Paradise Lost

A fairly universal myth that spans cultures and generations is “Things were better in the good old days.”

This is a myth. Typically people invoke images of peace and harmony, how you could leave your door unlocked, everybody knew everybody else and kept an eye out for one another.

Many examples are always brought forth:

(1) “Ancient / ancestral / traditional diets were healthier. In the old days nobody heard of cancer / heart disease / allergies / etc…”

Poppycock! In the old days, you were probably dead by 30. Many of these “epidemic” diseases we have now only show up later in life. Further more, you can get some idea of how healthy the ancients were by looking at their size. Recently, the kids and I saw some Egyptian mummies, a lady who had died in her twenties was barely taller than Tania (who is 6) – the ancient diets were poor and lacking in nutrition.

With high rates of infant mortality, it is likely that a child with severe allergies would die young – another casualty of a tough world.

(2) “People were more moral in the past, we live in a culture of sex and debauchery.”

Bollocks! STD’s were quite prevalent in the ancient world (certainly anytime the Europeans went anywhere, they made certain to leave behind syphilis). In more “primitive” hunter-gatherer societies, if you ask who is the likely father of any given child, the women will usually point out the best hunter (sex for food). Mistresses were quite common in Victorian times and as long as the man provided for her, everyone seemed content to turn a blind eye.

(3) “Communities were safer.”

Cod’s Whallop! They were safe so long as you didn’t venture out after dark into the hands of brigands, thieves, and highwaymen. Interestingly enough, the notion that weird things are afoot during a full moon actually has a pretty pedestrian origin. With electricity and electric lighting everywhere, we forget how dark it really gets at night. Before widespread use of lighting, people would not have ventured out unless it was quite bright at night (a full moon). With more people are out and about thieves, brigands, and robbers will take advantage of it. Consequently, things were more likely to happen during a full moon than any other time (since it would be dark).

We look at serial killers and wonder how this can happen. How depraved our societies have become. But these things happened in the past as well. Stories like Baba Yaga (a cannibalistic witch), are allegories trying to give meaning to senseless brutality of the time. We can deconstruct other stories too – like Beauty and the Beast (“He’s not really all that terrible once you get to know him.”).

But, even if we do not idealize the distant past, most of us believe that the world we grew up in was a better world (unless you grew up in a war zone or other area of constant conflict). This too is an illusion. The world only seemed better because most of us grew up fairly secure. Our early childhood's were oasis' of secure tranquility. As we got older, as we gained more independence, as we saw and understood more of life's ugliness - we saw the harsher realities of life. Who doesn’t want to go back to the time when they felt safe and secure and provided for?

"To be in process of change is not an evil, any more than to be the product of change is a good." - Marcus Aurelius, 'Meditations'


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