Past Ignorance

So, you’re middle aged, your parent or grandparent is in their 80s…you’re halfway there. While you appreciate that 80+ years is not a short period of time, as you enter into the second half of it, you are also very aware that it isn’t an eternity.
Try to imagine then when that octogenarian was born, the lady who helped deliver was at that point in her 80s also. When this lady was a baby then is two average lifetimes ago. Its a while, no doubt, but we should be capable of mentally returning through two lifetimes. What you might not have realised is that we have not just made children of two old people we have returned to the mid-19th century. We could say its 1850.
What is like to be born in a rural community or a city in 1850. While the very rich had a flushing toilet lets look at the majority of people.
You had a life expectancy of 35! You had a one-in-three chance of dying by the age of 5. There were no toilets, in some areas if your lucky people may place dirt on top the human waste.
This gives us a good chance of an outbreak of cholera or dysentery or many other infectious and untreatable diseases doing the rounds. You are likely to live in a large family of dying and sik children on a very small farm holding or in a tennament block with 10 other families and a room for you and your parents.
If, heaven forbid, you need an operation, anaesthetic has only started to be used in 1847 so you are not going to get it….what about a rotten tooth or a throat infection there are a tiny number of dentists and a lot of quacks and more importantly no anti-bitoics.
What about your knowledge and education level. You are incredibly unlikely to have been schooled beyond the age of 12.
You see the world as we now see the universe, it really is all that there is and there are vast tracks that might as yet be undiscovered…no-one has ever seen earth from space or even left the ground in the simplest flight.
Your neighbouring town may be hours away, the city, days, other countries are the stuff of rumour and magic for most, that could easily be filled with evil people or strange creatures or a mix of those two!
If you are told that the people of Africa are beasts, or that the Asians can cast spells you have little reason to argue or question. Your parents are disciplinary in part because there is a good chance you will have to fight in a war in your teenage years. God is everywhere in most places!

The economic and political and particularly, international relations that your conscience awakens to as a young adult today are largely framed from these times. Of course the ship of society moves slowly and needs careful adjusting, and certainly there is much good about what we have done in many respects since that time….but, it can only help to remember the relative ignorance of the past when we seem to be hamstrung by the world as we find it; and to open our minds more to the world that might be

Martin O'Dea

About Martin O'Dea

Martin O’Dea lives in Dublin, Ireland. His interests and writings are varied and include areas relating to human development through technological and biological advances, as well as the economics and politics of rapid technological advance. His first novel is 'Beyond the Subjectivity Trap'.