Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.

Say no to nostalgia

This post exists for a very simple reason: to tell you to stop romanticising the past and wishing that you could live in a magical bygone age.

The past was a shitty place. The present is a pretty shitty place, but it’s distinctly less shitty than the past. When you think about the past, you think about a Hollywoodified version of the past that is quite frankly a load of utter bullshit.

Yes, they dressed better in the past. Yes, they had manners and class and all sorts of other things that us modern savages have lost. But if you were to get a time machine and dial it back, here are a few things you’d miss.

  • The right to vote. Your nostalgic fantasy probably involves lady people not being able to vote, work, get an education, or, well, pretty much do anything other than be walking baby factories.
  • Medicine. The whole not dying thing is a pretty recent innovation. I’m quite glad that when I get sick, I can go to a hospital where they:
    • believe in the germ theory of disease rather than the demons-did-it theory
    • have the ability to prescribe high quality pain relief drugs
    • can reliably do anaesthesia, because being unconscious while someone slices me open is preferable
    • can actually prescribe medicines that work a lot more of the time.
  • And it’s not just if you get sick. Childbirth is a hell of a lot safer for both mother and child than it was in the past. If you want to go back to the past, you have to risk the fact that you or your mother are a lot more likely to die in childbirth.
  • Education. Not being the child of an aristocrat, winding the clock back means I wouldn’t have been able to go to university. I quite like being educated.
  • Anti-discrimination laws. When it comes to choosing between a society where gay people are tortured—sorry, “cured”—by the state and one where they aren’t, I tend to find that it isn’t a particularly difficult choice. Same for other minority groups: perhaps I’m some ultra-lefty socialist loon, but I’m quite a big fan of living in a society where you aren’t allowed to discriminate against people on the basis of things like sex, age, race or sexuality.
  • Technology. At risk of being a wide-eyed techno-optimist loon: I carry around a device in my pocket that gives me speedy access to the largest collection of information ever amassed, from anywhere in the country. That’s quite cool. I’d miss that. And it’s not just computers. Air conditioning is quite useful. Air travel: it’s quite nice to be able to get to America in 7 hours rather than two weeks.
  • Poverty. You think that the divide between the rich and the rest of us is bad now? Wind back 100 years and if you have survived childbirth and the many terrible childhood illnesses that killed so many, and managed to scrape yourself out of complete ignorance, and not been unfortunate enough to fall into a class of people who were routinely discriminated against, great, you’ll still be much poorer then than you are now.

The past sucked. But they did have nice costumes.