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Thread: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

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    France Administrator Hervé's Avatar
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    Default Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    Pollution in Pre-Industrial Europe

    Marian L. Tupy Humanprogress.org
    Tue, 02 Apr 2019 12:05 UTC



    Last week, I wrote about Jason Hickel's romantic idea that people in the past "lived well" with little or no monetary income. I noted that prior to the Industrial Revolution, clothing was immensely expensive and uncomfortable. The cotton mills changed all that.

    As a French historian noted in 1846, "Machine production...brings within the reach of the poor a world of useful objects, even luxurious and artistic objects, which they could never reach before."

    Today, I wish to turn to pollution. It is well known that industrialization helped to pollute the environment, but that does not mean that air and water were clean before factories and mills came along! Compared to today, our ancestors had to endure horrific environmental conditions.

    Let's start with air quality. In the 17th century London, Claire Tomalin observed in Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, "Every household burnt coal ... The smoke from their chimneys made the air dark, covering every surface with sooty grime. There were days when a cloud of smoke half a mile high and twenty miles wide could be seen over the city ... Londoners spat black."

    In a similar vein, Carlo Cipolla in his book Before the Industrial Revolution: European Society and Economy 1000-1700, quotes from the diary of British writer John Evelyn, who wrote in 1661: "In London we see people walk and converse pursued and haunted by that infernal smoake. The inhabitants breathe nothing but an impure and thick mist, accompanied by a fuliginous and filthy vapour ... corrupting the lungs and disordering the entire habit of their bodies."

    The streets were just as dirty. John Harrington invented the toilet in 1596, but bathrooms remained rare luxuries two hundred years later. Chamber pots continued to be emptied into streets, turning them into sewers. To make matters worse, even large towns continued to engage in husbandry well into the 18th century. As Fernand Braudel noted in The Structures of Everyday Life, "Pigs were reared in freedom in the streets. And the streets were so dirty and muddy that they had to be crossed on stilts."

    Lawrence Stone observed in The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 that "In towns in the eighteenth century, the city ditches, now often filled with stagnant water, were commonly used as latrines; butchers killed animals in their shops and threw the offal of the carcases into the streets; dead animals were left to decay and fester where they lay; latrine pits were dug close to wells, thus contaminating the water supply. Decomposing bodies of the rich in burial vaults beneath the church often stank out parson and congregation."

    A "special problem" in London, Stone wrote, was the "poor holes" or "large, deep, open pits in which were laid the bodies of the poor, side by side, row by row. Only when the pit was filled with bodies was it finally covered with earth." As one contemporary writer, whom Stone quotes, observed, "How noisome the stench is that arises from these holes." Furthermore, "great quantities of human excrement were cast into the streets at night ... It was also dumped into on the surrounding highways and ditches so that visitors to or from the city 'are forced to stop their noses to avoid the ill smell.'"

    According to Stone, "The result of these primitive sanitary conditions was constant outbursts of bacterial stomach infections, the most fearful of all being dysentery, which swept away many victims of both sexes and of all ages within a few hours or days. Stomach disorders of one kind or another where chronic, due to poorly balanced diet among the rich, and the consumption of rotten and insufficient food among the poor."

    Then there was "the prevalence of intestinal worms," which is "a slow, disgusting and debilitating disease that caused a vast amount of human misery and ill health ... In the many poorly drained marshy areas, recurrent malarial fevers were common and debilitating diseases ... [and] perhaps even more heart-breaking was the slow, inexorable, destructive power of tuberculosis."

    The situation was no better on the European mainland. In the middle of the 17th century, Queen Anne of Austria and mother of Louis XIV noted that "Paris is a horrible place and ill smelling. The streets are so mephitic that one cannot linger there because of the stench of rotting meat and fish and because of a crowd of people who urinate in the streets."

    In the 19th century, pollution remained a problem. In Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England, Judith Flanders noted Waldo Emerson's observation that "no one ... [in England] wore white because it was impossible to keep it clean." According to Flanders, hair brushes looked "black after once using" and tablecloths were laid just before eating, "as otherwise dust settled from the fire and they became dingy in a matter of hours."

    In 1858, the stench from the River Thames was so bad that "the curtains on the river side of the building were soaked in lime chloride to overcome the smell". The effort was unsuccessful, with Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once fleeing a committee room "with a mass of papers in one hand, and with his pocket handkerchief applied to his nose," because the stench was so bad. He called the river "a Stygian pool, reeking with ineffable and intolerable horrors."

    Keep in mind that even after the Industrial Revolution had begun, much of the pollution was still non-industrial. Henry Mayhew, an English social researcher and journalist, found that the Thames contained "ingredients from breweries, gasworks, and chemical and mineral manufactories; dead dogs, cats, and kittens, fats, offal from slaughterhouses; street-pavement dirt of every variety; vegetable refuse; stable-dung; the refuse of pig-styes; night-soil; ashes; tin kettles and pans ... broken stoneware, jars, pitchers, flower-pots, etc.; pieces of wood; rotten mortar and rubbish of different kinds."

    There can be no doubt that industrialisation did great damage to the environment during the second half of the 19th century. But it also created wealth that allowed advanced societies to build better sanitation facilities, and spurred the creation of an enlightened populace with a historically unprecedented concern over the environment and a willingness to pay for its stewardship through higher taxation.

    Fast-forward to 2015 and the BBC reported "more than 2,000 seals have been spotted in the Thames over the past decade ... along with hundreds of porpoises and dolphins and even the odd stray whale ... There are now 125 species of fish in the Thames, up from almost none in the 1950s." Similarly, average concentrations of suspended particulate matter in London rose from 390 in 1800 to a peak of 623 in 1891, before falling to 16 micrograms per cubic meters in 2016. Today, air in the capital of the United Kingdom ranks as one of the cleanest among the world's major cities.

    Contemporary evidence clearly shows that the lives of many Western Europeans before industrialisation were, at least by today's standards, deeply unpleasant. It would be a stretch to conclude that they have "lived well."
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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    Yes, it's rather funny, the millennial vitriol at the modern world. They think everything is getting worse when in fact it is the complete opposite. We live, in general, better lives now than we have for at least the last few thousand years. People are becoming more awake and aware, more full of love and empathy, more ethical and moral, less violent. Living conditions are getting better every day. Access to healthcare and knowledge is becoming more available every single day. We're living in the most peaceful era in recorded human history. The grass is always greener.

    Yes, the forces that are in control here are quite clearly, desperately trying what they can to fight against this positive human progression, but as far as I'm concerned that is what we are here for. To experience the fight. To experience the yin and the yang. The good and the bad. As far as I believe; that will never change *here* because that's what *here* is.... a world of duality. Certainly in my experience of the world, things are getting better, people are waking up and wanting to take back power and responsibility for their own lives.
    Last edited by MorningFox; 2nd April 2019 at 15:21.

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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    @Herve

    and what kind of stench did the colonists smell when they reeked native Americans?

    Larry

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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    No one burned much coal from the distant past, that mostly depended on child labor from sort of pre-industrial times. This is a little disingenuous as if "the past" was 15-1600.

    The clean part of Europe was Islamic Spain. Most other places were pretty cramped in terms of sewage.

    However I think the underlying question is a good one, in what ways was the past cleaner and better, or in what ways it was nasty,brutish, and short. The real shame though is that with all our greater knowledge base, increased capacity, and so forth, we still collectively don't do a very good job. Even the first major municipal waterworks in Chicago re-rerouted the drainage back into the same lake near the intake, and so bath water became "chowder" full of dead fish. Over the next 50 years or so I would however credit the U. S. with at least the ability to set up a functional water system.

    Most of the success is from basic soap and bleach, not vaccines.

    Away from the cities, not that much had probably changed. Industrialization moved most everyone off farms into cities and flipped everything around from like 5% urban to 5% agricultural. If you can see this, then it starts the way industrialized war machines work. This dirt and health issue is much alike the fact that man inside is coal.

    From what I understand, my ancestors left there due to violence shortly after the cotton mill had been found to be beneficial. I can't really figure out much else that was supposed to be good about it, except for something like the farm way of making cider. That was one way to keep you from getting sick from water, mostly everyone drank beer or something like that most of the time. One reason why alcoholic deities existed.

    There may have been less suffering in other places. The "only safe place" around there has seemed to be Switzerland. Mostly the explorers were taken as ragged and sort of filthy wherever they went. It's a very mixed story, but I would still tend to think at least some "peasants" felt they were doing well sometimes.

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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    Clean environment is always going to be important for Life. Cultivating clean environment is definitely a process that requires awareness on all levels.
    Until we experience dissonance among ourselves and other selves we call for new solutions and remedies to all the solutions and consciousnesses we have produced so far and keep producing that are part of open system.

    In theory, solutions for closed systems or semi-open systems are always easier to calculate than predictive solutions for open systems.

    In reality, the planet, planetary system and majority of human beings are “open systems” that keep reproducing themselves on many levels.
    This giant activity of human civilisation itself produces good amount of “smart solutions” against plenty of junk.

    Keep your eyes opened to the amount of junk or repeated, habitual activity we keep producing compared to amount of smart and meaningful activity, informed activity leading to solutions.

    So far most of our “civilised activity” depends on our ability to act with respect to the “civilised whole”.
    As unique but isolated individuals our chances for survival are about as good ( or worse) as those of any native who lived 1000 years ago.

    Place an unequipped human on lonely island and let him recall how to make a fire and what plants are good to eat. With good luck he/she will be able to build a hut.
    The odds that he/she would build a computer are negotiable.

    Some would be able to construct radio transistor, if so ..we may congratulate them.


    What else do we need for our comfort?


    I bet there are thousands of plastic toys around in all the stores that will never get to the children who would appreciate them. They do keep hanging around those stores and never get out since each costs $10-1000. For piece of junk.

    What does it say about our collective awareness?

    How many junk cars and spare parts are there in all car parks?

    How much clothing in all your fashion shops around the town, again, costing allegedly thousands of whatever ? How many pairs of new shoes ?

    How much food goes to waste everyday?

    How many people are out there still hungry?


    I understand it’s a process and expansion of consciousness that is individual and yet, happens one by one, and one day we get where we wanted to be.

    In the Garden of Eden and friends with our spiritual mentors and each other, by simple acts of sanity that we now call kindness and acts of kindness that are acts of sanity.

    Clearly, in couple millions years more we get there, sooner than later and it’s important not to give up on hope.


    (Till then, plug your noses, ears and take your prescription medication) Just teasing. Don’t forget to laugh and cry, till we get there and keep your cool reserves about it all, as if it all ..just “as if” I said ..was right and meant to be that way.

    In reality we are star dust floating around a rock not knowing how long we are meant to be here, survive, we may. We may not. We kind of know it.
    But we should not be this pathetic, this negligent, this unkind to own kind. We should try better even if it’s only for a bit.

    Stars will keep rolling their eyes anyway



    🙏

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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    Quote Posted by Cardillac (here)
    @Herve

    and what kind of stench did the colonists smell when they reeked native Americans?

    Larry
    Not sure what you are referring to here, but I get the feeling that this is supposed to be a sarcastic comment about the mistreatment of natives.

    I find that most modern Europeans actually know very little about Native Americans or their history, except some cartoonish caricature imagining them living in a crowded utopia from sea to sea until Europeans showed up and began ruthlessly and ceaselessly slaughtering them. It seems rather typical of the European education system for a number of reasons, including the typical Euro-centric arrogance, cultural Marxism, and anti-Americanism, but if people ever actually had the inclination to study the historical facts period-by-period, they'd realize how foolish it actually is to bring up Native Americans as if to inspire a sense of collective guilt.

    Since we are clearing up historical misconceptions in this thread already, here are just a few quick facts to paint the barest of sketches: there were never that many of them in the first place because they were semi-nomadic at their most developed and couldn't sustain large populations, they constantly made brutal war against one another for hunting territory before Europeans ever arrived, and they often welcomed the first European settlements as opportunities for trade and acquiring European goods, especially guns and other metal tools, which they of course immediately put to use against their enemies. Something like 90% of their population decline is attributable to disease rather than warfare with Europeans, and Americans married as many of them as they ever killed.

    But please, don't let me stop you from enjoying your post-modernist caricature of history.

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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    Claiming knowledge of the past is comical at best, especially when not one single person on earth has the remotest clue of what their neighbors are doing, feeling, thinking, planning, reading, learning.
    I have not even considered things such as time travel, alternate timelines, alternate universes and countless other unknowns.
    Oh yeah, throw in God (or gods) into the equation, and all certainty vanishes.
    Oops, I forgot to mention a tiny rock from space that will trivially end all arguments of who is right and who is wrong.

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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    Say what you will, I would rather live twenty arduous years as an authentic human than eighty years as an oblivious slave. This is not progress, it is oppressionand forced labor for the sake of a few. Keep your knick knacks and affordable industrial art, not interested.
    If not now, then when?

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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    Quote Posted by Ernie Nemeth (here)
    This is not progress, it is oppressionand forced labor for the sake of a few. Keep your knick knacks and affordable industrial art, not interested.
    Ever heard of the feudal system?

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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    Ever heard of an ax, a knife, and some traps?
    If not now, then when?

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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    I thought you were talking about pre-industrial civilization, not life in modern-day Alaska.

    To suggest that the industrial revolution enslaved people is ridiculous when you consider that prior to that, the feudal system literally enslaved people to working their land for a feudal lord. Not to mention they were totally illiterate and had no idea what was going on in the world, speaking of people being "oblivious."

    The evils you are trying to attribute to industrialization were actually much worse prior to industrialization. Machine labor actually proved to be very liberating and created the middle class.

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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    There were always wars, hunger, misery and diseases.

    With the advent of the Industrial Revolution in England and rise of the Rothschilds, wars, hunger, misery and diseases got much worse, while banksters could amass the wealth of the planet to the extent they virtually own everything under the sun. But they haven't owned the soul of the humanity (yet) and some minds are still free.

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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    Who has these romantic ideas about the past, anyway?

    Life was short, cruel and indifferent. Much like today except we live longer and spend our pitiful sums on things we don't need - unless government or industry steals it first.
    If not now, then when?

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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    Quote Posted by Ernie Nemeth (here)
    Ever heard of an ax, a knife, and some traps?
    Why not 'return' to this lifestyle?

    I'm genuinely asking, it's not a gotcha question.
    Just as every cop is a criminal
    And all the sinners saints

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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    Because for all intents and purposes it is illegal. And most people are so hopelessly innured by the modern world, so helpless and unskilled that they could never survive in the wild.

    Not even sure if I could...
    If not now, then when?

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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    Quote Posted by Ernie Nemeth (here)
    Life was short, cruel and indifferent. Much like today except we live longer and spend our pitiful sums on things we don't need - unless government or industry steals it first.
    You could live in Alaska with traps and axes, but I bet you'll start to miss all that useless stuff you don't need. They are far from having it easy, though many of them seem to enjoy it anyway.






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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    Missing the point, I think.

    I couldn't live like that because I know of the useless stuff...but those in the past knew just about nothingb so they would have had nothing else or other to pine for.
    If not now, then when?

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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    In this post by examples I am trying to debunk the romantic idea that enemies during war are all evil, and in doing so I am trying to portrait the fact that war is never black and white and there is plenty of grey to be seen.

    This idea stems from the fact that growing up and watching documentaries on World War 2 it was always the allies were the good guys and axis powers evil. Going back to the war the same would have been drilled into the minds of population.

    And so depending on your ethnicity as to whether you were to be perceived to be good or evil.

    But in fact there were plenty of instances were there were good and bad people on all sides of the war and of all backgrounds. This sentiment could easily be translated to any war in history.

    For example, German and American soldiers working together to protect prisoners of war against Nazi attackers during the Battle for Castle Itter.

    Battle for Castle Itter
    Quote:
    "The Battle for Castle Itter was fought in the Austrian North Tyrol village of Itter on 5 May 1945, in the last days of the European Theater of World War II.

    Troops of the 23rd Tank Battalion of the 12th Armored Division of the US XXI Corps led by Captain John C. "Jack" Lee, Jr., a number of Wehrmacht soldiers led by Major Josef "Sepp" Gangl, SS-Hauptsturmführer Kurt-Siegfried Schrader, and recently freed French prisoners of war defended Castle Itter against an attacking force from the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division until relief from the American 142nd Infantry Regiment of the 36th Division of XXI Corps arrived.

    The French prisoners included former prime ministers, generals and a tennis star. It is the only known time during the war in which Americans and Germans fought side-by-side. Popular accounts of the battle have called it the strangest battle of World War II.[3]"

    Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_for_Castle_Itter


    Or japanese americans in the US Army fighting the axis powers, whilst their families lived out their lives in internment camps and contributed to the war effort.

    These 30 WWII Photos From Japanese Internment Camp Were Censored And Now Everyone Can See Them

    Quote from the comments.
    "My father and his family were sent to Minidoka in Idaho from Seattle, WA. Ironically his older brother (14 years apart) actually was serving in the US Army at the time as an infantry man. My grandmother had photos that I believe are now in the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle, showing the before, during, and after. My father says he remembers that one morning, he woke up to the gates being wide open and the US soldiers that were guarding the camp, were gone. All those interred had to find their own way back to Washington and Oregon. It wasn't until 1988 that the US signed the Civil Liberties Act to compensate more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent who were incarcerated in internment camps during World War II. The legislation offered a formal apology and paid out $20,000 in compensation to each surviving victim. Sadly, my grandfather never got to see this."

    See photos 8 and 30, see the link below.

    Link: https://www.boredpanda.com/japanese-...zen.yandex.com

    Then on a personal note I had three great uncles that were forced to fight for the germans during WW2 (or be shot for refusing) and both my great grandfathers were fighting with the partisans in yugoslavia against the germans.

    War is never black and white there is plenty of grey.
    Last edited by BMJ; 6th April 2019 at 05:17.
    In hoc signo vinces / In this sign thou shalt conquer

  31. The Following 4 Users Say Thank You to BMJ For This Post:

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  32. Link to Post #19
    Avalon Retired Member
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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    Quote Hervé post 1: n the middle of the 17th century, Queen Anne of Austria and mother of Louis XIV noted that "Paris is a horrible place and ill smelling. The streets are so mephitic that one cannot linger there because of the stench of rotting meat and fish and because of a crowd of people who urinate in the streets."
    It seems that the situation above returned in Paris lately.

    Due to lack of education about health and sanitary habits of the people arriving.

    Industrialisation has allowed to free regular people to be able to learn to read, write, learn and become altogether better knowledgeable citizens.Therefore more sanitary habits, less sickness, better living conditions.

    Lets hope that we can prolonged our learning and actions towards an exceptional stewardship of the earth.
    Last edited by Flash; 6th April 2019 at 05:08.

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  34. Link to Post #20
    Japan Unsubscribed
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    Default Re: Debunking Romantic Ideas About the Past

    The Japanese migrants and their children were loyal to Japan (in varying degrees).
    Consequently, they posed a potential danger on the West Coast and it is not an act of cruelty to relocate them.

    Whether they got reasonable compensation for the forced relocation is another story.
    I bet some were happy with the money they got.
    (The US government is known to treat victims of medical experiments, war veterans, etc., like useless beings.)

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