I was researching the history of medieval England in a nearby college library- ok fine, I was watching Robin Hood (the one with Russel Crowe). But it’s pretty gritty and looks realistic enough for me to assume it’s based on actual research, so it got me thinking about how horrible life was for most people in basically every single other era ever.
First off, the peasants live in shit, many times literally, they work their asses off and live in rat infested houses eating hard bread and gruel when they’re lucky enough to get food. They’re filthy, smelly, toothless, and are under the rule of barons who can do whatever the hell they want to them. Knights can kill them for sport, just ride around lopping off heads like its human polo, and they have no recourse.
I just reread a chassidish story that I heard as a kid but didn’t really understand in context. The Polish nobles, called Poretzes, ruled their land with absolute power. The central government wasn’t very strong and the king relied on the Barons to keep order, run the land, pay taxes and provide men for wars. One day a family couldn’t pay their rent. So the poretz decided to lock him and his wife and kids up in his dungeon to die unless the tax was paid by the community. This is already an advanced society, there are fair rules that the poretz lays out and follows. You pay, you stay alive. In other places, the noble decides he doesn’t like Jews and wants to kill all of them. So he does. Then, in some places, the noble will let the Jews stay only if they pay a crazy amount of tax. If someone thinks its unfair and asks why only the Jews have to pay a 90% tax, he says, “Because I hate you dirty Jews, of course.” That’s it. That’s his political message to his constituents. He decides to kill a bunch of kids to get his tax paid? That’s a sound fiscal policy.
Then, there are constant wars. This was very hard for me to figure out when I was watching Robin Hood. Apparently, the French and English not only like living in shit, but want other people’s shit. To what end? I have no clue. But they staged massive wars, with thousands of peasants and soldiers killing each other for absolutely no reason other than the chance to get back to their miserable shit lives if they survived. And the peasants, of course, were sent in first! With like sharp sticks or tools or tree-cutting axes if they had them.
These were actual people. With brains and everything. Being used as a flesh wall. If these people could have been educated, they could’ve built up a modern society, with doctors that actually healed you instead of raping you to cure your pneumonia. Or they could’ve built a nuclear bomb and destroyed their enemies. At least they’re doing something that reflects their potential as human beings. It was totally different. They didn’t even look at people like that, like they could improve their situation. This was life. It makes me wonder how future generations will look at us. We think we’re advanced, but who knows what we’re doing to screw people up and squander all the potential we have. We are a few hundred years out of the dark ages. In Eastern Europe and Russia, they’re 150 years out of it. I bet people 500 years down the road will look at our society and think we’re just as barbaric as Medieval people were. We can’t help it. We’re trying, but we’re probably just barely scratching the surface. Unless society just breaks down over lack of oil and over population and whatever else. Then they’ll look back on us and marvel and think we were the apex of civilization.