The brutal truth of the not so good life

Despite the hippies’ ignorant fantasies, the truth about rural life in the past was nothing like this.

As I wrote recently, critics of modern capitalist democracy are eternally addicted to the dogma that human history is one long, downward spiral. Refusing to accept that humans today are the richest, best fed, best educated generation in human history, they indulge themselves with a romanticised, ?Good Life? fantasy of pre-industrial life.

The reality was brutal, impoverished and crushing. Quote:

Before industrialisation, European society was bifurcated between a small minority of the very rich and the vast majority of the very poor. S?bastien Le Prestre de Vauban, a military engineer during the reign of Louis XIV, estimated that the French population consisted of 10 per cent rich, 50 per cent very poor (fort malaise), 30 per cent near beggars and 10 per cent beggars.

?Out of the English population of 5.5 million at the time of Henry VIII, 1.3 million (i.e., nearly a quarter) were described as ?cottagers and paupers??the vast majority of these wretches lived in the countryside.

That was during ?normal? times. End of quote.

In famine years ? an inevitable recurrence in a pre-industrial society utterly at the mercy of even the smallest fluctuations in climate ? life in the country grew even worse, and starving peasants fled to the cities to beg, but mostly to die.

But even in the good times, the vast majority of people struggled to even eat. Quote:

In 15th century England, 80 per cent of private expenditure went on food. Of that amount, 20 per cent was spent on bread alone.

By comparison, by 2013 only 10 per cent of private expenditure in the United States was spent on food, a figure which is itself inflated by the amount Americans spend in restaurants. End of quote.

What they did eat wasn?t much chop, either. Quote:

What about food derived from water, forests and livestock? ?In pre-industrial England,? [historian Carlo] Cipolla notes, ?people were convinced that vegetables ?ingender ylle humours and be oftetymes the cause of putrid fevers,? melancholy and flatulence. As a consequence of these ideas there was little demand for fruit and vegetables and the population lived in a prescorbutic state?. For cultural reasons, most people also avoided fresh cow?s milk, which is an excellent source of protein. End of quote.

As Vincent van Gogh?s drawings and paintings show, rural life was one of literally back-breaking labour to provide even the most meagre sustenance. Quote:

As late as the 18th century, an Austrian physician wrote, ?In many villages [of the Austrian Empire] the dung has to be carried on human backs up high mountains and the soil has to be scraped in a crouching position; this is the reason why most of the young people [men and women] are deformed and misshapen.?

?one 16th century ordnance in Lombardy found that supervisors of work in rice fields ?bring together a large number of children and adolescents, against whom they practice barbarous cruelties.? [They] do not provide these poor creatures with the necessary food, and make them labour as slaves by beating them and treating them more harshly than galley slaves, so that many of the children ? die miserably in the farms and neighbouring fields.? End of quote.

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Wealthy hippies and ignorant socialists may fantasise about ?the good life? of pre-Industrial Europe, but that?s only because they?ve never had to labour, backs bent, from sunup to sundown, to even barely manage to feed themselves on the most monotonous, nutrient-deficient diet imaginable.

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