The Way We Were

I was listening last night to the first of a series of lectures from the Great Courses catalog, this one on History of the Ancient World (on sale). And one of the first points the lecturer makes is one with which I have long been fascinated and which it is all to easy for most of us to forget.

Until the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, somewhere between 70 and 80% of the world's population lived on farms. Small, hardscrabble farms. Some lived in tiny villages with the farmed land spread out around them. Life bound by custom and superstition. Few ever traveled further than 20 miles from the place they were born. The great majority of people never moved faster or further than their own two legs could carry them. The fastest method of travel was either the fastest a horse or a sail could carry you. You could never be heard beyond the sound of your own voice on the wind. And you could hear nothing of the rest of the world unless it came within shouting distance. Change came slowly.

Change meant upheaval, and upheaval was too often deadly. This is how places like Afghanistan were until much more recently for some and still are for others. To the question "why do they hate us?" I would tend to answer "we bring change."

Some of us have a hard time dealing with change too. Don't think for a minute that we're all so up to date, so modern, so willing to accept change. The insistence on creationism by some, the fear of immunizations by others.

I bring this up again because I'm not certain that we have a handle on exactly when we are in history. Hell, I don't know when we are in history. I've been reading about the Middle Ages too and asking myself, what were they in the Middle of? Everybody's in the Middle of something. We'll never know what we're in the Middle of until somebody a couple of hundred years from now gives us a name. It probably won't be the Greatest Generation. Then again, maybe it will. If we don't lose it.

I suggest we dip once again into . I suggest that we envision ten people. Ten people, each living to 60, one just before the other. Only ten. And there we are. Smack dab in the middle of the 14th Century. They are the way we were.