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11:01 a.m. - 2011-02-11
Surviving Modern Life vs 1880

The other day I got one of those dopey forwarded things lazy people send instead of actually writing a real note. This one was some numyuk thing about how slack we've gotten when it comes to learning and education and had a copy of an exam needed to graduate from 8th grade back in 1880. I did okay on it, some of the grammar questions were tough (archaic and passé rules, don'tcha know) and I didn't have a clue about the principal grain yield in Nebraska, but okay fine.

The point was to try to make me feel dumb, but it didn't. Instead I've been going about my days noticing all the stuff I wouldn't have to know if I was living in 1880. And all I can think is, "Okay, Ms I-Can-Diagram-a-Complex-Sentence, could you do this?"

In the bathroom is hot and cold running water. A shower, a sink, a flush toilet. Not only can I operate those, I know how to fix them when they leak and get stopped up. I know how to keep my septic system healthy too. I know what toilet paper is and how to change the roll. Not only do I brush my teeth, I use floss and understand about fluoride. I could make soap if I had to, but would Ms 1880 know what to do with shampoo, conditioner, antiperspirant, exfoliants and Oil of Olay? Or how to apply cosmetics? Forget about preventing gingivitis or how to apply mascara, Ms 1880 hadn't even heard of germs. I kid you not.

I know about bacteria and viruses and fungi and can name any number of diseases and consequences caused by them. DNA? Genetics? Huh? And while we're in the science department, how about Pavlovian response, sub-atomic particles, relativity, hydraulics, combustion engines, the periodic table, nuclear energy, X-rays, endoscopic surgery, evolution, and thermodynamics? Know anything about those? I do.

Moving onto the kitchen, it might take me a while to get the hang of cooking on a wood stove, but can you imagine Ms 1880 dealing with a microwave? Hell, even a toaster-oven? I know how to preserve and jar food as they did in 1880, but would she know anything about refrigerators? I can gut and filet a fish (if forced at gunpoint, ew), think about Ms 1880 set down in any common American grocery store today. Would she be able to even identify more than a few of the 1,000s of products, and know how to shop thriftily and nutritiously (Nutrition? Vitamins? What's that?) and how to cook and store everything properly? Nope.

I do not know how to hitch a horse to a buggy, but I can drive a car. And gas it, change the oil and install a muffler and pipes. I can jumpstart a battery and change a timing belt. I might not know how to use a horse-drawn plow, but I can run a backhoe and kick-start a motorcycle. And use a chain saw, an electric drill, a lawn mower, and a belt-sander.

You've taken my point by now, I'm sure. And this is just the tip of things. Take history for example. Since 1880 we've had two world wars, 130 years more of American history, to say nothing of being part of the larger world community and knowing some about all of their wars and revolutions and customs and languages and the variants of their economic systems- everything from the most exploitative capitalism to the most repressive communism. In 1880 the civics and history questions consisted of some picky-ass junk about the presidency of James Buchanan and the Crittenden Compromise.

I'll avoid the clichés about electronics, but just in my lifetime I've gone from party lines to smart phones. Let's see Ms 1880 program a VCR, eh?

I won't claim that life in 1880 was easy, but I think I'd have brain room for the principal grain yield in Nebraska too if I didn't have to have all the stuff I need to know to get by in 2011 jammed into my crowded head.

The smug tone of that forwarded thing really honked me off. You can tell, right? The smirking condescension and assumption that today's folk are brain-dead and intellectually lazy! Mick likes to go on and on about his awe of my trash basket-y mind and how much I have in there, and yeah, I'll cop to plowing very wide when it comes to learning about a large variety of stuff, Life in all its shapes and forms is interesting to me. But I will stand on this: even the most willfully ignorant, know-nothing Tea Bagging moron still has more incidental knowledge and modern survival skills than the 8th grade valedictorian of the class of 1880.

So put that in your corncob pipe and smoke it, you dopey internet forwarding goofball. ~LA

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