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. 2Roser, Max. (2016). Life Expectancy. Our World In Data.The population of The United States just surpassed 100 million people. 3Trading 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.
An old phrase states that “hindsight is 20/20 vision.” And it is. With our ability to look back upon history, especially events that have transpired long enough ago that our own social consciousness has been able to detach from them, we are able to objectively observe the decisions and actions that were made by the people of the past.
For instance, women were not even eligible to vote 100 years ago. At the time that women were fighting for their right to vote, members of Congress were spewing bullshit like it was their job (which I guess it still is 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
Of course, there is blatantly misogynistic philosophy behind each of these men’s quotes, but in their defense, the fear of women leaving the home, entering the workforce, and becoming independent had to be a scary and confusing transition for men and women alike. Change can be scary for all parties involved.
From the dawn of civilization, women dwelled in the caves with the offspring while the men ventured off to kill that night’s dinner. These gender roles survived the test of time and remained intact well into the middle of the 20th century.
Today, we are able to observe the effect of women leaving the home; day-care and education centers ensure the development of our young in better ways than we were capable of in the past few centuries, and women are now able to contribute to the workforce and act independently of their households. We now understand that the differences between men and women, besides the apparent innies and outies, are actually not as vast as once believed.
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 men, understandingly so, 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. We can today determine that slavery is inherently wrong and that our forefathers were mistaken in their beliefs regarding the treatment of African Americans.
Slavery is something that has existed for thousands of years. 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, both inside and outside of the United States.
Today, slavery is viewed as a barbaric practice. We are able to look back at the actions of the people of the past and come to the conclusion that they were wrong. 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 grasp on how to solve similar problems in the future.
So why was slavery accepted as a cultural norm in the United States? Simply put, it was because 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.
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.
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.
Did you ever hear that people that do not learn their history are doomed to repeat it? Does the above explanation of slave-owner bigotry ring a certain bell to the tune of modern day employers not wanting to pay their workers a decent wage? History is but a cycle of itself.
Because of our ability to look backward in time, we are now able to see that the actions and decisions of the people of the past have not always been in the best interests of the larger population. But 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, 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.
All of us individuals will 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 such as, “People really use to have to tip wait staff instead of restaurant owners paying a fair wage?” or “You mean 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 the people should strive for in order to create the best possible world for one another.
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