People in the past were not callous monsters. The modern leftist is not special.
Okay, one or two might be special (how do I know?) but they are not particularly and amazingly kind. Throwing their weight around on twitter to show how much they care for the “underprivileged” (a revolting word that denotes that someone is in need of more private law applying to them only) doesn’t make them wonderful. And their ancestors were not horrible because they verbalized their tender notions better.
The funny thing is that if they had verbalized what was considered an admirable sentiment in their time more, the left would probably hate them for it.
I only know this because not only was I raised in a society very different from the one I live in (though already unimaginably wealthy by historical standards) but I work in the past a lot. (Okay, not as much as I used to, but we’ve already set the last two books of the Shakespeare series and the rest of the Tudor queens books on my schedule for next year.) This means I am aware of how the past is intensely different from the present.
Humans adapt to the conditions they live under. We’re highly adaptable creatures. And if you think that conditions in the past were always “more or less” like middle class America (I run into this a lot, mostly in books written by women a little younger than I) you have no notion how different even the early twentieth century could be.
Take the village I grew up in. Yes, I know. I was born past the mid century mark. Yeah. But you see, I was born under a national socialist regime. While the Portuguese regime – regardless of what you read in the news here, or the even the history books here – was not as actively lethal as even the Spanish and considerably less actively lethal than any other socialist regime of its time, it was still socialist. Socialism kills. It mostly kills by stopping initiative, effort and individual creativity. Little by little it leaches the society it commandeers, making everyone poorer, and slowing down the normal march of innovation.
You’ve seen – I’ve recently seen – pictures from behind the iron curtain at the time it fell. It’s impossible not to think it’s like a time capsule to the 1940s. Only dirtier, dingier, and falling apart more.
When I was a child, the place I grew up looked like a mishmash of the Roman Empire and the 1930s America. (The Roman Empire only because Portugal was once a part of Rome, and … well, it’s sometimes debatable whether Rome really did fall in anything but the administrative bureaucracy sense.)
The most common crime was people stealing clothes from the line. If you’re nodding along with that and going “Well, in certain parts of America people steal shoes and leather jackets”, you’ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick. The clothes stolen were often not just home made and worn, but they were also often patched. They were still valuable to people who had nothing else to protect them from the elements. This is almost unimaginable when every thrift store in America sells (sometimes new) clothes for pennies. We have no concept for it. It’s quite literally alien.
Or let me illustrate how close to the bone we lived in another way: mom’s business was to design and make (though sometimes she hired people to help with the making) entire wardrobes for wealthy people. Because – like writing – it was a business of peaks and throughs, she bought a knitting machine which she could use to knit sweaters for the not-so-wealthy when business was down. Now, the people she knit sweaters for were wealthy farmers, people of some substance. Only about half the time did she get new wool with which to knit. The rest of the time, they brought her a sweater and expected her to take it apart, remove the most worn threads, re-dye it and knit it in another shape.
More? Sure. Once you had gone through all your clothes to the point you couldn’t wear them any more, you either sold them to the rags man, or if they were canvas or some sturdier fabric, you cut them up, dyed them, and had the rug-weaver make a rag rug from them. (For some reason my family ran on rag rugs so we usually did this.)
Yes, food was about the same thing, though fortunately no one recycled it. We mostly ate what we grew (what Heilein so aptly described as “root, hog or die.”) and though my family was solidly middle class meat (as opposed to fish, which this being a Mediterranean country was dirt cheap) was a Sunday dish.
I’m not saying this to tell you how hard I had it. Compared to my parents’ time, not to mention my grandparents’ time we were incredibly wealthy. We didn’t go hungry, and we had antibiotics and could afford doctors.
I’m saying this to say that having a glimpse – just a glimpse – into the past, I know how different it was.
The same thing applies to my research. Granted, Tudor England was a little more turmoil-y than your average era, but one of the things I read to get the rhythm of the language was the diary of a woman who had three husbands executed for treason, and who only had two of ten children survive. The interesting thing is the insane amount of work this woman – a nobleman btw – did every day, which she recorded with scrupulous care.
Even for someone who had a cook and servants, the maintaining of clothes, making sure herbs and meat were preserved, and supervising things like baking, was an insane amount of work, which makes those of us who run a business and raised children feel like the laziest creatures imaginable.
Now picture living like that. Ignore the political jeopardy, even (though it took up an enormous amount of mental cycles) because Tudor England was crazy. Concentrate on a society where if you don’t make sure everything (including the water, which doesn’t come from faucets) is clean, your entire family can die of typhus, or worse, where if you don’t keep clothes mended your baby will be carried off of a chill, where if you don’t work as hard as you can, you’re going hungry. (Which weirdly in Elizabethan England could still apply to some ranks of noblemen. Elizabeth herself is said to have grown up hungry and ragged when out of favor.)
Did these people spend all their time worrying about the plight of “insert minority here”? Nope. The amazing thing is that as far back as we go, people were still charitable. Okay, it might be a religious obligation, but at least from what we can find from primary sources, people still seemed to have the charitable impulses we have. They didn’t like to see other people suffer, and they felt the need to help within their means.
Sure, a lot of them demanded at least some effort from those being helped. The whole point of helping the “deserving poor” (it was much the same in the village, btw) and letting the “undeserving” go, which the left thinks is so offensive, is in fact essential when you have limited resources. If you help the “underserving”, you’re going to denude yourself uselessly. When these people are done, they’ll still be as poor as ever, while you’ll also be poor.
But – the left says – this means a moral judgement. How can you judge?
You can judge very easily. Chronically poor people, those who won’t help themselves or shift to improve their lives can’t be helped. Yeah, sure, it might be because they’re discriminated against for other reasons. Perhaps it is because they’re ill. Perhaps micro-aggressions hold them down.
That’s nice. A society that lives close to the bone is not going to care about all that. They’re going to help those who can be helped and let the others go. Because when you only have a little to spare, you can’t afford to give it away to no effect.
What brought about this rant is that I just read a Pride and Prejudice Variation written by someone who swallowed Dickens hook line and barbed socialist sinker.
Dickens was an amazing writer. What he was not was an historian or an impartial observer. What he put in his books has tainted people’s perception of the past and encouraged the cardinal “socialist virtue” of envy. It causes people to think those richer than themselves are callous bastards. It teaches people to see the past through that lens.
This book was almost walled when the woman assured us that the middle and upper classes did not care about the disappearance of a serving-woman.
It wasn’t many years after that the murder of a series of prostitutes set Victorian England aflutter, and yes, that included the upper and middle classes.
In the same way she waxes pathetic about how death was common among the poor in the Regency. B*tch, death was common in the Regency, period. If your entitled, propagandized ass were plopped down in a society with no antibiotics and uncertain house-heating, you’d learn really quickly how common. Young ladies in the upper reaches of society routinely made two baby shrouds as part of their trousseau. They were expected to lose at least that many children. And while we’re talking of children, yeah, death in child birth was really common too. As was death in any of the male occupations which, as is true throughout history, took them outside the house. Even noblemen were around horses a lot, and spent quite a bit of time – if they were worth their salt – managing their own lands, fraught occupations in a time when any wound could turn “septic” and any cold could turn “putrid” and carry you off.
Yeah. The people in these close-to-the-bone societies didn’t give money to people who’d waste it. They sometimes set conditions on distributing largesse. And they had definite opinions on what behaviors were “good” and which “bad.”
They weren’t tight-ass moralists, as the left imagines. They were following percepts and behaviors proven to lead to success. Mostly success in staying alive.
They were poorer than us and in that measure they were a lot more realistic.
They had to be. The other way lay death.
Spitting on our ancestors for not obsessing about gender-fluid trilobites is in fact the ultimate expression of “temporal privilege.” The left is yelling at people poorer, unhealthier and less able than themselves.
And they’re proud of it.