I (still) retain the majority of my paycheck for my own use and can dispose of it at my own discretion.
  • I have never been prevented legally from buying anything I wanted (lack of funds, yes; legal intervention, no). This includes cars, books, medications, educational and religious materials.
  • I can own property, and I can sue people and/or have them arrested if they try to take it away from me.
  • I own a car (being able to own--and afford--transportation is unusual for (1) women throughout history; (2) most people in ancient civilizations, and (3) most Americans up to 1950).
  • I have never been threatened with jail because I was in debt/missed a loan payment.
  • I can vote and when I go (outside) to the voting booth, I do not have to wear clothes that cover my whole body and my face. (Actually, I can wear just about anything I want.)
  • I am not held at gunpoint while I vote.
  • I am not harassed for my views (if I discount pollsters, toads, and annoying phone calls).
  • I have never gained or lost a job based on my voting record.
  • My religious beliefs have never prevented me from voting, getting a job, or renting an apartment.
  • I have never been harassed due to being Mormon (although I have gotten puzzled looks).
  • In the last 100 years in the U.S., Mormon meetings have never been invaded by federal troops.
  • In the last 100 years in the U.S., Mormon leaders have never been held at gunpoint—oh, wait, President Hunter was, but the gunman was crazy, and the gun was fake.
  • When Gilman suffered depression, she was
    put under a kind of house arrest--
    which made things worse.
  • I can live alone--that is, I am not obligated by necessity or custom to live with parents and/or siblings (see Jane Austen).
  • I am not married nor do I have kids, and although both religious and non-religious married, child-rearing Americans still exert social pressure on their unmarried, childless friends to "get with the program," my lack of spouse and/or child has never disqualified me from getting a loan or a job. I have also never been sent to a mental hospital (yes, women without spouses or children in the past were sometimes perceived as crazy and "sent away").
  • Speaking of children, I'm not dead from having had six kids in six years and finally getting infected in the aftermath of the last childbirth.
  • I'm also not dead from scurvy.
  • Or plague.
  • Or smallpox.
  • Or blood poisoning.
  • Or tuberculosis.
  • Or consumption.
  • Or malaria.
  • Or diphtheria.
  • Or diarrhea (no, I'm not kidding; dehydration caused by diarrhea still kills, especially infants).
  • Or typhoid.
  • Nor am I crippled from polio.
  • I have ready access to meat, and it costs a relatively small portion of my paycheck.
  • I have ready access to fruits and vegetables which cost a relatively small portion of my paycheck (in 18th century England, fresh fruits & veg were a rarity; everything was stew).
  • I do not have to have a ration card.
  • I am not restricted in my diet by legal means (other than hard drugs, which I'm okay with).
  • I have access to some drugs, such as aspirin and Neosporin.
  • I also have access to modern doctors and dentists. (This does NOT mean I have insurance; I don't. I just mean I have access to them, which is historically unusual. If I have to go to the emergency room, I can. For that matter, I save up and see an optometrist once a year.)
  • The Burning of Falmouth (Portland) occurred in 1775
  • I live in a state that has not endured war on its soil in over 200 years. I realize this is not true of many places in the United States (and on earth); it is still remarkable.
  • I have never been legally prevented from moving within and/or between states.
  • I have never been visited at home by a legal representative. (I was going to write "a legal representative has never come to my home in the middle of the night and questioned me" but actually "never been visited" is accurate. Legal representatives have stopped my car.)
  • I have never had to pay protection money or hire bodyguards simply to survive my day.
  • I have never lived in a town or city where a fire was left to burn instead of being attended to by the fire department.
  • I have never lived in a town or city where police non-intervention in a crime was considered acceptable or normal behavior.
  • I have never had to bribe my mail carrier to deliver my mail.
  • I have no need to buy a gun, although I could if I wanted to.
  • I have never been prevented from entering a state or federal building.
  • I have never been prevented from watching a trial (but then, I don't try very often).
  • I live in a country of mixed races which recently [2009] voted a black man as president (I'm not saying he was or wasn't the best option; I do think it's really, really amazing!), and where people of many races (and both sexes) occupy military and political positions. (Forget, the last 150+ years; this is unprecedented in the last 50!)
  • I live (and am allowed to live) in reasonably hygienic conditions: I don't have to pour my urine and feces in the street; I don't have to bathe in other people's bath water. I CAN bathe on a daily/every-other-day basis; I do not sleep on the same bedding as my pets; I can wash my clothes on a more than yearly or bi-yearly basis.
  • And, believe it or not, I breathe relatively clean air (and I live in the city). I do not live in conditions where I am constantly breathing in coal dust nor do I live in conditions where, as my mother can attest, soot has to be cleaned off my walls every spring.
  • I have access to and can afford (at relatively low expense) to heat my living quarters and cook for myself. ("Fire! Yah!" and no, I'm not kidding. The most consistent factor of 19th century literature is how freaking cold everybody is all the time. In 1891 in Paris, Marie Curie lived in a single room with a "small stove that often lacked coal...I was obliged to pile all my clothes on the bed covers. In the same room I prepared my meals with the aid of an alcohol lamp and a few kitchen utensils" [from The Crimes of Paris by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler]. And Curie would have been considered middle-class.)
Now, in many ways, I have had a good life and have lived in good places within the United States. But my experience is not that different from many Americans and members of industrialized countries—which is my point. Throughout history, most of the negatives listed above (things I haven't had done to me, haven’t had to tolerate) have existed as givens for most people. The fact that I live in an era and place where they are less likely to be true—or at least, there's an even chance that they are not true as opposed to true—and people don't think they should be, is remarkable! I'm so glad I wasn't born 150 years ago!!


Dan said...


This WSJ opinion supports your thesis. Somewhere along the way the politicians discovered that it was easier to sell advocacy than it was to sell the ability to govern. This strategy works swell up until the electorate gets tired of being treated like children.

Obama and the Liberal Paradigm: The sheep are quite capable of looking out for themselves. Someone tell the Democrats.

Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Barack Obama, recently explained the White House war on Fox News as an example of "speaking truth to power." Much of the American political world collapsed in laughter, pointing out that her boss was president of the United States, the most powerful man on earth. His every word is news around the world. Fox News is a cable channel rarely watched by more than a few million people at a time. How could she have so blithely said something completely out-of-sync with reality?

Simple: She's a liberal.

As a liberal she carries around in her head the liberal paradigm of how the world works and what needs to be done to make it work better. There's nothing wrong with that. We all use paradigms to make sense of what we see around us and couldn't get along without them. Unfortunately, the basic liberal paradigm hasn't shifted in a hundred years, while the world we live in has changed utterly since the late 19th century, when modern liberalism was born.

What is that paradigm? The basic premise is that the population is divided into three groups. By far the largest group consists of ordinary people. They are good, God fearing and hard working. But they are also often ignorant of their true self-interest ("What's the matter with Kansas?") and thus easily misled. They are also politically weak and thus need to be protected from the second group, which is politically strong.

The second group, far smaller, are the affluent, successful businessmen, corporate executives and financiers. Capitalists in other words. They are the establishment and it is the establishment that, by definition, runs the country. They are, in the liberal paradigm, smart, ruthless and totally self-interested. They care only about personal gain.

And then there is the third group, those few, those happy few, that band of brothers, the educated and enlightened liberals, who understand what is really going on and want to help the members of the first group to live a better and more satisfying life. Unlike the establishment, which supposedly cares only for itself, liberals supposedly care for society as a whole and have no personal self-interest....

Cari Hislop said...

I enjoyed your many reasons for living in the here and now! I think you've covered everything.

People who say, "Politicans never used to..." or "The world never used to be so bad..." these people see history through rose coloured glasses that really should be removed! I'm surprised at how often people exclaiming this rubbish in public are supposedly well educated. Now is most definitely better!!! Especially for women.

But...if I could time travel I admit there are numerous places I'd love to see and people I'd LOVE to meet but my rational side sneers they wouldn't be so keen to meet me and why would they? I'd be a stranger. A woman with opinions...a super-freak! I'd probably end up wishing I'd never bothered. That's history for you.

Kate Woodbury said...

I know what you mean about time traveling, Cari! Knowing too much about history can sometimes be a downside. For instance, time traveling to medieval times . . . well, there's the smell factor. And time traveling to Roman times . . . well, there's that whole language barrier plus what if I didn't have my contacts in? And where exactly would I find saline solution? And time traveling to the Wild, Wild West--hey, where are the bookstores?

Good book about realistic time traveling is the Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. She also wrote several good short stories about time traveling.