‘You Can’t See the Flies’

 

Mrs Rodin’s late mother did a fair amount of international travel in her lifetime. One trip was to the Holy Land and to the pyramids in Egypt. She remarked about some of the photos taken in Egypt during the trip that “you can’t see the flies.” Apparently, there was an abundance of flies, but they simply are not caught in the images.

I was reminded of this when contemplating how much I like period pieces in cinema and television. Part of my Prime subscription includes ACORN, Britbox, and the like. The Brits do period pieces like no other. No doubt it is because, unlike their more youthful American cousins, they actually have places that are period pieces. And so it is that one can imagine being transported back to a place and time, say, the 1890s to 1910s, when there were just enough conveniences but before the mass carnages, when you might live your most ideal life.

That is, of course, if you were the right sort — the person with money, connections, prospects, and education. And therein lies the rub. It’s all well and good to romanticize how life would have been. But, in reality, there are flies.

“Flies” take many forms: First, there are the real flies and other insects that were transcendent until a truce was created through chemistry. Second, and related to the first, diseases were much more widespread before sanitation and chemistry quelled them in most Western countries. Third, accidents of birth truly determined how good a life one would lead in most societies.

And so it is that we must contemplate modern-day America and the West. Things are pretty good. There are bad signs, of course. We may yet ruin a good thing. But it cannot be denied that even our poor live better than 17th-century potentates. They enjoy better healthcare (poor as it might be relative to those with greater means), they have access to fresher food, they have unimaginable access to entertainment and information, they have living accommodations that are much more comfortable.

It is a great time to be alive. We may screw it up — and I fear we will. But relative to earlier times, we can count our blessings. And for those of us on this site who are septuagenarian, we just need the good times to continue for another decade or so. I do worry for the children, however.

I have always observed how so many that publicize their belief in reincarnation always describe their past lives as ones of prominence and power. That is of a piece of romanticizing life in bygone eras — a world without flies.

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  1. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    Rodin: It is a great time to be alive. We may screw it up — and I fear we will.

    Concur.  The ideas that have sustained us have been under attack for decades, and the walls seem to be crumbling.  Those crazy environmentalists and similar sorts who romanticize primitive lifestyles may yet impose those miseries upon us all.

    • #1
  2. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    • #2
  3. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Wow.

    I missed the January Planning Retreat.  Who volunteered to collect the articles for The Best of Ricochet 2023?

    • #3
  4. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    It is good to step back and see how good things really are.

    • #4
  5. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    Rodin: We may screw it up — and I fear we will.

    My grandmother once had a bedbug infestation in her home.  She repeatedly cleaned and boiled the bed linen but the bedbugs always returned.  None of the available insecticides made a difference.

    Finally she heard of a new insecticide that was amazingly effective.  She applied it once and the bedbugs were permanently eradicated.  Gone forever. Thanks to DDT.

    But DDT is gone, and bedbugs are back.

    The difference between poison and medicine is often simply a matter of dosage. Apparently we lack the technology to apply DDT effectively without damaging our environment.

    But I am grateful for the relief DDT provided to my beloved grandmother.  Her descendants will likely not have an effective solution for bedbugs.

    • #5
  6. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    I am completing the online form for proposing a Best Of article.  It says here, “Please enter the reason you have chosen this Article.”

    This is a rough draft of my answer.  Sorry, but even just writing a rough draft has exhausted my energy and patience, so I am about to mash the Publish button. (This button is actually absurdly labeled “Comment“, because of a bit of circular reasoning by the UI designer.)

    Lots of Articles are essays.  But only a small minority of those comprise convincing, original analysis on a profound and important subject, expressed with elegant and beautiful language.

    In most of those cases, the production of a near-perfect draft exhausts the present energies, and the patience, of the Writer.  He refuses to send it back to his internal Editor one more time, and instead “mashes the “Publish Button”. 

    In the tiny remainder of the cases, you get this result. A piece whose reading enjoyment is uninterrupted by any of those alarms from the Editor unit of the mind of any reader (a) whom the Writer has successfully captured, and (b) which the careful reader cannot disable, because parsing is a necessary part of true “reading”–determining the intended meaning of the writer, or in this case, the Writer. The Parser unit automatically passes fault conditions to the Editor, which sends an automatic alert because if it didn’t, what good would it be?

    • #6
  7. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    I realize this is off-topic, but Rodin did mention Prime and British movies and videos: Why are British actors so much better than American?

    I watch a lot of Prime, and find that by comparison nearly all American actors seem to be reading cue cards as the camera rolls. In even minor parts, the Brits are often incredible.

    • #7
  8. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    I realize this is off-topic, but Rodin did mention Prime and British movies and videos: Why are British actors so much better than American?

    I watch a lot of Prime, and find that by comparison nearly all American actors seem to be reading cue cards as the camera rolls. In even minor parts, the Brits are often incredible.

    Because American actors tend to be selected for their looks, not their acting?

    • #8
  9. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    And so it is that we must contemplate modern-day America and the West. Things are pretty good. There are bad signs, of course. We may yet ruin a good thing. But it cannot be denied that even our poor live better than 17th-century potentates. They enjoy better healthcare (poor as it might be relative to those with greater means), they have access to fresher food, they have unimaginable access to entertainment and information, they have living accommodations that are much more comfortable.

    I notice that everything listed here is material. And there is certainly no denying that, materially, we are far better off than those of previous centuries.  That is a real advance and a reason for celebration.

    But is it the only standard by which to measure modern life and life in the past? Are we better in terms of virtue and moral character?  Or basic maturity? The first three Presidents were George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. The last three have been Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden.  The first three were real men, men of substance, large ideas, and strength of character, willing to risk their lives and fortunes for things greater than themselves. Can you imagine Barack Obama leading the crossing of the Delaware, or Donald Trump writing the Declaration of Independence? They aren’t even men compared to the early Presidents.

    Our material advances have been accompanied by a loss of virtue. That was probably inevitable. I’m surely grateful that we have anesthetics so that going to the dentist is not a terror-inducing possibility. Yet I can’t imagine how my grandfather could pull his own teeth with a pair of pliers and not think it a big deal.  

    • #9
  10. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    I notice that everything listed here is material. And there is certainly no denying that, materially, we are far better off than those of previous centuries.  That is a real advance and a reason for celebration.

    But is it the only standard by which to measure modern life and life in the past? Are we better in terms of virtue and moral character?  Or basic maturity?

    Fair point. And the primary reason that one has the feeling that we are going to screw up a good thing.

    • #10
  11. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Rodin (View Comment):

    People who think the fastest cars were made several decades ago haven’t been paying attention for a long time.

    • #11
  12. EB Thatcher
    EB
    @EB

    Mad Gerald (View Comment):

    But DDT is gone, and bedbugs are back.

    The difference between poison and medicine is often simply a matter of dosage. Apparently we lack the technology to apply DDT effectively without damaging our environment.

    And when they banned DDT, people in under-developed countries died of diseases carried by the mosquitos that were not being killed by DDT.

    • #12
  13. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    I routinely immerse myself in 18th and 19th-century stories and histories.  I immensely enjoyed the movie Emma (there is something hypnotic about Anya-Taylor Joy) and after which my wife suggested that I not wax on in such detailed fashion about Regency Era fashion styles lest listeners be inclined to question my sexuality.  True, pantaloons, a fine pair of Hessians, and a well-fashioned cravat would raise eyebrows on the morning commute on the Metro but that doesn’t mean I would not otherwise rock the look.

    I especially love naval adventure series (Patrick O’Brien, CS Forester, Alexander Kent, Chris Durbin…).  But then I realize how much I would miss indoor plumbing & toilet paper, hot showers, all the routine forms of relief available at the local CVS, dentistry, sterile surgery done under anesthesia, flavors not found in English staples of the time, rapid travel, the internet & email, the availability of fruit and vegetables year-round …beaucoup flies, so many flies.

    • #13
  14. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    I immensely enjoyed the movie Emma (there is something hypnotic about Anya-Taylor Joy) and after which my wife suggested that I not wax on in such detailed fashion about Regency Era fashion styles lest listeners be inclined to question my sexuality.  True, pantaloons, a fine pair of Hessians, and a well-fashioned cravat would raise eyebrows on the morning commute on the Metro but that doesn’t mean I would not otherwise rock the look.

    You should go for it.  You might bring those things back into fashion.

    • #14
  15. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    I immensely enjoyed the movie Emma (there is something hypnotic about Anya-Taylor Joy) and after which my wife suggested that I not wax on in such detailed fashion about Regency Era fashion styles lest listeners be inclined to question my sexuality. True, pantaloons, a fine pair of Hessians, and a well-fashioned cravat would raise eyebrows on the morning commute on the Metro but that doesn’t mean I would not otherwise rock the look.

    You should go for it. You might bring those things back into fashion.

    Doubt it. 

    Beau Brummel, the first “influencer”, went broke, died of syphilis in an asylum, and is still blamed by some for forever removing bright colors from male fashion.  But Beau was right to advise men not to try to be seen with some garishly colored outfit (like some mock uniform tunic with doodads and epaulets) but make stylistic excellence seem natural to the wearer.  It is reminiscent of the counsel of Castiglione three centuries earlier in Il Cortegiano that it is not enough for a guy to have the right stuff in matters of skill, knowledge, and style but to make it seem easy and natural, to do it with a certain flair (sprezzatura).  My wife also rolls her eyes when I talk about Castiglione…

    • #15
  16. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    My wife also rolls her eyes when I talk about Castiglione…

    I’m there with you, man.  You should see my wife’s eyes when I talk about the Knowledge Problem in Economics.

    • #16
  17. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    My wife also rolls her eyes when I talk about Castiglione…

    I’m there with you, man. You should see my wife’s eyes when I talk about the Knowledge Problem in Economics.

    But how are you dressed when you bring it up?

    • #17
  18. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    My wife also rolls her eyes when I talk about Castiglione…

    I’m there with you, man. You should see my wife’s eyes when I talk about the Knowledge Problem in Economics.

    But how are you dressed when you bring it up?

    Cravat.  Pantaloons if it’s chilly.

    • #18
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