Let me start by saying that none of us is safe. Or to put it in grandma’s and mom’s words — words I recently threw back at mom, btw, when she was panicking about Winnie the Flu, which is probably evil of me — “we all serve at pleasure.” At any minute our number could be up, and we might have no idea why or how. In fact, we might never know, though those left behind might figure it out.
I don’t think it’s likely for instance to be struck by a meteorite and meet your end that way, but it has in fact happened to a vanishingly small number of people. As has death by slipping in your own shower. Death by choking on a peanut, and other ways to die while engaged in activities that should theoretically be absolutely safe.
However, recently I was struck by how the means to be UNsafe are the same through the ages.
I am engaged in as much house repair/upgrade as I can stand before I can’t do anymore for the day. Unfortunately this means that my editing of Darkship Thieves to go back up (I would skip it, but I’ve found actual for real spelling mistakes somehow missed in the published edition, so–) and my finalizing of Bowl of Red (and others) have pretty much stopped. I’ll come and sit in front of the computer, but then just sit here going “derp.” and nothing happens.
For reasons known only to the psychiatrist I don’t have, yesterday, while in that state I fell into a Jack the Ripper rabbit hole.
Now, this might be a symptom of deeper depression, as “true crime reading” is about as low as I can get before having to pull myself up. But I don’t think so, because I don’t feel the slightest need to read about contemporary crimes. And I fell into it via “what new weird theories have cropped up?” (Van Gogh, really? Are all of them insane?)
One of the new things out, from a would-be intellectual source — which, like most of these are actually just posing-as-smart — related to the BBC is about the victims of the Ripper and how the true facts of their lives are nothing like we’d expect, and how it will blow your mind.
Do I need to tell you it won’t blow your mind, and they are precisely what we’d expect?
I didn’t buy/read the book because honestly, no. But I was less than impressed by the teaser-facts that the author gave that not all Victorians were prudish, and that people often entered in what we’d term common law marriages. This would only surprise the idiot left who thinks that no one before the 21st century ever had irregular relationships, and that they were all stuffy moralists. I mean, really. What are these people, 2? Humans are humans throughout the ages.
But this led me to reading about the Ripper’s victims, and life in Victorian tenements, and realizing a lot of what we knew of them is filtered through the lens of well-intentioned moralists who were trying to drum up charity, or airy-headed socialists like Dickens who were trying to drum up “paradise.”
That the Victorian tenements, lodging houses and slums (a continuum that was a big fuzzy in “person”) were less comfortable and savory than our present lodgings goes without saying. So were their mansions and palaces. Lest we forget, Queen Victoria’s husband died from typhus, a disease connected with bad drains and water contaminated with sewage.
However…. well, the description of them as hell on Earth seems about as accurate as the description of “dark satanic mills.” Yeah some — a lot — of these places were insalubrious but the only truly appalling ones were the province of what we’d today classify as “homeless”. People flocked from the country into tenements, because rickety and shoddy as they were they were probably better than picturesque cottages with vermin living in the thatch and gaps between the stones. I mean, people make their decisions for what’s best for them and more than a hundred years later, it’s impossible to figure it out for sure, from where we stand.
Except to say that yeah, it was very hard and we’re unimaginably rich by comparison. But then we’re unimaginably rich in comparison to rich people, too.
Having lived closer (though not too close) the middle class Victorian, trust me on this. The difference between them and the poor of their time was far smaller than the difference between them and us.)
But the bottom — well, the bottom is almost exactly the same as in our time. Which frankly was shocking and surprising.
I want to make it clear I’m not blaming these women for being the victims of the Ripper. Even if their lifestyles predisposed them to that type of end, it was still fairly rare even at that level and the guilt for the sin lies with the murderer alone.
But as I said, I read a lot of true crime novels. And while middle class people of decent living standards can and do often fall victim to killers for reasons ranging from “was related” to “lived next door” to “was in wrong place at the wrong time” I have to say, in terms of at least reading about real cases, that’s far rarer than “people lived a life that will predispose them to this sort of thing.”
In an age of rising crime (mostly because fargin idiots let criminals out of jail so the poor darlings wouldn’t die of Winnie the Flu) there are things that are important to remember:
One of the best ways of ending up the victim of a crime is to live in a criminal millieu or to be a criminal oneself. (And I’m not talking of fuzzy political crimes, here, but of things like murder, rape, larceny, etc.)
Another of the best ways is to be someone no one cares about. And by this I don’t mean living in an unhappy marriage, or whatever. I mean being homeless, having no connections to any other human being, living at the margins of society where no one GAF if you live or die.
This is honestly fairly rare and more difficult than it sounds like. It’s not a matter of simply “drifting down.” Humans are social animals and, by default, form connections. It’s almost impossible to go through life without someone caring if you life or die, and it usually involves active (if sometimes subtle) discouraging of connections ranging from “toxic personality” to “active malice towards others” to “addiction and other issues.” Or the popular all of the above.
Looking at the victims of the Ripper, and even taking in account that women had far fewer rights and choices than today, it is obvious that they were living at the bottom of society, yes, but that they both needed to continually choose to be there and reinforce that choice.
Most of them had started as fairly average middle class daughters or wives, before falling prey to addictions — alcohol or sex or whatever — which eventually forced their families to break with them. Now, was the family being judgemental? Sure. But if you’ve lived with an addict, you probably understand at some point it’s separate from them or go down with them.
The funny part is at least one the family didn’t kick her out and kept trying to get her back (I don’t remember if that was one of the known or one of the simply suspected additional victims.) But for whatever reason, she preferred to be where she was.
The other thing that became clear is that the women and men at that level of society were all much of the same cloth. Yes, they had had several “what we’d term common law marriages” and often there were kids abandoned with relatives in rural locations. But again, what also quickly becomes clear, even if you “just” read between the lines of the moralists and socialists accounts of the time is that a lot of these people made the choice to remain mired at the bottom daily.
One of the things people will tell you is “the only thing she had to sell was herself.” And that’s pretty much bullshit. The fact one of the presumed victim’s common-law-husband had given her money to buy “stock” (i.e. small things to sell) tell you it wasn’t the only thing. More importantly, as I said, I grew up closer to this, in a place and time where a woman needed a signed permission from her husband to get a job, and women left by their husbands, or women left destitute by the passing of their father or husband, still contrived to make a living — and sometimes to become very comfortable indeed — through buying, selling, making or hiring out as craftspeople, rather than selling themselves. The Victorian age was a time when a pair of hands and a mind were more valuable than now (as opposed to specialized training) if that’s what you were willing to do.
Most of the people using dossing houses seemed to be at the very least petty criminals, more often addicts and almost always people who had alienated anyone who even tried to care for them.
And they were subject to horrible lives, yes, even if not victims of a mass murderer.
But again and again in reading about them, one realizes they chose that life daily. At any time — and sometimes, much too rarely it happened – they could have picked themselves up, shaken up the dust and decided to live by the common rules of their time and place, and claimed for themselves the respectability and safety of at least lower middle class.
There were, if nothing else, charitable people standing by to help. But there was also much more flexibility in such things as starting a business, and selling things (one way they were superior to our own time.)
All it took was deciding to live by “middle class” rules: monogamy, sobriety, hard work. And above all responsibility for self.
Which arguably is the same today or thereabouts.
These people 100 years ago, much like the homeless of today choose not to. Particularly on the hard work and responsibility for self.
Yes, a lot of them are mentally ill, then as now, but that’s a different discussion.
Just like the moralists and socialists of the time blamed “society” for the terrible living conditions of these people at the bottom, so we now are turning society inside out and destroying what works in the name of helping those who either don’t want to be helped or are unable to take advantage of the opportunity.
And in the end destroying society does nothing. And destroying the “oppressive” rules (and while their rules were more oppressive than ours, the MINIMAL rules for decent living weren’t. Victorians it turns out were more tolerant than the left thinks. Though not preaching socialism at your neighbors is a good idea, then as now. People have limits.) does nothing but cast more people adrift who don’t even know what to do to raise themselves up out of purposelessness. Now most of these people won’t be wretched. I mean, we have a fund of both wealth and knowledge that makes them merely unhappy and aimless. But a few will fall all the way down and have nothing to seize hold of to raise themselves up.
Particularly since the echoing chamber of pudding heads insist if they’re not thriving it’s because they are victims and “the man” is holding them down. Most of the time that man (or woman) can be found in the mirror, but no one tells them that. No victim blaming. Even if they are self-victims.
And that is also a constant. A continuing current from the Victorian age till today. A worm gnawing at the foundations of decent living and society.
And seeking to bring down the best and most able, in order to show it’s really no one’s fault.
I’m tired of it, and wondering why people can read these accounts and not see it.
In the end your life and that of those closer to you is your responsibility. It might be better or worse depending on the times you life in. But it is always yours to waste or save until the end, which of course you have no control over most of the time.
Whether you live well or badly and are happy or wretched are ultimately a choice. Sometimes it takes more effort than others (and in totalitarian societies those might be relative) but there’s always something you can do not to be the most absolutely wretched in that society.
And the skills are the same throughout time.
Those who obscure this from the young and hapless are monsters too cowardly to commit active murder and destruction, but committing it every day by different means. No matter how much they scream they’re “helping” they aren’t and it is obvious they’re lying. It should be obvious to them too.
Be not afraid. And keep raising yourself up. Make your gut into a new heart and keep working.