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Why Was Everyone in the Past So Wrong About Everything?
I’ve reached the end of the internet so that you don’t have to. It was in the ads section of an once-renowned news portal. Under yet another article that looked as if it came straight out of ChatGPT, I saw a closeup photo of someone’s belly fat hanging over their belt. Unlike the rest of weight loss ads all around the internet, this particular one said in Polish “Lose 50 lbs fast using this one weird trick from the 1930s!”.
I haven’t clicked on this ad so I won’t tell you what method they recommended. They probably wouldn’t tell me without paying them anyway. But I can’t stop wondering, what the hell could they have had in mind exactly? The Great Depression? War? Holocaust? Holodomor? I can’t believe anyone could be this clueless, not here in Poland where concentration camp survivors are still alive and remember. They must have done it on purpose, whoever came up with this ad.
Nobody in the 1930s wanted to lose 50 pounds fast. And yet it happened to so many people anyway. In Ukraine alone a few million people starved to death when they couldn’t produce as much food as the Soviet government required. A certain man from that region told my husband’s mom recently how most families were literally eating their children, which she promptly reported to me for some reason. It’s been a few weeks ago, and it’s still making me feel sick.
I did, in fact, lose 50 pounds a while ago, and so did my husband’s mom. We’re both happy that we did it, as it was quite a challenge not to just lose this weight but especially to keep it off. This is probably the best proof of how far we’ve come as a civilization, our grandparents were struggling to keep themselves alive and fed so that we can now struggle to keep ourselves from overeating.
Well, at least that’s the case in the richer parts of the world. People are still dying of hunger in Afghanistan, Somalia, or Syria. In theory I always knew that was the case, and yet it didn’t really change my behavior in any meaningful way. They might as well have been kidnapped by aliens, I had no reference point to understand how it’s like to suffer from either. Things like this just never happened to anyone I knew personally, nearly everyone was trying to lose at least a few pounds instead.
A friend once told me her grandma always had bread sewn inside some of her pockets, even when she was going to bed. She was overweight for as long as my friend remembers, and so were all of her children. She barely survived Auschwitz when she was a kid, and for the next 70 years she never got to fully believe that she doesn’t ever have to worry again about starving to death.
I sometimes wonder if something similar could be happening on a societal level. In a way, we’re still processing the dramas our ancestors lived through. We’re wasting tons of food every day to make up for the time our grandparents were constantly hungry in winter. We’re living in huge empty houses to make up for the time everyone was crammed together in the same room and had nowhere to run when someone got violent. We hardly know our neighbors and prefer to hire strangers than to ask friends or family for help to make up for the time our survival fully depended on our neighbors and relatives who weren’t always as reliable as we wished they would be. And so many of us struggle to get out of our beds in the morning despite living in the most opulent and peaceful times precisely because we’re the first generation that can afford to feel our feelings, and the collective horrors of two world wars and all the suffering that led up to them are still haunting us deep down.
We’re making ads about losing weight like people did in the 1930s because none of us dares to imagine how life actually looked like back then. We’ve rejected our ancestors’ gods, social norms, and morals for they were cruel and oppressive, without ever acknowledging how cruel and oppressive life itself was at that time. We’re criticizing the morals of people who suffered through war, terror, loss, and extreme poverty, without ever realizing that our sophisticated standards are only imaginable thanks to an exponential economic boom enabled by fossil fuels and ever growing global trade.
We have no sympathy for our grandparents’ opinions on gender, sex, marriage, morality, violence, child rearing, or God, for if we did, we’d have to try to understand the world that created people who believed in stuff like this. We don’t want to believe that anyone ever suffered what the average person back then had to suffer, for it clashes with our beautiful world of love and light where everyone manifests their own reality. We’re much less at the mercy of physics and biology than anyone ever before, and it’s hard for us to imagine how much it restricted everyone’s options in the past.
And yet, physics and biology are slowly catching up to us. We’ve destroyed our environment so much that the current opulent way of life might not be sustainable for much longer. Maybe it’s time for us to try to understand what kind of conditions made our grandparents the way they were, with all the seemingly outrageous opinions on so many things. If we do, we might finally be able to appreciate the miraculous times we live in, and find a way out of this mess that will let us keep the best parts.
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