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Ways in which modern society really is different

One line from an article about something else has been haunting me for the last two days. I seek to exorcise the ghost. Over at the Great Realignment, I did a post about an interview between Isaac Chotiner of the New Yorker and Professor David Runciman of Cambridge. The interview was about the recent UK election and Brexit, but I was so struck by the wider ramifications of a particular thought of his that I first made it into the title of that post, and now I will continue that theme here. Professor Runciman said,

“We are the first societies in human history where the old outnumber the young.”

Are we? If we are, what difference does it make? Who is “we” in this case?

That leads me to ask this question of our readers:

In what other ways do we in the modern world truly differ from our forebears?

Several years ago, I had a fascinating conversation on this very subject with a friend. (As a matter of fact it was Niall Kilmartin’s wife, so if this whole thing sounds familiar to you, Niall, that’s why.) She and I came up with a few more:

We are the first society in which parents can reasonably expect all their children to outlive them.

We are the first society in which an emigrant to a far country can reasonably expect to visit and be visited by their relatives in the old country.

We are the first society in which the conversation is global.

The coming of the telegraph was the greatest jump in speed of communication that has ever occurred and, barring one of the least scientifically plausible tropes of science fiction turning out to be true after all, will ever occur. The telephone, radio and the internet merely finished the job.

We thought of a few more, but those were the biggest ones that I remember. Do you have any more? Do you disagree with any of those suggestions, or with Professor Runciman’s idea of the old outnumbering the young quoted earlier? Or is the whole idea that we are significantly different from the people of the past merely a childish manifestation of the desire to make ourselves seem special?

34 comments to Ways in which modern society really is different

  • Tim the Coder

    Over half the world can drink a glass of water without fearing deadly infection from it.
    And that safe drinking water is free. Free from public fountains & taps. Free for the asking in cafes etc.

    Riches beyond the dreams of most of the humans who have ever lived. Let’s try for all the world can drink… eh?
    It’s a good news story.

  • Today, the chances of Your Past Being Discovered are higher than ever. And while running is easier (perhaps), hiding is much more difficult. As a result, politicians are either paragons or shameless. I’m still hoping for a paragon.

  • William O. B'Livion

    Dunno when to put the stake in the ground on this one, but most of us now expect hope to have *active* retirements, not working until we’re *almost* dead, and then spending a year or six in significantly degraded physical condition.

    My wife works at a community gym and there’s people in their 70s and 80s on the climbing wall, playing pickleball etc.

    There’s one guy there I run into between May and October. He’s retired and either late 60s or early 70s. He spends late spring through late fall doing hack squats (up to about 305) and the leg press machine (540 pounds of plates) in sets of 15 or 20 reps. Then from as soon as the ski resorts open, he’s gone until late May–Up on the mountain strapping boards to his feet and throwing himself off cliffs.

    In the US 65 was originally set as the “mandatory retirement age” because at the time the life expectancy of a white male was 64 years and 9 months.

    I expect that if we set that today that number would be in the mid 70s. That’s *HUGE*.

  • MadRocketSci

    “We are the first societies in human history where the old outnumber the young.”

    Unless we all want to live through Calhoun’s rat experiment, we’d better keep it that way and work out a way to deal with the consequences. Not usually sympathetic to anything that smells Green, but the sheer overcrowdedness of the cities I’ve been living in for a decade have been eating at me. (And those are still fairly tame Western cities!)

    First societies in history to sustain a world population over a billion people.

  • MadRocketSci

    First society where we all have far more power at our disposal than our own muscle power and that of animals. First society where the chemicals we can produce and use are mostly not agricultural byproducts of one sort or another. (The means to the result in my earlier post.) First society that can use steel or aluminum (or really any element on the periodic table we feel like) as bulk construction materials instead of very rare and valuable tool edges.

    First society in human history where we spend most of the time reading. (Nevermind literacy at unheard of levels, we all read *all the time*. I’m not altogether convinced the internet isn’t some brain-warping superstimulus.)

    First society to have put anything into space. We’ve backslid a bit, but eventually humanity will get back on course.

    We’re pretty far off the map of history in a lot of ways.

  • MadRocketSci
    December 18, 2019 at 1:48 am

    First society to have put anything into space. We’ve backslid a bit, but eventually humanity will get back on course.

    There are a few quibbles about that. The V-2 rocket was the first man-made object to travel into space, crossing the Kármán line with the vertical launch of MW 18014 on 20 June 1944.[5]

    The Russians orbited the first satellite, Sputnik. They orbited the first living creature in “Muttnik”, though the poor dog didn’t make it back alive. They orbited the first human, Yuri Gagarin. After that, it was a mad scramble to see who could orbit the most satellites and send out the most space probes, a race with an increasing number of participant nations — and companies.

    (Ellen: MadNuclearSci. This is the Internet, we’ll fact check your ass. Another feature of today’s modern world.)

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    And we’re all going to get much older! I am 60 now, with a reasonable chance of reaching 120, or 160. Have you forgotten the heart created by a 3D printer in Israel? Did you miss the recent articles in New Scientist about the substances and pills that will preserve you in good health, and the other article about 9 men being rejuvenated (looking younger and healthier) in America?

  • Somewhere in here we should hone our definition of “Society”. Mea culpa, I didn’t think of that, last message – I was thinking Anglosphere. If that expanded to Western society, Germany would be included. If it were all of Earth, I’m definitely looking at it all from an American perspective – and that’s nowhere complete. Japan, an Eastern nation, is the prime example of the old outnumbering the young. If medical science moves up the division line between young and old, that situation may disappear.

    Woulda fixed the last message, but the Edit time limit got me.

  • bobby b

    Somewhere in here we should hone our definition of “old.”

    I submit it has failed to keep up. “Old” and “young” populations should be divided in the middle – they are relative terms. We’ve simply failed to move our Overton Window of wrinkles.

  • Julie near Chicago


    “The Russians orbited Sputnik???”

    Are you sure? I thought Sputnik orbited the Earth, even including Russia.

    Likewise, I missed the memo saying that the Russians orbited Muttnik.

    A lot of humans have orbited Mr. Gagarin or his shade, metaphorically, and maybe a few individually, but that all Russians did so seems to me a stretch.

    /tease 😆


    But there’s a reason why we have parts of speech, and your posting is a wonderful example of the confusion that can be wrought in the heads of readers who don’t know the unwritten rule that in English,

    Any word can mean anything.


    Word order is of no account.

    Apparently teachers of English teach this blatherskite, which is one reason why there are reports that in some surveys, a great many English teachers score below their better students.

    (Nothing personal in this. I’m merely returning for another reprise of a favorite drum-banging song.)

    . . .

    Poisonally, I’m familiar with the Unwritten Rule much as I deplore it, so with difficulty ranging from 0+epsilon to somewhere north of 100,000 on a scale of ease of parsing, I can usually make up some sort of story about what a phrase or a sentence means. (Sometimes, my interpretations leave everybody else in need of smelling salts.) In the instant case, “epsilon” (don’t seem to have it on this here Mac) is even smaller than usual. Given that, you’ve got a good list there. Thanks!


  • Fraser Orr

    I think one of the most important and profound differences is that we are the first society in which nearly everyone is literate, numerate and has a vast wealth of knowledge.

    I think this is perhaps the most important because it isn’t so much a think we have achieved, but a think that changes us as a species.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Fraser, I thing you are rite! Know more ill-literacy. Yes to well-literacy!

  • Rob

    It depends how you define ‘young’ and ‘old’, but I suspect the Roman Republic came close to having more ‘old’ than ‘young’ after Cannae and the two years of disasters that preceeded it.

  • Patrick

    We are the first society on earth to have so thoroughly solved all the problems of basic survival, poverty, hunger, and indeed personal fulfilment that we have the comfort to squander this blessing on arguing about transgender pronouns, reparations for the fact history was another world, checking our privileges, and virtue signalling our denial of certain foodstuffs.

  • Julie near Chicago


    I had absolutely no intention of insulting you, but you could easily have taken it that way. In case you did, I apologize.

    The usage of “orbited” as a transitive verb set off one of my Inner Editor’s most favorite hobby-horses, which gets to galloping hither and yon at the slightest hint of an excuse.

    Your remarks are always interesting, including that one. Thanks for providing good intellectual hay for this here manger. 😀

  • Lord T

    Depends where you draw the line at old.

    However, in the west we certainly are not having enough children so the young are not being replaced as they were before. So that fits the theory for the UK.

    Not sure about the rest of the world though, and the new immigrants to the UK. Certainly some parts are well above replacement limit so is that statement about old outnumbering young true on a global scale? it can’t be or we wouldn’t be increasing the population on the planet.

  • AFT

    @ Julie near Chicago

    If we’re nit-picking, ‘orbited’ is a transitive verb – Sputnik (subject) orbited (verb) the Earth (direct object). The issue is that it doesn’t mean the same thing as ‘put into orbit’, not whether it’s transitive or intransitive.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Good point, AFT, and you’re quite right. I stand corrected.

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)

    How about: There are now more animals on earth who like people and look for good stuff from people, than fear and avoid people. Maybe not true yet, but it soon will be, won’t it? I’m thinking squirrels, in particular:


    Also prompted by watching video of a lady who take hooks and wires out of sharks, and the sharks now like her. Lost the link, but easily found.

  • Slartibartfarst

    These “differences” are arguably truisms. Of course modern Western societies can be said to have become uniquely different in those terms suggested (and no doubt in many other terms – good and bad – that commenters here might be able to suggest), but so what? These differences would have been predictable to a greater or lesser extent, as anyone who had studied statistics, philosophy, psychology, science and technology and economics would probably find (and probably already have found). The problem there is that not a lot of people – in proportionate terms (and apart from the polymaths) will/would necessarily have studied those areas. Thus it might seem like fresh ideas to the rest of us (well, to me, at any rate).

    The post-war baby-boom is a demographic elephant-in-the-room that has been progressively and incrementally quietly influencing human society since the boom started. What I find interesting is not that we have all these “special” societal differences today, but that, if we take the trouble to look, we can see the causal factors that led to the manifestation of those differences, especially those differences that have brought about/created monumental and seemingly insoluble social problems such as (for example, and leaving the worst till last):

    – Pensions: the enormous actuarially unfunded national debt of social welfare provisions for retirement payments in Western societies, which experiment started in about 1951;

    – Pollution; health/life-endangering pollution (from human and commercial/manufacturing waste products) – which can be a huge problem in second/third-world economies and “hell-holes” where sensible regulation may be nonexistent/inadequate (e.g., due to corruption and/or being incompatible with societal mores, customs, laws, tribal rules, etc.) and especially where population growth tends to have run amok.

    – Poverty: the WHO defined Global Poverty as disease Z59.5 in the classification of diseases, and targeted it for eradication in their publication: “World Health Report 1995”, section “The state of world health” – executive summary. (This may have just been a political football that seemed suitably popular to address and pontificate about, at that time.) Poverty is a disgrace, a blight and a product of our societies. Concerned about rising crime-rates and recidivism? Look to a root cause. We should recall the adage that “poverty is the mother of crime”. I’ve observed the harsh reality of that in New Zealand, following the Longe (Labour) government’s reform of the NZ economy – which had had a history like the Rake’s Progress. Led by a team of apparently like-minded economists from Government and the Treasury/Reserve Bank, the reconstruction was arguably overdue, but the inevitable societal consequences of it were seemingly either not considered (left to Fate), or poorly addressed. Ah, the self-appointed intelligentsia at work! Job half-done. “She’ll be right!”

    – Fascism/totalitarianism: the rise and embrace/acceptance of fascism in society is, currently and potentially for the future, a major societal time-bomb, slowly ticking away. It is a problem that has been festering since the 2nd World War which we thought had freed us from totalitarianism and Nazi fascism. This rise should be frightening to us all. We see it on display everywhere (e.g., even on Samizdata web pages) and always it is seemingly tied to a variously reasonable, liberal, right-minded religio-political ideology/dogma (i.e., a fixed world-view). So we can find religious fascism in Atheism, and in some mainstream and cult religions (take your pick). We can find intellectual fascism masquerading as the intelligentsia/elitist left and right (but seemingly mostly the “left”) – e,g, communists/marxists, socialists, eco-fascists, enviro-fascists, ANTIFA, LGBTQ (alphabet soup) activism, so-called “charitable institutions” such as GreenPeace, WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and assorted various Soros-funded organisations (not sure about OXFAM, so have left them out), and not to forget the exemplary SPLC, of course. But perhaps most terrifyingly we find intellectual fascism now openly on display again, and just as history shows that the world turned a blind eye to the evils of Nazi fascism for as long as it could – even embracing it (e.g., as did the Royal Family and some British politicians, apparently), we arguably ignore it today at our peril

    But perhaps the most frightening thing about fascism is its apparent acceptance into the mainstream religio-political ideological infrastructure, political discourse and educational institutions of what is arguably the world’s greatest military and economic power – the USA – where a presidential candidate named Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election could openly say to a massive audience (and be cheered on by supporters for saying) that half the voters for another candidate were “a basket of deplorables”, or something. This was an appalling left-wing pejorative labelling (smear) of a whole cohort of people (Trump supporters), suggesting them to be variously deficient, inferior, uneducated and thus somehow less deserving of having a vote. Fascists always label “the other” thus, because it simultaneously dehumanises and demeans them and consequently makes it easier in the human psyche to contemplate killing/”retraining” them with a clear conscience (think China and its “Uighur problem”, or Hitler and the Germans’ “Jewish problem”). This Clinton dog-whistle to supporters with naturally fascistic tendencies must have appealed to those of her supporters who considered themselves to be members of the intellectual elite (educated, etc.) and who would have felt validated (by what she said) and permitted to express their view that they were more entitled to a vote than “those others” – who were all necessarily perceived as “bad people” in order to substantiate the illusion of self-superiority amongst the fascists. Trump voter-shaming and violence towards them (and against those wearing MAGA hats – even children) became and still is a “thing” in America. Like all good ideas, it has spread and seemingly morphed into publicly encouraging people to engage in “milk-shaking” or otherwise shaming/soiling people you disagree with. Never mind considering the debate, no need to try and engage your possibly dormant/nonexistent critical thinking skills, just go straight for hurt or humiliation to “the other”.

    “There is no debate!”

    – is the oft-heard sometimes shrill catch-cry from selected and managed BBC bubble “discussions” or “conversations”, where they desperately try to confine the narrative to a single, politically correct view on the subjects of what may be hypothetical or religio-political ideological/dogma – including “AGW”, or “Climate”, Brexit and immigration. It doesn’t matter what the voters want in referenda or elections – the voters are stupid if they aren’t “woke” and haven’t voted the “right/correct” way, by implication and by definition. Edward de Bono predicted this to some extent, rather presciently, in his book on “Teaching Thinking”. He suggested that our encouragement of and reward for debate as a competitive skill had inadvertently led to the polarisation and ego-protection of already-held ideas and thinking and a cessation of or abandonment of critical thinking, so that we have become de-skilled, or illiterate/incompetent in that regard. It seems he was probably right.

    So it’s not just Hillary Clinton (though admittedly she was probably the the most recent, main and most unacceptable face of this rising tide of fascism). For example, one Prof. Dr. Richard Parncutt at the University of Graz (yeah, ironically it would have to be Austrian, wouldn’t it?) in 2012 advocated the death penalty for what his fevered, uncritical imagination perceived and rationalised as Anthropogenic Global Warming “deniers’. That’s right, if one debated a view that was different to Prof. Parncutt’s hypothetical beliefs, then one was part of the causal problem and thus should justifiably be put to death. An image of his smiling face was up on his webpage – the smiling face of liberal, reasonable, right and just fascism.
    Only recently I read somewhere that a teacher/professor in a US college/university had condemned rural Americans who may have voted for Trump or didn’t accept AGW as a a proven fact (having done quite a lot of work in econometric and climate and weather-system modelling, I know it’s not proven, it’s simply an unproven hypothesis that is the only rational – albeit uncertain – explanation we can seem to mostly agree on at present), as being inferior, inefficient (as economic units) and making “poor choices”. He, of course, by implication was by definition an economically efficient city-dweller and an enlightened, educated person, who made only “good choices”. I found this an amazing self-revelation, but there’s apparently a lot of it about. There are no doubt other examples, but this could probably be one of the most egregious. No surprises that it seems to be prevalent in American so-called “educational” institutions – given the recent revelations about elitist US parents paying out megabucks under the counter for degree courses for their low IQ children, at “Ivy league” universities and similar degree mills. Gives a whole new meaning to the term “level playing-field”.

    “If you can’t do it, fake it”.

    It’s The American Way!

  • Julie – My writing (and speech) are eccentric. No getting around it, and by this point I’m hard to offend. About that, at least.

    I’ve read a lot, and nearly as many British authors as American authors. This affects my spelling, of course, but also my use of words. I model my sentence structure upon the output of the writers I’ve found most congenial to my mind. Then I throw some mathematics and computer programming into my punctuation, and let’s not even mention semicolons. I’m used to some rather insistent comment from my writers’ group, because I know I don’t follow all the Official Rules.

    Definitions are important. If I am embroiled in one of those arguments I demand definitions. The worst of these involves people who “act against their own best interest”. In those disputations, I’ve never gotten a clear definition that is other than “I don’t think they’re making the right choices”. My biggest lapse in that first post was not defining “society” clearly in my head.

    When it comes to things I write, I simply smile and ask, “did you understand what I said?”

  • I’m not sure that the telegraph made as much of a difference as the steam locomotive. Though since both showed up at more or less the same time it is hard to be sure.

    Prior to the Rocket & co, no person had ever gone faster than a galloping horse for any distance longer than some slope they could ski/toboggan on downhill. Before railways it was a full day journey to go 20 miles for most people. And even imperial messengers or similar with relays of horses would still average little more than 20mph for maybe 12 hours a day. If you wanted to go from London to Edinburgh it took most people well over a week, more usually 2-3 (it’s 400 miles so 20miles per day = 20 days). Once they built the first railway between them it took half a day (10 hours).

    Now of course with jets we’re another order of magnitude faster (London-Tokyo is ~12 hours, not much more than the first London-Edinburgh trains ~10 hours)

  • Chester Draws

    We are the first society on earth to have so thoroughly solved all the problems of basic survival, poverty, hunger, and indeed personal fulfilment that we have the comfort to squander this blessing on arguing about transgender pronouns, reparations for the fact history was another world, checking our privileges, and virtue signalling our denial of certain foodstuffs.

    Lots of societies have shown their virtue by denying foodstuffs. Hindus and cows, or brahmins and all meat. Moslems and pork and alcohol, and fasting for a month. Jews and a spectacular array of prohibitions, depending on how virtuous they are.

    Other societies had the equivalent of checking privilege. Christian scholars arguing about the exact nature of the trinity enlisted the powers that be to destroy their enemies. And it’s not like Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist scholars didn’t waste astounding amounts of energy over trivial differences in showing how much more learned and correct their view was.

    Our circumstances may have changed, but human nature has not.

    I’ll grant that reparations for historical injustices are new. Generally people in the past settled for the rather less useful method of dealing with historical grievances by mayhem and slaughter. But they certainly felt historical grievances just as sharply as people do now.

  • Lloyd Martin Hendaye

    First: Though few appreciate it, Earth’s pro forma 12,250-year duration Holocene Interglacial Epoch, a benign “interstadial remission” from ye cyclical 102-kiloyear Wurmian Ice Age, ended 670 years ago in AD 1350.

    Second: From c. AD 2030, hyperlinked, non-mortal, self-aware Cloud Minds will dispose all-pervasive info-tech developments to ends incomprehensible to “mere humanity” by very nature.

    Third: As a 90+ year Super-Grand Solar Minimum clamps down, presaging glaciations covering 60% of Earth’s continental landmasses with ice sheets two miles thick, cyber-genomic engineering will supplant organic evolution with “transhuman symbionts” designed to move en masse off uninhabitable Planet Earth to vast intra-solar refugia thrusting inexorably outward, to the stars.

    Above and beyond all this, which likely reflects some three (3) non-overlapping Advanced Extraterrestrial Civilizations (AETCs) appearing in each Milky Way-size galaxy every million years, conversion not of matter but unit Space/Time to energy via factorial-probability functions of hyper-dimensional (transfinite) Reference Frames will enable instantaneous, simultaneous, quantum-telespondence to any holographic “focal Present” throughout the efflorescing cosmos.

    In brief: Changes from AD 1600 to 2000 will be as nothing to those through AD 2125 et seq. Even then, by AD 2500 our World Enough and Time will be so qualitatively transformative as to make nonsense of chronocentric, dust-mote planetary, pre-Singularity prognoses bruited by rudimentary “mud-and-blood” entities born through c. AD 2050. Meantime, at a mere 13.8 billion years-to-date, our chaotic/fractal, dual dynamic, random-recursive Cosmos will self-emerge to complex/virtual potentiam for at least another trillion years.

  • “We are the first societies in human history where the old outnumber the young.”

    Are we?

    Firstly, I part echo, part correct Rob: not early Rome after Cannae but the late Roman Empire over a long period experienced a decline in population, so it seems likely the successively shrinking generations were disproportionately old. Similarly, England’s population fell with the black death, and did not recover for some two centuries. In its second wave in England, some 30 years after the first, it was particularly noticed that far more young than old died of the plague – those who had lived through the first attack were much more likely to survive the second. So it seems likely the population of England in the year 1400 had a higher old-to-young ratio than in 1300.

    Secondly, the old held political power in most civilised societies in history. The ancient Romans were (and recognised themselves as being) extreme in the legal authority of fathers over sons, but societies that did not allow killing your children at pleasure still tended to confer political and social power on the old. The world in which an 18 year-old (in Scotland a 16 and 17 year old for some elections) has the same vote as an 80-year-old, and a culture that flatters the opinions of youth, is itself new.

    So as regards the old politically outnumbering the young, that is normal. As regards their actually outnumbering them, I speculate it has happened.

  • NickM

    You sound like you been overdosing on Michio Kaku. You do appreciate he’s more full of Shiite than a mosque full of ayatollahs?

  • Slartibartfarst

    You sound like you been overdosing on Michio Kaku. You do appreciate he’s more full of Shiite than a mosque full of ayatollahs?

    NickM – December 19, 2019 at 7:03 pm

    Some people (not me, you understand) might say that what you write is “unnecessarily offensive”, but that it could arguably be an apposite analogy, however I couldn’t possibly comment.

  • Paul Marks

    A society where the old outnumber the young is a society in decline – it is a society that is not replacing itself.

    The fertility rate in most Western countries (including the United States) is below 2 children per women – in many Western countries it is close to 1 child per woman.

    That is slow motion extinction – genocide.

    And, no, encouraging mass immigration for other societies will not save Western societies – on the contrary it will kill them off quicker. Why should vast numbers of new people assimilate into a culture that is failing? And assimilation is exactly what government (and general establishment policies) seek to PREVENT anyway. For example, any attempt to convert the new people to the traditional religion of the West is looked on with horror (especially by the “Mainline Churches” with their hatred and contempt for Christianity). And in the United States the education system, the schools and universities, teach that Mexico was in the right in relation to the conflicts of the 1830s and 1840s – “that does not matter now Paul” OH YES IT DOES MATTER. If people from Mexico (or the rest of Latin America) are taught that Americans have “no right to the land” (and that is what they are taught) then it matters very much indeed. Are they taught that the Bill of Rights of 1791 and the Texas Constitution of 1876 are their heritage? No they are not – they are either not taught these things at all, or they are taught that they are the work of evil white men.

    Assimilation might actually be possible if it was worked at – but it is NOT a matter of sports teams and pop music, it is a matter of core BELIEFS -and that is exactly what the education system seeks to undermine (undermine – not spread to the new people).

    The society of the 1950s was far from perfect – there were many things wrong with it. But it WORKED – and modern society does NOT work, modern Western societies can not even sustain their own existence.

    A society that can not maintain its own existence, that is not destroyed by the invasion of some other society but is destroyed by its own internal flaws, is not good – it is dysfunctional.

    Therefore most modern Western societies are dysfunctional – because they can not even sustain their own existence.

    There is no substitute for strong traditional families (father, mother and children), strong local communities (based on voluntary cooperation – NOT outside funding) and core beliefs in the principles of the West – most importantly Freedom of Speech.

    The doctrines of the Frankfurt School of Marxism and of “Post Modernism” (the latter officially NOT Marxist – but with the same agenda) must be rejected – rejected root-and-branch.

    “But that means going back to 1960” – as I say above there were many flaws in society as it was (things that could and should have been different) – but the society of 1960 worked, it was functional. Both in Britain, the United States, Italy, Germany and so on.

    We should NOT just blindly seek to go back to 1960 – we should seek to return to what was good (what worked), not the bad aspects of society as it was. The alternative, as I point out above, is extinction – genocide.

  • Rich Rostrom

    We have recordings of and can reproduce at will great volumes of musical and dramatic performances. Thus our current culture matter incorporates earlier culture in a manner completely unprecedented.

    We have made marriage and child production almost entirely a matter of personal choice, to be engaged in only when complete success appears highly probable.

    We are exposed almost continually to high-quality imagery of very attractive people (in film, video, advertising). I suspect that most people have a very skewed idea of what an “average person” looks like.

    We drink far less alcohol than previous societies (which connects with the general availability of clean water noted by Tim the Coder). A surprising number of people never touch even beer or wine (except on ceremonial occasions, or with a formal dinner), without any “temperance” ideology. At least, this is my impression. Average per capita consumption is down, according to industry statistics; and a lot of my personal acquaintances seem to follow that pattern. OTOH, one hears reports of epidemic binge-drinking among the young.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Rich Rostrom writes,

    We have made marriage and child production almost entirely a matter of personal choice, to be engaged in only when complete success appears highly probable.

    You are right, contraception becoming easily available marked a sea-change in the life of the average woman. Its effects changed life for men, too.

  • Rich Rostrom

    We have personal telecommunication available almost anywhere and any time. (This is a relatively late development – the last 20-25 years.)

    We live predominantly in cities.

    Very few people either work as or employ servants. Agatha Christie once said that when she was a girl, she never imagined being so rich that she could have a motor car, or so poor that she could not have a servant.

    Very few people have any contact with draft animals, or with riding horses.

  • Julie near Chicago


    Well, after a startled blink and a “Wha-a-a-?” it was obvious what you meant. :>)) –As I said, epsilon here was very small.

    And after ~70 years, I have taken to using the comma splice, deliberately, for stylistic reasons. So I too have learned to break the rules purposely, without drowning in terror. Or something. Progress, progress.


    Moving on,

    Definitions are important. If I am embroiled in one of those arguments I demand definitions. The worst of these involves people who “act against their own best interest”. In those disputations, I’ve never gotten a clear definition that is other than “I don’t think they’re making the right choices”.

    I couldn’t agree with you more: Definitions are indeed very important (Pages of Illustration omitted). And in particular, the question of “WHOSE ‘best interest,’ and who is to be the judge of that?” is surely the right one to ask.

    Let’s don’t ask Mr. Corbyn, nor Mr. Sanders and the hordes of their ilk. :>)))

  • Tedd

    We are the first societies in human history where the old outnumber the young.

    Something that’s worth bearing in mind is that this is more true in most western countries than it is in the U.S. Consider the age distribution in Germany, or Canada, as compared to the U.S. (The UK seems to be somewhere in between.)

    Of course, even the U.S. is nothing like India, who’s demographics probably look more like historical norms for most countries.

  • How about the incredible drop in testosterone levels? Surely this phenomenon is affecting almost all male functions and perceptions?