I used to be nostalgic for another time, until I realized I like indoor plumbing, anesthesia, and gun laws.
I realized this as I was sitting talking to my dad in his office with his television on in the background.
It was set on the History Channel, which has released a new miniseries called “Hatfields & McCoys” based on a well-documented historical feud between two families living in backwoods West Virginia and Kentucky. The feud escalated with a brutal disagreement over the ownership of a pig. (Well done, Appalachia. I would like to point out that this crazy behavior is the exception, not the rule, as my former roommate is from West Virginia and she is a bright, well-behaved engineer with no unnatural feelings for her siblings.)
To give you the Reader’s Digest version, a bunch of people ended up dying over some stupid stuff that could have been resolved reasonably and without firearms. I guess I shouldn’t expect much from a region with such low education rates at the time that they managed to produce the inbred family the Blue Fugates of Troublesome Creek:
This does not particularly make me want to live in another era. I’m a sarcastic person: the general proclivity for violence and the widespread ignorance in the area would provoke me and pretty much guarantee my swift demise.
Most of the past centuries were brutal, unclean, and war-torn. Diseases like typhoid, small pox, and cholera hit early and killed early. There was no morphine or anesthesia–the term “bite the bullet” didn’t come from just anywhere. Needed your leg amputated? Rusty saw and some whisky. Good luck to ya.
Let’s not forget the complete lack of attendance to regular hygiene practices like bathing (Queen Elizabeth bathed once every 3 or 4 weeks and people thought she was crazy and was opening her soul to possessions or something. At best people were showering once every few months to once a year). I really shouldn’t expect so much. People were still throwing their full chamberpots into the street back then.
Then there were all these meshugines running around with wacky-ass teeth because people were a) too broke and b) too unaware to understand dental care. People were not cute back then. The were wizened and haggard and probably had halitosis. At least some of them, anyway.
Now, before you all start jumping to the defense of certain centuries or decades with exclamations like, “But did you see Woody Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris?” How fun would that be, to be able to meet and talk to famous artists and writers from your favorite age?,” I’m going to say, you are right. I did see “Midnight in Paris,” and that would be fun.
But these great notaries, like Da Vinci, Austen, Michelangelo, Mozart, Ben Franklin, Fitzgerald,etc., were the 1% of the 1%. It would be very hard to find them, much less talk to them. And not all of them always hung out together like the members of the Algonquin Round Table. So getting them all in one place to shoot the breeze with you like in Woody Allen’s movie is highly unlikely.
Even then, let’s say you DO meet your favorite author/painter/funambulist, etc. Then you still run the risk of contracting the same diseases they do because now you’re living in their era. At least in 2012 we have modern-day conveniences like anesthesia, antibiotics, transfusions, the ICU, and HAZMAT teams to stop outbreaks. You have a good chance of living until at least 70 or 80 now.
And don’t even get me started on the justice system in past centuries. Our justice system is totally flawed, but not nearly as flawed as the legal system allowing something like the 1804 Burr-Hamilton Duel. (That stuff was LEGAL back then!) Pistol dueling still isn’t explicitly or technically outlawed in some states *ahem* California *ahem*, so watch out. (Inflicting injuries or death on someone is still punished as murder or manslaughter, however.)
If you run afoul of the law now they have to provide evidence, read you your Miranda Rights, and ensure punishment is doled out aboveboard. Not so in the Old West. The Gunfight at the OK Corral: a typical way for law enforcement and outlaws to solve their disagreements, even if it was the most famed shoot out of the time. Line each side up and shoot the crap out of each other and hope you win. And even if you did win, you might lose over half of your compatriots and then have the rest of the deputies chasing after you on an Earp Vendetta Ride to avenge the death and maiming of their brothers.
Plus, when your country got in a war, YOU got in a war. American Revolution: pretty much every citizen was involved. 100 Years’ War: Same thing. For 116 years. World War II: you get the picture. Burning draft cards and fleeing to Canada really only became a popular (illegal) option during the Vietnam War. And now here we are in this wonderful position of being in two simultaneous wars and not a single person has had to be drafted or otherwise conscripted in any way.
Oh and, because the world was so messed up before 1980, if you are a person of any kind of color whatsoever other than white you probably don’t want to time travel anyway because people would be TERRIBLE to you because slavery and racism were much more prominent and people sucked. Louis CK explains it best:
Life is unfair.
So thanks, but I think I’ll deal with my over-reliance on technology and the other problems of my generation if it means I have access to sanitized medical services and a more enforceable Constitution.