April 21, 2003

There are quite a few well-educated people on Cementhorizon, so perhaps one of you kind folk can answer my question.

As I was driving home today, screaming along with "Watching The Detectives", I suddenly wondered, "When did things get so good?" Specificallly, I'm wondering when the majority of people in the "developed" nations (let's leave arguments about developed nations for another time...you know what I mean) enjoy a quality of life that might be characterized as "obscenely comfortable".

Most people go to bed full every night (which is creating its own set of health problems). Climate-controlled housing, complete with built-in sanitary drinking water, is the norm. Working hours are no longer obscene and employees are treated like people (thank you, unions!). In short, life is good.

So when did this happen? I'm not looking for vague moral discussion (though they're fun too, and are welcome in the comments section). But I'd love it if someone could provide me with some sort of timeline describing when comfort became the norm. The timeline could even be so broad as "20th Century -- everything gets good", since that would at least let me know that quality-of-living reform has only really come about in the last century. Step up to the plate history buffs. It's your time to shine.

(by the way, if you disagree with the basis premise that most people enjoy the comforts I've mentioned, please say so in the comments section. but you'd better have some numbers to back up the statement)

Posted on April 21, 2003 07:47 PM

i am in an excellently useful position to tell you... nothing except when that wasn't the case. i'm afraid my historical knowledge kicks in sometime around the 200th century BC and falls apart entirely before the end of the 14th century AD. not, on the whole, a time of consistent food abundance, union labor conditions and comfortable mattresses.

Posted by: dianna on April 21, 2003 08:13 PM

I'm definitely not an expert, but I think the absurb level of comfort is generally considered a post-WWII thing. The Industrial Revolution sucked cock and then the Depression also gave good head, and then the war put the US and Western Europe so far on top (war creates jobs, and housing got really cheap) that the middle class grew like crazy and the rest is comfy, cozy history. Though you have to stress, of course, that there are still a LOT of people in these countries that aren't so comfortable, but I think the percentages are much better than back in the day.

I could be completely misinformed, of course. I just found out yesterday that tomatoes aren't poisonous.

Posted by: jason on April 22, 2003 07:10 AM

i could play the devil's advocate here and argue about how we're deluding ourselves with our vision of comfort, thinking we're flying high and well when actually we falling but just haven't crashed yet. but i would rather you read daniel quinn's "Ishmael"...that book will knock your socks off...it gave me a much wider perspective, in any case.

Posted by: jade on April 22, 2003 08:06 AM

Yeah, but what a pleasant, air-conditioned fall.

I think I also remember something about a major rise of the European middle class in the mid-18th Century, so maybe that was the bigger thing. Who knows.

Posted by: jason on April 22, 2003 08:53 AM

Cheap housing! That's just the kind of thing I want to know about. I remember hearing about the rise of the suburbs after WWII, but never made the connection between assembly-line living quarters and quality of life.

I definitely agree that there are many, many people living in developed nations who don't enjoy the standard of living that I referred to in the original post. But (I think) that percentage-wise they're a minority. Which is not to say anything about policy/budget decisions based on who's in the majority or minority. I'm just wondering when barely-surviving stopped being the norm.

As for Ishmael, where we're going could be the subject of another entry. Right now I'm concerned with where we are (or where we've been) and how we got there.

Posted by: Jacob on April 22, 2003 10:14 AM

actually ishmael is incredibly enlightening in that respect as well. but the past is has a lot to do with our future too.

Posted by: jade on April 22, 2003 10:34 AM

As a side note, and not an answer. If you think we've got it good here in the States, go and live the same life in Germany or Denmark or Sweden. Living in Munich for 6 months really opened my eyes to the shit the we are willing to settle for in the States. No matter how good we have it, we are still cursed by are need for a good deal, which is absent in the slightly more socialist western europe.

Posted by: gene on April 22, 2003 02:51 PM