wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Azar Gat

War In Human Civilization

It is difficult for people in today's liberal, affluent, and secure societies to visualize how life was for their forefathers only a few generations ago, and largely still is in poor countries. Life is reputably hard, but it used to be much harder. Angst may have replaced fear and physical pain in modern societies, yet, without depreciating the merits of traditional society or ignoring the stresses and problems of modernity, this change has been nothing short of revolutionary. People in pre-modern societies struggled to survive in the most elementary sense. The overwhelming majority of them went through a lifetime of hard physical work to escape hunger, from which they were never secure. The tragedy of orphanage, child mortality, premature death of spouses, and early death in general was inseparable from their lives. At all ages, they were afflicted with illness, disability, and physical pain, for which no effective remedies existed. Even where state rule prevailed, violent conflict between neighbours was a regular occurrence and, therefore, an ever-present possibility, putting a premium on physical strength, toughness, and honour, and a reputation for all of these. Hardship and tragedy tended to harden people and make them fatalistic. In this context, the suffering and death of war were endured as just another nature-like affliction, together with Malthus's other grim reapers: famine and disease.

By comparison, even contrast, life in affluent—liberal societies changed dramatically. The decline of physical labour has already been mentioned. Hunger and want were replaced by societies of plenty, where food, for example, the most basic of needs, became available practically without limit, with the historically unprecedented and paradoxical result of obesity rather than starvation becoming a major problem, even, and indeed sometimes especially, among the poor. Childhood and early death became rare occurrences, with infant mortality falling to roughly a twentieth of its rate during pre-industrial times. Annual general mortality declined from around 30 to about 7—10 per 1,000 people. Not only were infectious diseases, the number one killer of the past, mostly rendered non-lethal by improved hygiene, immunizations, and antibiotics, but countless bodily irritations and disabilities—deteriorating eyesight, bad teeth, skin disease, hernia—that used to be an integral part of life were alleviated by medication, medical instruments, and surgery. Anaesthetics and other drugs, from painkillers to Viagra, have dramatically improved the quality of life. People in the developed world live in well-heated and air-conditioned dwellings, household jobs. They have indoor bathrooms and lavatories. They wash daily and change clothes as often. They drive rather than walk. They are flooded with popular entertainment through the media that occupies their spare time.