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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

“We used to dream of living in a corridor!”

[with apologies to the Four Yorkshiremen]

A fantasy writer produced this:

But there’s a dark side as well. We know about the real world of the era steampunk is riffing off. And the picture is not good. If the past is another country, you really wouldn’t want to emigrate there. Life was mostly unpleasant, brutish, and short; the legal status of women in the UK or US was lower than it is in Iran today: politics was by any modern standard horribly corrupt and dominated by authoritarian psychopaths and inbred hereditary aristocrats: it was a priest-ridden era that had barely climbed out of the age of witch-burning, and bigotry and discrimination were ever popular sports: for most of the population starvation was an ever-present threat. I could continue at length. It’s the world that bequeathed us the adjective “Dickensian”, that gave us a fully worked example of the evils of a libertarian minarchist state, and that provoked Marx to write his great consolatory fantasy epic, The Communist Manifesto. It’s the world that gave birth to the horrors of the Modern, and to the mass movements that built pyramids of skulls to mark the triumph of the will. It was a vile, oppressive, poverty-stricken and debased world and we should shed no tears for its passing (or the passing of that which came next).

Oh really? Try this from the Old Bailey’s website:

From approximately three-quarters of a million people in 1760, London continued a strong pattern of growth through the last four decades of the eighteenth century. In 1801, when the first reliable modern census was taken, greater London recorded 1,096,784 souls; rising to a little over 1.4 million inhabitants by 1815. No single decade in this period witnessed less than robust population growth.
In part this urban bloat resulted from a marked decline in infant mortality brought about by better hygiene and childrearing practices, and a changing disease pattern. By the 1840s children born in the capital were three times less likely to die in childhood than those born in the 1730s.

44 comments to “We used to dream of living in a corridor!”

  • Alsadius

    That provides no counter-evidence whatsoever for Stross’ claims. Yes, the 19th century was better than the 18th, but it was a damn sight worse than the 21st in every meaningful way.

  • Nuke Gray

    At least we no longer have to work 25 hours a day, 8 days a week!

  • A “libertarian minarchist state” with

    politics was by any modern standard horribly corrupt and dominated by authoritarian psychopaths and inbred hereditary aristocrats


    The mind boggles as to what our writer thinks a libertarian minarchy is.

  • Also, the link to the source of the quote doesn’t work.

  • Stross? I was guessing China Mieville.

    He describes a very narrow portion of the era. It would be the same as describing the latter 20th century solely from the perspective of a young black man growing up in Compton.

    Jane Austin wrote somethings of note about that same era, but the problems faced by her protagonists were all very State related. Divorce laws, inheritance laws, laws, laws, laws.

    Sounds like a good fantasy writer, that Dross.

  • Alsadius

    Ian: Yeah, the throwaway cheap shot was a bit silly, but the rest of it was fine. And to make the link work, drop the two quotes off the end of the URL.

    Mose: No, but he does quote Mieville approvingly. As for it being a narrow segment of the society, I beg to differ. Infant mortality, massive plagues, long work hours, awful work conditions, poor sanitation, inadequate education, negligible mobility(social or physical), and a dozen other similar problems were essentially universal. Yes, they were improving over time, and yes you could escape some of them by being in the top 1% of wealthy folks, but the era sucked immensely for almost everyone. Just because the surviving literature speaks of rich people talking about how wonderfully advanced they were doesn’t mean you should believe it.

  • Westerlyman

    And yet by the end of the 19th century literacy levels were higher across the country than they are now and without a state schooling system.

  • William H Stoddard

    It’s insane to judge the 19th century by comparing it to our time, which has the benefit of inconceivably superior technology and productive output. Of course they couldn’t attain what we can do trivially: They had no antibiotics, little understanding of effective medication, no telecommunications, no computers, none of many other things that we take for granted and that enrich us. But the same could be said of many past centuries, from France under the Bourbons back to the city-states of Sumer.

    The difference is, first, that the 19th century had started to move toward attaining those things, and toward the possibility of a world where everyone was rich: Less than half of the British work force was needed on the farms, population was rising with decreased mortality, and the start of scientific epidemiology was improving public health, among other things. And second, there actually were serious movements toward ending old political and social evils, instead of accepting them as inevitable: improvements in the position of women through the Married Women’s Property Act, and a growing antislavery movement created by an alliance of Dissenters with secularists such as John Stuart Mill. The role of libertarian minarchists in advocating the end of slavery can be seen in the useful historical study “How the Dismal Science Got Its Name,” which I recommend. I’d also note that it’s far from clear that Bismarck’s welfare state, the ancestor of contemporary socialism, was a better place to live, in a society with 19th century technology, than the much more restrained (though not nearly libertarian minarchist!) state of England. And it’s really necessary to make that sort of contemporaneous comparison, and not the absurd one of England in 1850 with, say, Germany in 2000, to judge what was preferable.

  • thefrollickingmole

    Would the writer of that article care to seal a defence of “the way things are” today in a capsule and leave them for 100 years?

    There was a massive amount of “lack” in the “good old days”.

    Sheer lack of goods, lack of capital, lack of distribution, lack of refigeration and the list goes on.

    In my families possesion is a diary of a great uncle of mine describing poisoning a group of Aboriginies because they slaughtered his flock of sheep. A horrific act, but consider that was all that was between him and penury, with no recourse to a legal redress what was he to do?

    Join a mate of mines relatives and make his living picking wool left on barbed wire and corpses for a living?

    The past not just foreign place, but mentaly completely different as well.

  • Current

    Stross is a science fiction writer, he understands capital and technological accumulation. He knows that what he’s written here is rubbish.

  • The mind boggles as to what our writer thinks a libertarian minarchy is.

    A trope, obviously.

  • Kim du Toit

    Typical PoMo agitprop. Saying that an era which spawned Marx’s nonsense is a bad one is like sayng that a society which spawned science fiction is libertarian.

    Total disconnect, and shows an ignorance of the facts.

  • The remarkable and unusual thing about the nineteenth century was not how bad things were, especially at the start, which they definitely were. But that wasn’t new. What was unusual was how rapidly things improved. They knew this at the time. They were entitled to be rather proud about it.

    Something very similar is happening in Asia right now. Good for them.

  • ian

    And yet by the end of the 19th century literacy levels were higher across the country than they are now and without a state schooling system.

    Not so – at least in terms of state mandated education.

    1833 The Factory Act

    The Factory Act passed by the Government in 1833 was intended to improve conditions for children working in factories. It introduced a compulsory two hours schooling each day for children. This was the first time that children of all backgrounds in the UK had access to education.

    1870 Elementary Education Act

    Thirty seven years after the Factory Act of 1833, the Elementary Education Act of 1870 provided education on an unprecedented scale. School boards were introduced and were given the power to create new schools and pay the fees of the poorest children. Board schools could insist on the attendance of children between the ages of five and 13.

    1880 Education Act

    By 1880 many new schools had been set up by the boards. This made it possible for the 1880 Education Act to make school attendance compulsory for all children up to the age of ten.

    from here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/moc/childrens_lives/education_creativity/education_england/index.html

  • Maureen

    I’m boggled by the whole thing, but especially “priest-ridden”. Crikey, Charley! Where on earth was the 19th century excessively theocratic, except under the Mahdi and the Ottoman Empire? In Italy, where the Pope was losing temporal power every five minutes in some invasion or revolution, and where most orders had to work continually to bring back any religious education to the poor? In France, where anti-clericalism and anti-Catholicism were governmental policy most of the time? In England, where Newman and his Anglo-Catholic lot had the radical idea that Anglican clerics should show up in their parishes and believe in God, because most clergy didn’t; and where the evangelicals and Catholics had an uneasy tolerance from the government and people at best? In Germany, where the kulturkampf was in full swing against Jews, Catholics, and any religion beside Bismarck Nationalism? America, which would cause me to laugh and point at the funny Stross-man? Mexico, also busily slaughtering the religious? Spain, also busily busting things up? Austria-Hungary, because nobody ever learns anything about Austria-Hungary in school? You might possibly argue that Russia, India, and Tibet were “priest-ridden” (or “lama-ridden” in the latter case), but the ludicrosity of the charge is fairly self-evident.

    And of course, using the word “priest-ridden” with a straight face is usually reserved only for Jack Chick Calvinists, so I find it difficult to believe that Charles Stross would come out with it. All I can think is that it’s a case of the weird underbelly of UK anti-Catholicism is again showing itself among the seculars (because most religious Britons don’t want to sound like Ian Paisley if they can help it and are trying not to be anti-Catholic, but a lot of militant atheists seem to think Jack Chick language is a great start).

  • Maureen

    This reminds me of a discussion I tried to have with a young sf fan, who wanted to write a story where a Victorian time traveler visits an EU legal brothel and is all shocked and converted by the sophistication of the sex workers there. She didn’t like having it pointed out that the Victorians had had legal prostitution and had gone to a great deal of trouble to get rid of it, freeing the “sex workers” from one of the horridest and briefest lives of the time.

    The whole thing boggled me, because even if you had odd ideas about “sex workers” you ought to know something about Victorian reform movements. The most pathetic book about Jack the Ripper would acquaint you with most of the relevant facts, and this girl was allegedly a mystery and true crime fan.

    At any rate, a great deal of Stross’ argument is foolish. Steampunk is a) set in cooler alternate universes of Victorians, Edwardians et al; and b) addicted to giving dark and gritty portrayals of life, whether or not it’s imaginary grittiness. Nobody is doing sparkling “silver fork romances” in steampunk settings, even though that’s what I’d be more interested in reading. No doubt people will now redouble the engine oil, tunnels, sordid relationships with captive boychildren, horrible cholera mutations, and dirty disease-infested drunken demimondaine.

  • Richard Thomas

    I don’t really see his point. Sure, there were several less-than-great aspects of the period but isn’t the whole point of the cyberpunk thing (I’m not really a fan myself) that it was the period which more-or-less directly gave birth to the wonders that we take for granted these days, (until computer technology emerged) and to capture some of the awakening wonder expressed in authors like Verne and Wells?

  • Basically what Brian said above.

    The real deal is in the rate of change.

    You have heard the phrase, “How the other half live”?

    You know where it comes from. It is early C19th and it refers to the half of the population of Britain who lived in abject poverty.

    As to the status of women… Interesting. I personally suspect that Victorian (the clue is partly in the name!) misogyny and prudery is dramatically over-estimated.

    And for a very simple reason. It is the extreme focus on one issue alone – suffrage. I say extreme but if you think about it the quasi-socialism of today is essentially the worship of the ballot box. Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not against universal suffrage but we have a tendency to see that as *the* fundamental freedom and that means we miss the point that democracy is not incompatible with tyranny. We have seen that in Iraq and Afghanistan recently. Bush and Blair thought free(ish) elections were a magic wand. I can think of tens of thousands of (dead) reasons why this is not true.

    Stross’s fundamental failing is the general proggie fundamental failing. It is a belief in utopia, right here, right now. It is a belief that unless everything is perfect (by whatever definition of perfect) everything is wrong.

    Yes, I’d rather be a woman now than in, say 1900 but women could go to university then. If you (and I do) read late Victorian/Edwardian fiction then I honestly do not think (apart from voting) you can compare unfavourably the position of women in English society then with the position of women in Iran now. No way. It wasn’t ideal but it was getting better. And getting better matters.

    I think in terms, perhaps, of Sid Meier’s Civilization series. We always need “just one more turn”.

    Or put it another way. The Victorians built railways and Stross is metaphorically criticising them for not building jetliners. This is very silly. It is the same silliness as Bush and Blair with their wars. Genuine progress (not proggieness) takes time. Democracy is (for example) the end result of things like a free press, chatting with folks in the coffee shop, universities, literacy, numeracy, all sorts of things. It is essentially cultural and it essentially an effect and not a cause. No developed nation on this planet doesn’t have a form of democracy. They are not developed because they are democratic. It is completely the other way around.

    Stross epically fails to get how society, culture and technology interact. That’s very bad for an alleged SF writer.

  • Charlie Stross has written some great science fiction. Glasshouse won a Promethius award which apparently “honours libertarian fiction”. And Accelerando is a great description of what the technological singularity might be like.

    So I have no idea why he’s so confused about libertarianism.

  • William H Stoddard

    The Prometheus Award honors the book, not the author. We are perfectly willing to give awards to authors without vetting them for libertarianism, and indeed to authors who are clearly not libertarian, if the book makes a libertarian point—such as Jo Walton for Ha’Penny, with its portrayal of the moral and legal corruption of Britain under an authoritarian regime.

  • Alsadius

    Oh, god knows I’m not trying to bash the 19th century as a period of history – it was the first time in human history where all the nasty stuff I listed above started to well and truly go away. It was the century where the developed world basically eliminated famine and infant mortality, established universal literacy and universal education, abolished slavery, opened up political systems, and actually started accumulating capital. It was a century of miracles.

    My point is that the baseline was so godawful that even after a hundred years of rapid progress, it’s still a place no sane person would wish to go back to. Those who praise the progress of the 19th century are correct, but Stross is just as correct in saying that it was, by any modern standard, a truly awful place to live.

  • Laird

    If Stoss really believes that the Victorian era constituted “a libertarian minarchist state” he truly is a fantasy writer. And the resident of a fantasy world.

  • William H Stoddard

    alsadius: It’s all very well to say that the 19th century was really a horrible place by our standards, and we would not want to live there. Hell, I remember the 1950s, vaguely, and I wouldn’t go back there if I could, either. Legally mandated racial segregation? Oral and anal copulation as criminal offenses, and gays and lesbians driven into hiding by fear of arrest? Appallingly high marginal tax rates and a huge number of brackets? Not to mention low economic output, primitive medicine, and limited access to information?

    Nonetheless, people do like to fantasize about past societies. I’ve run rpgs set in many past eras, including California in 1810, Paris in 1715, and the Near East during the First Crusade. My players seemed to have fun. Partly this was based on glamorizing the past, but not entirely; I remember one of the players in the Parisian campaign saying, “Bad Leg AND Addicted to laudanum? Cool!” after a street encounter went wrong. I don’t see that fantasizing about the Age of Steam makes any less sense.

  • Pat

    It seems to me that there have been very few points in history when life was not at least somewhat better than it had been previously. We hark on the horrors of Dickensian Britain because we ignore the abject rural poverty that people were fleeing. Of course rural poverty is out of sight of town dwelling writers.
    Similarly it seems unlikely that mankind will ever reach perfection- there will always be improvements possible, not least of all because we don’t all want the same things

  • She didn’t like having it pointed out that the Victorians had had legal prostitution and had gone to a great deal of trouble to get rid of it, freeing the “sex workers” from one of the horridest and briefest lives of the time.

    Yep, another one of the great Victorian moralist reform disasters. The worst thing about the era was it developed the idea of “moral government”; that is, you spend your whole time looking around for things that are Not Nice and using government to prohibit them, thus making whatever it was about ten times worse.

    It was this attitude that gave us our Big Government and laws which are randomly flung through the legilsature at a furious pace to “send a message”.

    I’ve come to despise the Victorian reformers, every last one of them. Yes, they did one or two good things; banning slavery and improving prison conditions being obvious ones, but so much harm too.

  • Paul Marks

    The fiction writer is doing the old thing of comparing apples and organges. He is comparing two periods of time with different tech levels (the real reason one is a nicer place to live than the other) and implying that the difference in living standards is due to a different political system and a different set of government policies.

    So because living standards are higher in 2010 than in 1710 or 1810 or 1910, our political system and economic policies must (it is implied) be better – which is total crap.

    For example government was much SMALLER in 1910 than it had been in 1810. Not just the expense of the French Wars – the old Poor Law was more expensive, overall, than the “New” (not so new by 1910) Poor Law.

    Yet living standards were vastly better in 1910 than they were in 1810.

    It only makes sense to compare places in the same time period.

    And to do it right.

    For example, many people compared Britain to Germany in the late 19th century and so on and compared America to Germany in the late 19th century and so on – yet neally all of them came to (what are to me anyway) DEMENTED conclusions.

    They rightly noted that Germany had a much bigger government than Britain and the United States – not just in terms of military matters (conscription and so on) but also in “social” policy.

    Germany (especially Prussia) having been won over from the fairly free market policies of the early 19th century to the Bismarkian late 19th century statism (moderate by modern standards – but hardcore statism compared to Britain or the United States, or France for that matter).

    And almost every academic (Richard Ely and his legion of followers in the United States) and politician (both Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt in the United States – “Radical Joe” Chamberlain and David Lloyd George in the United States) demanded that we should follow the German example.

    [Of course vast numbers of American and British academics and other such had studied in German universities – perhaps it is no accident that the leading anti “Proggressive” academic in America in the interwar period, the much attacked Irving Babbit, was educated in France].

    Even Winston Churchill (by the 1930s a strong critic of German statism – and not just in its Nazi form) was in his youth a strong supporter of following the German road. “Social Policy” (health, education and welfare), nationalizing the railways, eugenics (although here the German “social scientists” never acutally managed to turn desires into concrete legislation – till the Nazi period) everything.

    Yet (and this is the demented part) German living standards were only about half those of Britain (let alone the United States).

    This was not just true in 1900 – it was still true in 1939.

    It is only AFTER World War II (when the British government has become bigger than the German) that German living standards have become higher than British.

    As a school boy (so many decades ago now) I used to think that British politicans were misled by the “fallacy of numbers” – i.e. because there were more Germans than British people, Germany looked more impressive than it actually was (if one looked at output and living standards per person).

    However, this was before I found out that American academics and politicians were just as in love with German statism.

    America had a population that was at least as large (and growing at least as quickly) as Germany – so there is no possibility of the fallacy of numbers. Yet the demands for German style policies were constant.

    I am forced to conclude that the a large proportion of the American academic elite (and the politicians who went along with them) were raving bonkers (of course they still are).

    As for the science fiction writer – he would have loved Imperial Germany (at least to judge by his quotation).

    Votes for women (true New Jersey had votes for women all the way back in 1776 – but they lost the vote in the 1800’s) Germany led the way in femminism. As it did in all Progressive movements, from environmentalism to homosexual activism (no French jokes about the German army being the only one in the world to have camp followers of both sexes – remember the black leather and the whips did not stop them being perhaps the finest army the world has ever seen).

    No corrupt rule by landed aristocrats (Prussian Junkers were loyal servants of the state machine).

    No corrupt rule by American plutocrats – the Prussian administrative machine (staffed by people educated in the finest universities) was above such things as bribes.

    And so on.

    Totally wonderful – as long as one likes living standards less than half the level of their “corrupt” and “anarchic” enemies.

    Even German wartime economic management is not really good (it is image not reality) – for example the relatively free market approach of France during World War One produced vastly better results in terms of military production (and with less basic raw materials) than the “War Socialism” of First World War Germany.

    Again I accept that German living standards are higher than British ones NOW – but (again I repeat) the German government has taken a smaller place in Civil Society than the British one since World War II (they did not go in for the 1940’s nationalization orgy for a start).

    And (here is a rare wonder) it may well soon be the case (if it is not already – especially if one takes “off budget” government spending into account) that Germany is less statist than the United States.

    I even suspect that Ian B. is correct (that will shock him) – i.e. that the Anglo-American intellectual elite is more committed to statism than the German intellectual elite (these days) is.

    It would be one of the odd things of history if the “German road” (an ever bigger government – in both size and scope) is no longer totally fashionable – in Germany.

  • Paul Marks

    “I have come to despise the Victorian reformers – every last one of them” Ian B.

    Have a look at Octavia Hill (one of very many that do not get much of a look in in the modern history books – but were very important at the time).

    The trouble it when a modern history book says “reformer” it means a statist scumbag like Edwin Chadwick.

    Neither Victorians who wanted to help people directly (rather than have the state do everything) or Victorians who worked for a smaller government (whether politicians like Joseph Hume or writers like Herbert Spencer) are considered “reformers” in modern history textbooks.

    So, of course, that means that Ian B. is CORRECT – Victorian reformers are worthy of being despised.

    But only because modern history books define “reformer” (in any age) as statist.

    It was not always so.

    For example, Canning, Huskinson and other tax and regulation cutters were once considered reformers.

    As for the specific point about prostitution:

    I think the Victorians had a good point about prostitution (although one that was taken too far).

    It is true that every age had had child prostitutes – but good thinkers (in every age) did not accept that young children should be used in this way. The Victorians were correct (at least I believe so) to do their best to stamp out the practice.

    As for adult women – I think the “happy hooker” thing is 1960s bullshit (prostitution is a nasty squalid thing) – but that does not mean that government efforts to stamp out adult prostitution are wise (I believe them to be unwise – counter productive).

    However, modern experience is causing people to be more balanced in their judgements.

    For example, from the 1960’s onwards it has been fashionable to sneer at and ridicule the “moral panic” that led to such things as the American “Mann Act” (which made it a criminal offense to trade a women over State borders for the purposes of prostitution).

    We now know what serious students of the past always knew – “the white slave trade” is real.

    Some women really are beaten, drugged, raped and otherwise abused till they submit to be prostituted.

    This a clear violation of the nonaggression principle and must be faught.

    A rather different thing from Gladstone taking prostitutes into Number Ten (and if he had imoral purpose – why did he not make a secret of it) and trying to convince them to give up the life before incurable illness claimed them (remember there was no treatment for the worst STDs in the 19th century – it was not “just” her spirtual life that a women was throwing away if she went into prostitution, her fate would tend to be physical madness and death also).

    Although, by the way, the most famous case of “death by social illness” is almost certainly a myth.

    Randolph Churchill’s condition was most likely a brain tumor (although all of high society was filled with false rumours – rumours that have been turned into history).

    Oddly enough one of the few well known people (at the time) who understood that Randolph Churchill’s symptoms fitted cancer more than syphilis was Gladstone – he tried to defend Churchill (in spite of them being political opponents) against the endless rumours.

    Gladstone had seen syphilis first hand (it was impossible to work in the London underworld without seeing the signs of it) and his own son had died of cancer.

    So he knew the different symptoms.

    Of course it shows the nasty side of human nature (of now – as much as then) that people (all of us at times) like to believe and talk about the worst interpretation of others.

    R. Churchill might have syphilis – or he might have cancer. So it is assumed he has syphilis – because that makes the more interesting story.

    And even if a man is defended – his defenders (even if political opponents – who have nothing to gain by defending him) have to fight uphill.

  • Paul, you should know better than to fall for the White Slavery Panic Mk II.

    It is difficult to debunk an orchestrated moral panic when there is some element of truth or truth-likeness, however small. Wherever there is criminality, there is going to be maltreatment of persons, and the surest way to make it happen is to criminalise. The obvious example is Alcohol Prohibition, which led the beer market into the hands of psychopathic gangsters. That is not support for hte idea that the alcohol trade is inherently abusive. Such gangsters cluster wherever there is criminality.

    A small number of women are badly treated in the international sex trade. The overwhelming majority of women who travel to sell sex are doing so in full knowledge and consent. The vast inflated figures in the trafficking narrative are constructed by campaigners and define any woman who travels illegally- or even legally if she’s a prostitute- as trafficked. There was a report released recently by ACPO for instance- headlines in the papers declared that the common experience of the sex trafficked woman was to have her passport taken away.

    I dwonloaded the document and looked at the figures; only a very small percentage reported any such abuses- the majority of “trafficking indicators” of the women interviewed were by a huge margin things like “does not know the local language” and “does not have access to local (state) services”. Hardly surprising when people are foreign and illegal immigrants/workers. This allows enormous claims of trafficking to feed the activists and bureaucrats. Worse, it diverts attention from the small percentage who are genuinely kidnapped. The answer of course is legalisation and work permits.

    The White Slave Trade of a century ago was almost entirely mythical. The same is true of the new version. If the trade were legal then, as with the alcohol trade, the abuses there are would disappear. State intervention, as always, is the cause of the problem it pretends to address. We can hardly trust a State to solve this problem which spends its time loudly declaring it is “fighting inflation”, while being the sole cause of that problem as we well know.

    Legal businesses don’t abuse, because there is no incentive to do so. It’s cheaper to hire somebody than to kidnap them. Slavery is a poor competitor to the free market.

  • Forgot to mention-

    There was also an eerie part in the ACPO report that claimed that many women are suffering from “post traumatic stress disorder” and are not forthcoming with descriptions of abuse until they have had months of therapy.

    That sent a shiver down my spine; it is eerily reminiscent of other examples of therapists coaxing revelations, such as in the fabricated ritual abuse panics. People who have suffered maltreatment are in the normal way of things more than eager to report their suffering to a sympathetic ear, and do not suppress memories of it. Poor Elisabeth Fritzl spent no time in telling the authorities what she had undergone, and it hard to imagine any worse abuse than she suffered.

    It seems like the therapy axis are hard at work on this one making shit up, and making people believe shit happened that never did, as is their wont; with the usual police/bureaucratic enablement.

  • A small number of women are badly treated in the international sex trade. The overwhelming majority of women who travel to sell sex are doing so in full knowledge and consent. The vast inflated figures in the trafficking narrative are constructed by campaigners and define any woman who travels illegally- or even legally if she’s a prostitute- as trafficked. There was a report released recently by ACPO for instance- headlines in the papers declared that the common experience of the sex trafficked woman was to have her passport taken away.

    I’m also reminded of all the fear-mongering stories in advance of any big sports event of all the sex workers who are going to be there, but never seem to show up.

    I think Paul’s too busy setting up strawmen to pay attention to your thorough debunkings of him, Ian.

  • [editor: deleted. Take your abusive remarks elsewhere]

  • Well I’m not in the “debunking Paul” business. I just think that in this case he might have been too eager to buy into this particular moral panic because it chimes with his particular worldview to some degree.

    We are all prey to this; for instance as a keen atheist I make a conscious effort to be cynical about e.g. the organised moral panic about “paedophile priests” because my natural tendency is to expect Bad Things of priesthoods.

  • Richard Thomas

    I think it’s also fair to say that the people of 100 years time will look back at current times and declare that you wouldn’t really want to live here. Even ignoring politically debatable items, there are some fairly objective problems that we take in our stride which will likely be gone by then. Traffic fatalities, barbarous surgical techniques, MRSA, commuting, manual labour are just a few that spring to mind. No doubt there are others which I’ve become inured to myself.

    The point is that it’s in the eye of the beholder. It’s easy to say you wouldn’t want to live then but if you did, in general, you’d probably be pretty much as happy as you are now. Life goes on after all. Take for example, infant mortality. Sure, it’s unfortunate for the infant his or herself but we have to remember we’re looking at it from a perspective of a society that is now paranoid about protecting the children it does have, wrapping them in cotton wool, fearing the boogeyman around every corner and keeping them locked indoors away from all risk whatsoever, stifling their development and inculcating unhealthy practices. In a dispassionate analysis, is that really better?

    And in my earlier post,I wrote cyberpunk when I meant steampunk as I’m sure everyone realized.

  • Brad

    A prime point missed is that “a good life” is not a constant, it is a variable – it is a state of mind of an individual. Endless debates about the merits of the past or the golden future to be had always are discussed in collective terms. What matters is the contentment, or lack thereof, of an individual and the “invisible hand” culmination of actions of individuals. The only thing we can glean from the past is that the greater the violence and Force within a culture and society, the greater chance that the life of an individual was brutish and short, and that truth is likely to extend into the future unless this lesson is learned. Charts and graphs and statistical tables to prove some sort of Quality of Life Index are the tools of polemicists and prove little about the effects of underlying Force and its consequences.

  • NickM, riffing off you Civilization reference: “The future will be better tomorrow.” – Dan Quayle.

  • John B

    We are a lot more comfortable and a lot less free than those who went before.
    I don’t think the people (us) have changed to much. It’s the tech, as Paul M noted:

    “The fiction writer is doing the old thing of comparing apples and oranges. He is comparing two periods of time with different tech levels (the real reason one is a nicer place to live than the other) and implying that the difference in living standards is due to a different political system and a different set of government policies.”

    One cannot undo the technology even if one wanted to.
    The velvet jail. Complete with National Health, universal monitoring and data systems, and the A bomb.
    Perhaps having got rid of the “priest-ridden nightmare” we are headed on a soft ride to urban hell?
    Human nature being not too much changed but more in control.

  • So let me get this straight. You (that is the collective otherwise known as Samizdata) can be as abusive as you like about others – see this(Link) about Peregrine Worsthorne “Chateau bottled shit”, but let anyone make the slightest suggestion that one of the inner circle here routinely uses a rhetorical device – the ‘imaginary interlocutor’ as Ian B put it – to introduce straw men into the discussion and the heavens fall.

    I have found much to object to on this site, but so far hypocrisy hasn’t been one of them. Sad…

    [Editor… i.e. Perry de Havilland: well yes, if you in insult one of my authors without making a compelling case why that is appropriate, I will delete your comment. Don’t like it? Forgive me if I don’t give a fuck]

  • routinely uses a rhetorical device – the ‘imaginary interlocutor’ as Ian B put it

    Absolutely true.

    to introduce straw men into the discussion

    A strawman in and of itself. A clue: the interlocutor is imaginary. Get it?

  • A strawman in and of itself. A clue: the interlocutor is imaginary. Get it?

    Nonsense – when the imaginary interlocutor introduces points not relevant to the discussion (the straw man) and they are then ‘demolished’ and this ‘demolition’ is used in turn as if it supports the initial point, this is rhetorical sleight of hand, not political discussion.

    All of which says nothing at all about why that comment was deemed so offensive alongside ‘Chateau bottled shit’ that it merited deletion.

  • That was as Ted Unspellablesurname put it, not Ian B.

  • Get it?

    What was I thinking? My bad.

  • That was as Ted Unspellablesurname put it, not Ian B.

    You obviously don’t speak German. 😉

    I only realized several hours after posting my previous comment that I had screwed up the posting, and you can’t edit comments here.

    Call me crotchety, but I find Paul’s use of the imaginary interlocutor, along with his endless parenthetical comments, make his comments and posts extremely tedious to read, and I usually just skip over them.

  • John Sabotta

    There’s a tebndency here to miss the point. “Steampunk” has little or no real relationship to to any period in history. What Stross is doing is condemning an entire literary form on the basis of political ideology. He doesn’t bother to give an example of a “totalitarian” steampunk novel, because he’s claiming that by it’s nature fantasy stories set in the nineteeth century are reactionary. “As is well known, comrades, steampunks are objectively fascist”. Stross is trying to set himself up as the Zhdanov of sci-fi.


  • Ian B said: (re imaginary interlocutor)

    “That was as Ted Unspellablesurname put it, not Ian B.”

    I was referring to you in this thread
    http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/2010/10/because_liberta.html specifically referring to Paul.