This is a somewhat updated “Blast from the Past.”
Back in the day on an old online service (the Internet existed, but it had not yet really begun to take off) GEnie (General Electric’s online service, thus the odd capitalization), there was a Science Fiction Roundtable. As a member of SFWA (I was once under the belief that membership might help my career. What can I say; we’re all young and stupid once.) I had a “freeflag” to this group.
So, in one discussion I pointed out that one of the things I didn’t care about in Tolkien was this idea that that the world was in perpetual decline. Yes, I’m aware of the mythic underpinnings of such a structure–classic myth with it’s Gold, Silver, and Iron ages, each progressively worse than the one before. Still, it didn’t fit my world view and that was a source of frustration with the world of Middle Earth and since the world is very much a character, in some ways the main character, well…
I got jumped on by a Special Snowflake who insisted that of course the world is in decline. We’re all worse off than our ancestors were.
I pointed out that all Caesar’s wealth could not have bought him a single Tylenol(r) for his headache to be met with a response that the Romans had access to Opium.
The answer to a proxy for modern medicine even at the low end was that they had opium? And I’ll give them Ethanol and, are willows native to Europe? I don’t know, but in the absence of knowledge, let them have willow bark as well.
Against that we have the contents of my medicine cabinet.
But the kicker was when someone else told me that she (yes, it was a she) would have to get used to having slaves do all the stuff we do with machines today, but it would really be no worse than living today.
First off, having machines rather than slaves to do menial chores is not in and of itself a major improvement on past society? Did she really mean that?
But the real question is, what unbridled hubris led her to think she would be the slave owner instead of the slave?
At that point I just gave up. I didn’t even bother asking of the person really thought that having machines rather than slaves was not an improvement after all. What would be the point? The person in question was all holier-than-thou “I’m not interested in trying to convince you.” (Good thing given that you’re so utterly, egregiously, wrong.)
Some people have this strange idea that it’s “better” to live an agrarian lifestyle than to live in a modern technological and industrial civilization. Almost invariably these people have never tried to live on a subsistence farm while completely cut off from modern industry, no access to modern medicine, no backups in case pest devour the crop or a drought withers it. No modern weather forecasting to tell you to get that crop in before the hailstorm pounds it into the ground. No modern storage and preserving techniques. Nothing that a truly “agrarian” society wouldn’t have.
Hunter-gatherer societies have a lot of leisure time compared to modern society? That’s nice. What, exactly, are you going to do with that leisure time? You know those societies tend to have high birthrates because, 1) their infant and child mortality rates are astronomical and 2) what else are they going to do with all that “leisure time”? If carving decorations on your spear shaft is your thing, knock yourself out. But, you know, it’s not for everybody.
People have a tendency to romanticize primitive lifestyles, usually when they’re far, far away from the realities of those lifestyles. But Hobbes had it right: “Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
The world has generally gotten better over the years, the decades, the centuries, and yes, the millenia. It may have its ups and downs. There may be reversals from time to time, but in the long run the trend has been upward. “The good old days” are a creation of selective memory, no more.
And, thus, while I will occasionally venture into some dark explorations, my futures tend to be upbeat and hopeful. Problems are problems to overcome, not some inevitable collapse into everlasting hell. This is the kind of fiction I like to write. This is the kind of fiction I like to read.
I don’t think I’m alone.