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Keeping things in perspective
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Keeping things in perspective – a thought provoking article (enjoy!!)


It's easy to look back upon the men and women of medieval times with a feeling of moral and intellectual superiority. Certainly they were capable of great cruelty and seemed curiously passive in the face of a social organization in which a wealthy and powerful few proclaimed that everyone else was innately inferior. You might ask why the "people" did not demand liberty and equality, why they did not establish education for all, why they kept women in a generally subordinate role, and why a whole lot of other things. They were different in many ways from us, and, by our standards, they were inferior, but it is important to ask the reasons for those differences.


One difference is exemplified by the "Birkenhead Rule." When the British liner Birkenhead was sinking and everyone was trying to get into the lifeboats, someone shouted out Women and children first!, and this has been the custom of the sea ever since. A medieval man or woman would never have thought of raising such a cry. A child is a burden upon society, consuming more than it produces for at least the first ten or twelve years of its life. Able-bodied men, however, are an investment that society has already made and from whom it must gain a return. Young women are necessary to restore the losses of population due to wars, famines, plagues, and the other dangers of life, but they do not produce as much as mature men and so are less valuable to society -- unless of course, they fall into short supply. In the middle ages, young men and women would have had first call on the lifeboats, and the young and aged would have been left behind. This may strike you as cruel and inhumane, but that is only because you are rich enough to afford such luxuries as believing that the Birkenhead Rule is the only proper way to behave.


The gulf that lies between you and the men and women of medieval Europe is mostly the difference between your wealth and their poverty. Many of you drive an auto with a hundred horse-power engine. The work of a single man is rated at about 1/8 horse-power, so you have the equivalent of 800 slaves to carry you from place to place. Your rooms are lighted by the equivalent of hundreds of candles, and your closet has more clothes than the entire population of a medieval village possessed. The knives in your kitchen are made of steel so fine that, in medieval times, only a king could have afforded their equal. You look back upon the men and women of medieval Europe and see their ignorance, dirt, and heartlessness; if they could look at you, they would see only a person wealthy beyond their comprehension. They would also wonder why you should enjoy such riches since they worked much harder and longer than you and had so much less to show for it. And if you could speak to them and tell them how you felt that people should behave, they would think to themselves “Sure, it's easy to make sacrifices and be generous and kind when you are wealthy. I wonder what would happen to their high principles if they were hungry and cold most of their lives?


I suppose that the basic question is why you are so much wealthier than they. The usual answer is that you are enjoying the fruits of global commerce and the Industrial Revolution. But neither of those things would have occurred without the discovery and exploitation of the New World. That's one reason to consider that 1492 is as good a date as any and better than most to mark the end of the middle ages. It also marked the beginning of a 500-year boom economy for Europeans and their descendants, but that's another matter”


I found this article an interesting and thought provoking read and wanted to share - Shanti Inderjit


 (Excerpt of an article written by: Lynn Harry Nelson, Emeritus Professor of Medieval History, The University of Kansas) Lawrence, Kansas; For further read please check out the entire article on the link

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