Thinking About the Good Old Days

For five and a half millennia, the whole race of mankind survived without plastic or steel or petroleum; without steam power or electricity or the internal combustion engine; without automobiles or air conditioners; movie theaters, radio or television. They managed to get by without mass transit, mass advertising, mass propaganda; without cell phones, computers, or the Internet. They had no international corporations, United Nations, IMF, or stock exchanges.

We would call them “primitive”, “uncivilized”, “undeveloped”, “pre-scientific”. We look down on them as inferior to ourselves. But wherein were they inferior? They lived in a world without constant noise, polluted air and water, toxic landfills for the mountains of garbage we produce that is unsafe to burn or bury in our own back yards. Their food was safe to eat and nutritious. They knew nothing about machine guns, the A-bomb, nerve gas, or any of the other horrors of modern warfare. They never dreamed of destroying good farmland or crops by constant shelling that left craters, shrapnel, and unexploded ordinance that would take generations to restore. They cut trees to build houses and clear farmland — they did not cut entire forests, transport the timber across the oceans and sell it in another country.

Many of these “primitive”people lived independently, on their own property or un-owned land. Everyone knew how to raise food crops and food plants, how to butcher animals, and other basic survival skills. Things were made as needed, from natural materials such as wood, leather and bone; without producing ear-shattering machine noise or carcinogenic dust. There was no electrical grid to pay for, and no dependency on it. These “pre-scientific” people invented reading and writing, the wheel, and many useful arts. They had strong families (which we do not) and local support networks, not run by the government and paid for by high taxation. The most important governmental entities were local and often accountable.

It was not an idyllic time, it’s true — but neither is ours; however much we may want to delude ourselves. They had all the same basic problems that arise from human fallibility, ignorance, and sin; living as we do in a fallen world. Most of them worked hard and long; but so do most of us. The difference was that their work was productive of good and directed toward satisfying real human needs; while much of our work is not. We do paper-pushing, advertising and marketing, litigating, building factories for mass production of things no one needs and few can afford, building skyscrapers and other ugly buildings that blot out the sun and hide the natural world from our eyes. We churn out automobiles of every size and description, along with the thousands of unique parts for each one without which they could not be kept running. We build and maintain huge fleets of trucks and trains and airplanes to move people and stuff back and forth all over the place. We work for banks and other enterprises dedicated to making money through usury, which God abhors. In the modern world, it does not matter what you do for a living, as long as it is profitable. It does not matter how disinterested you are in your job, or what kind of toll it takes on your sensibilities, your body, your soul.

In the pre-industrial world, men would often do back-breaking work; but many of us do back-breaking work. Nevertheless, in general, their labor contributed to their health; while ours exposes us to numerous health risks that were unknown to them. They more often worked outdoors. Even professional people and those who had specialties spent much more time in natural settings than we do. They had crime, as we do; but it was punished — not pampered. And they did not find it necessary to maintain a standing army of police. A constable or sheriff, and a posse when necessary was the usual form of law enforcement.

In village life, everyone was engaged in raising food, to some degree. There were no lawyers, bankers, insurance salesmen, or other parasites — major consumers who produce nothing tangible or beneficial to justify their daily bread or even their existence. I would much prefer to live in that world with its simplicity, continuity, and changelessness that existed before the industrial revolution invaded the world; if it were only possible. I live in hope that the collective, systemic madness we call “advanced civilization” will end someday; being superseded by a long age in which mankind will live as the ancients did — only better! If I read my Bible aright, this is not a vain or uncertain hope. It is there promised that an age is coming in which righteousness will prevail the world over! “May the good Lord hasten the day!” is my prayer.

Howard Douglas King