Can you imagine what life would have been like 100 years ago?
The average annual income (for men) was $687. 1Williams, Geoff. (2015, January 2). A Glimpse At Your Expenses 100 Years Ago. U.S. News.The average life expectancy was 54 years. 3Roser, Max. (2016). Life Expectancy. Our World In Data.The population of The United States just surpassed 100 million people. 2Trading Economics. (2017). United States Population.And people were still shitting in outhouses.
To say the least, it was a very different world. People thought and acted in ways that we might seriously question if observed today.
Here are some infuriatingly real comments:
“Women; have they a mission? Yes; it is to rule the world of love and affection – in the home.”
– Rep. Stanley Bowdie (D-OH) 12 Jan 1915
“Mr. Speaker, I am opposed to woman suffrage, but I am not opposed to woman (sic). I am unwilling, as a southern man, to force upon her any burden which will distract this loving potentate from her sacred, God-imposed duties. I am unwilling to force her into the vortex of politics, where her sensitiveness and her modesty will often be offended.”
– Rep. Edwin Y. Webb (D-NC) 12 Jan. 1915
If you thought those ones were bad, then this one will really piss you off:
“No; there is not one single honest argument to be advanced against the sharing of responsibilities of government, of social adjustment, with our women, except such as is founded on the belief of their inherent inferiority and their proper subservience to our great, good, our sober, intelligent, clean, and righteous male selves.”
– Rep. William Kent (I-CA) 12 Jan. 2015
But at the heart of the issue in 1915, what males were really afraid of was change. A social construct that had existed since the beginning of time placed women subservient to men. And naturally, men were not willing to give up their perceived power.
There are plenty of other examples of populations refusing change for the sake of retaining power. Let’s look at slavery, for instance.
In the infancy of the United States, it was a common practice for the rich or well-educated to own slaves under the presumption that minorities from other countries or cultures did not deserve the rights usually affixed to white Europeans.
But today, we view slavery as a barbaric practice. We have determined that slavery is inherently wrong and that our forefathers were mistaken in their beliefs regarding the treatment of African Americans.
But merely pointing out blatant wrongness in history does not fix or change anything. We must seek to understand why people did the things they did, said the things they said, and thought the things they thought in order get a better idea of how to solve similar problems in the future.
So why was slavery accepted as a cultural norm in the United States? Simply put, slavery was the foundation of America’s economy. The prices of many things were affixed to the notion that slaves were able to work for free. The idea of paying someone for work a slave could do was preposterous during the 18th and 19th centuries, especially for field workers in the southern US.
In this instance, slave owners that relied on slave labor were more interested in their own abilities as business owners to make profits than they were in the health, well-being, and equal treatment of the slaves they owned.
At the time, people may have believed somewhere within their beings that the idea of slavery was wrong. But as a population, people were (and often currently are) more concerned with disallowing change to affect their way of life, regardless of the moral or ethical consequences.
As people will often say, “It’s just the way things are.”
But we have to realize that just because society works a certain way doesn’t mean it should continue to work that way in the future. Just because we are used to something doesn’t mean it shouldn’t change. And just because we are afraid of something doesn’t mean it should be avoided.
Change is scary. I get that.
I understand that we have worked hard to create systems in society that make life easier to cope with. Slavery was one. The patriarchy was another.
Life becomes simpler when you can just say, “Black people or women are subservient to white men.” Simplicity is important, but it can’t be the only factor that decides how we organize our society.
Life is too complex to be able to fit all of its nuances into neat little boxes. I would love to be able to organize everything into eqaul parts that we can all understand. But that’s just not possible.
And this is why we fear change. It marks the end of a system we have worked hard to create and the beginning of a new one that we aren’t familiar with or don’t understand.
We become so afraid of the unknown that we’re reduced to saying things like, “That’s just the way things are,” as if we have no control over how we organize our societies.
But this thinking is silly. Things are the way we make them. Sure, some shit happens that we have no control over. But to think that society just up and created itself without our help is ludicrous.
Change marks the acknowledgment of imperfection. It says that things may be fine, but they stand to be better. I know some people would like to believe that everything is just fine the way it is, but that sounds like a utopia. And last I checked utopias don’t exist.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t work towards creating a utopia. That’s what change is. The pursuit of perfection. We make small, continual improvements for as long as we can and then we die.
Live. Change. Die. That’s life.
And because of our ability to look backward in time, we can see how we have changed. We can see how the actions and decisions of our ancestors have not always been in the best interests of the larger population.
We can see today why things like slavery or misogyny are wrong, but how do we think our ancestors truly felt about these things?
What if someone from a past time period was displaced from their when and placed in ours? Take a plantation owner from the deep South in the 1850s, or a male politician from the early 1900s and drop him in modern day America.
After he got it through his thick skull what twerking and selfies are, and he were able to reflect back upon slavery or women’s suffrage, where would his opinions lie? Knowing what we know now, would these people be able to properly reflect upon their actions and decisions? We will most likely never know, but perhaps you can see where I am going with this.
In 10 years, 50 years, 100 years even, people will be able to look back at us. They will look back at the decisions and choices we are currently making as a society and they will judge us. They will evaluate our actions and attempt to understand why we did the things we did.
Why we ate so many animals and drove so many cars and were so goddam concerned about what bathrooms people use.
We will all be reduced to a few common nouns that depict our entire generation, with a few notable politicians and celebrities nominated to represent us on our behalf.
So I ask you: will we be happy with their assessment of us?
Are we making the best possible decisions, creating the best possible policies, being the best possible people we can be?
I would argue we are not, and I am willing to bet most people would agree with me. Just turn on the news. We’re clawing at each other’s fucking throats.
I am aware that modern media is predominantly sensationalized commercial programming. But if anything, that is only a further testament to our inability to not fuck things up.
But I long for the day that I can sit on the robotic porch swing with my grandson and he can ask me questions like, “People really use to have to tip wait staff instead of restaurant owners paying a fair wage?” or “Pharmaceutical companies used to be able to advertise directly to consumers?” or “Toilets didn’t wipe your ass for you?”
What sorts of things are we doing today that people will frown upon in the future? Discriminating against homosexuals? Clinging too tightly to religion? Allowing The Bachelor to stay on the air?
We need to understand the bad things we are doing and stop doing them. We then need to realize the good things we should be doing and start doing them more.
The present is fleeting. If we want to be happy with the person we will be tomorrow, we need to take a good hard look at the person we should not have been yesterday.
We have to realize that change and progress are ongoing processes. We will never live in a perfect society, but it is the pursuit of perfection that we should strive for in order to create the best possible world for one another.
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